ConAgra comes to town

February 6, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Elan Nutrition, a Kentwood-based maker of snack and nutrition bars, was acquired by North American food giant ConAgra Foods Inc. in April, which is now pouring investments into the 230,000-square-foot plant at 4490 44th St. SE.

ConAgra is expanding the Elan Nutrition facility and adding a research and development center.

ConAgra’s Packaged Foods division retained all Elan Nutrition employees and plans to add more, as well as invest in new machinery and plant expansion.

According to Lisa Golder of the Kentwood economic development department, ConAgra representatives met with the city council in the fall to outline their plans, which call for a total investment of $18 million — $14 million of that in equipment. The city then approved two PA 198 certificates for ConAgra for abatement of half of the personal property taxes on new machinery purchases and some of the real estate taxes.

The Kentwood plant employs about 218, the council was told, but ConAgra eventually plans to add up to 147 new full-time jobs there within the next three years or so.

“They added two (production) lines as part of that $14 million (equipment acquisition) project, and they said they were going to have a research and development lab, as well,” according to Golder.

According to The Right Place Inc., ConAgra was considering expanding its Lakeville, Minn. facility. However, The Right Place, in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the city of Kentwood, assembled an incentive package valued at $9 million to support ConAgra Food’s investment at the Kentwood facility instead.

ConAgra’s planned Center of Excellence Research and Development facility in Kentwood will be developed over the next five years, according to The Right Place.

“Food processing continues to be one of our strongest industry clusters,” noted Right Place President Birgit Klohs. “Adding a global leader like ConAgra Foods to that segment brings not only jobs, but also new innovation, development and growth opportunities for West Michigan.”

ConAgra, founded in Nebraska in 1919, is a publicly held company (NYSE: CAG) with brands found today in 97 percent of America's households, according to its website. Some of those brands include Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's.

ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying frozen potato and sweet potato products and others to restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers.

ConAgra Foods Inc. recorded net sales of $3.161 billion for the quarter ended Nov. 28.

George and Rick Manus of Rockford began a snack bar company called Five Star Brands, which they sold in 1998 to a Seattle holding company. Five Star then moved production to the current plant on 44th Street in 2001, and the named changed to Elan Nutrition. The firm changed hands again in 2003 when it was acquired by Sun Capital Partners.

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