Theyre cookin

August 13, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Request Foods’ new plant in Holland Charter Township, representing a total private investment of $35 million, will soon be in production of frozen prepared meals — if it isn’t already.

The 225,000-square-foot facility completed early this summer after a year of work by Dan Vos Construction Co. of Ada will allow Request Foods to increase its production of prepared frozen meals and create 250 new jobs within the next five years.

Request Foods executives are tight-lipped about what they do, but Holland Charter Township Manager Don Komejan said in early August that the plant was in “final stages of test mode.”

He said company officials had indicated to him that they hoped to begin production by about mid-August and be in full production by September.

“It seems like they are on track,” said Komejan.

Request Foods was originally the prepared entrées division of Bil Mar Foods, which was one of the nation's largest turkey processors, founded by Bill and Marvin DeWitt. When Bil Mar was bought by Sara Lee in 1988, a group of investors, led by Marvin’s son Jack DeWitt, purchased the division and moved Request Foods into a new 100,000-square-foot production facility in Holland Township. The company expanded in 2001 with an additional 100,000 square feet as it began to focus more on frozen entrées for consumer product companies and major food service organizations. In 2003, the company expanded again, adding another 150,000 square feet to accommodate more processing equipment, kitchen and production areas.

Today, Request Foods produces more than 400 different custom entrées, side dishes, appetizers, sauces and desserts, sold under private labels.

Because of the new jobs expected to be created at the plant, it has been the focus of state and local incentives for more than a year. In May 2010, state officials established a 15-year Agricultural Processing Renaissance Zone for the property on Greenly Street that is now occupied by the new processing plant. The designation means Request Foods can operate free of virtually all state and local taxes over the life of the zone. Renaissance Zones are intended to encourage economic growth.

“Request Foods is one of the top frozen food providers in the U.S. and is currently purchasing about $50 million in supplies” from Michigan farmers and businesses, said Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Don Koivisto last year.

Jack DeWitt said in a February news report that the company was expecting sales to increase from $180 million in 2009 to about $240 million this year, due to a new contract to produce frozen foods for the Campbell Soup Co.

The designation of a state Renaissance Zone requires the endorsement of the local community, which will be forgoing some property tax revenue. Holland Charter Township had no problem endorsing the new Renaissance Zone.

“We are pleased to work with Request Foods, Ottawa County and the state to facilitate this new expansion project and the creation of new jobs and capital investment in Holland Township,” said Komejan.

Working with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Strategic Fund, Holland Township obtained a Community Development Block Grant to help cover the cost of expanding and upgrading the Request Foods wastewater pre-treatment facility. The grant could ultimately cover $5,425,000 of the facility improvement cost, with the company paying slightly less than $2 million.

Komejan said the township also waived its normal connection fee for tying in to the municipal sewer system, which saved Request about $99,400.

He said the company has committed to a private investment of slightly more than $35 million in the new food processing plant. It will continue to operate its original, existing plant on John F. Donnelly Drive in Holland Township, just south of the new plant.

Request Foods is one of the largest food companies in the Holland area, according to Komejan. Another large food processing operation is the H.J. Heinz plant in the city of Holland.

The Request Foods Greenly Street plant is just one of several Request projects undertaken by Dan Vos Construction Co. in the past 20-plus years, according to Dan T. Vos, executive vice president of the construction company. DVCC built the Request Foods original processing plant in the late 1980s, and additional freezer/warehousing additions since then, but the new production facility is by far the largest project to date.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of their growth and success,” said Vos.

DVCC, which is 60 years old this year, is well-known for building for Amway Corp. over the years — and also a lot of churches. “One hundred and seventy churches over 60 years,” said Vos.

But DVCC also has had a great deal of experience building food-processing facilities during those years. It built both Michigan Turkey plants in Grand Rapids and Grandville; the Boar’s Head and Quincy Street Meats facilities in Holland; Dean Foods in Wayland; Hudsonville Creamery; Cargill’s Lake Odessa egg processing plant; Nestle’s Ice Mountain water bottling plant in Stanwood; and Gerber processing facilities in Fremont, among others.

Vos said the Cargill project in Lake Odessa required DVCC to meet stringent construction safety requirements for insurance purposes, which was no problem for the contractor. DVCC has now passed three years without a lost-time accident, a significant milestone in the construction industry.

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