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Minnesota Agriculture, Food Manufacturing Feed the World

Discover how Minnesota's food manufacturing sector and agriculture industry's deep roots in the state are sending Minnesota products around the world.

By Robert L. Sample on October 29, 2015

Minnesota General Mills

With its abundance of natural resources and a rich agricultural legacy, Minnesota has developed into a thriving center of food production that feeds people across the nation and around the world. The state’s diverse food and beverage industry includes General Mills, Land O’ Lakes, Cargill, Hormel and Schwan Foods. The state is home to more than 74,000 farm operations and 25.9 million acres of farmland that produce a wide range of agricultural commodities, including corn, soybeans, dairy products, cattle and hogs. Total values for agricultural exports in 2013 were nearly $8 billion, fourth among all states. To keep up with that demand, the Minnesota food industry is growing nationally and internationally. Food production employs more than 45,600 workers across the state.

Historic Growth

St. Paul-based CHS, Inc. is a farmer-owned cooperative started 85 years ago that has grown into a Fortune 100 company. It supplies crop nutrients, grain marketing services, animal feed, energy, insurance, financial services, and food and food ingredients to all 50 states and 65 countries. “Because of the robust agricultural economy in Minnesota, it’s been a great place for CHS and many other companies to use as their home base for serving farmers and consumers across the United States and around the world,” says Lani Jordan, director of corporate communications. Some of the world’s best-known food brands, including Cheerios, Yoplait, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, live in Minnesota thanks to the presence of General Mills, the multinational food giant that got its start in the state nearly 150 years ago. But General Mills isn’t resting on the past. In 2015, it launched more than 50 new products that meet consumer demand for healthier snacks.

“We’re putting our consumers at the center of our new product innovation by rapidly addressing evolving food trends and investing in areas that our consumers value, including added protein, gluten-free and products made with simple ingredients,” says Jeff Harmening, executive vice president and chief operating officer, U.S. Retail. The company has also been recognized among “The Best Companies for Multicultural Women” by Working Mother magazine and one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Fortune magazine. Also based in Minnesota is the nation’s largest privately held company – Cargill. In 2015, it celebrated its 150th year in business. The company’s reach extends well beyond its Wayzata headquarters near Minneapolis. The highly diversified company offers everything from animal nutrition and feed products to high-quality ingredients, meat and poultry products for food manufacturing to health-promoting ingredients and ingredient systems. And, it is a provider of financial services and industrial products. Overall, Cargill employs 152,000 workers in 67 countries, 6,500 of them in Minnesota. The company is a global leader in food and ingredients research, much of which takes place at its Food Innovation Center in Minneapolis.

“We are proud of our legacy and the many people who have created it,” says David MacLennan, Cargill’s president and chief executive officer. “Throughout our anniversary year, we will be reflecting on our past and present, and we’ll use those reflections as a springboard to help us focus our thinking on how we can help our partners and customers thrive in an increasingly complex world.”

Surging Sweet Tooth

With a 106-year history in the state, Pearson’s, the largest candy company in Minnesota, grew further when the company recently acquired the iconic Bit-O-Honey candy line from Nestlé. The company doubled the size of its business in the past three-and-a-half years, due in part to its favorable location in St. Paul, halfway between the coasts. “Being centrally located is always a good thing, particularly from a distribution standpoint,” says CEO Michael Keller. “It is also a great market for manufacturing and access to a strong labor pool. But what makes Minnesota a good place to locate Pearson’s is Minnesotans. In many ways, we are to Minnesotans as Ben & Jerry’s is to Vermonters. We are proud to call Minnesota our home, and many Minnesotans are proud to call Salted Nut Roll and Nut Goodie their own.”

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