(Article/photo courtesy of Muscatine Journal – by Jason Liegois)
MUSCATINE, Iowa — As Kent Corp. continues its decades of operations, it is seeking to grow in the way it has in the past: Through new scientific innovations pushing the company into new and better products and markets.
“Our goal is to continue to innovate,” said Janet Sichterman, Kent Corp. senior vice president for Human Resources & Communications.
She said many of the company’s original products, such as high quality livestock feed, were innovations when they were first developed.
The company has long roots in Muscatine, beginning in 1936, when G. A. Kent brought his feed operation to Muscatine. Kent then co-founded Grain Processing Corporation (GPC) in 1943 with Simon G. Stein, producing grain alcohol and other corn-based products.
“High-quality alcohol was the primary revenue stream back then, and quite frankly, continues to be the primary revenue stream of the company today,” said Patrick Homoelle, GPC senior vice president for sales.
However, GPC and its umbrella company, first known as Varied Investments and then as Muscatine Foods Corp., continued to expand its operations and variety of products. Over time, GPC and other Kent properties have acquired companies to add to their operations as well. Muscatine Food Corp. received the Kent Corp. name in 2012 to both reflect the Kent family’s continued ownership of the company and the market familiarity of the Kent Feeds brand.
Homoelle said that there are three factors driving the future growth and development of GPC products:
- Growing global markets;
- Increased food safety regulations;
- The growth in the demand for more and higher quality frozen food products.
Although he declined to give earning numbers, he estimated that Kent Corp. would be part of the Fortune 1000 list if it was a publicly owned company.
In recent years, GPC has still received most of its revenues from North American markets, but that is rapidly changing as more developing markets open up overseas.
“It’s probably been in the last 10-plus years that there was a recognition, with the proliferation of the Internet, a lot of the Fortune 500 companies that were selling a lot in the USA became global multinationals, and wanted access to the same quality, purity around the world,” Homoelle said. “What’s changed since the early ’60s to the early 2000s is a recognition that if we’re going to grow and meet our objectives over the next 10, 15 years and beyond, a significant portion of that growth is going to have to come from the outside.”
That desire to enter those markets prompted the opening of GPC’s Washington, Indiana, facility in 1999 to increase and accelerate production of alcohol, industrial starch and other products. The Muscatine company also now has offices in Mexico City, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.
“We’re positioned to reach where we think this emerging, growing middle class is going to come from,” Homoelle said, referring to estimates that there will be 3 billion people who might move into the global middle class during the next 20 years.
That more prosperous population is demanding more convenience and choices in their diets, which has led to a growth in the consumption and sale of frozen foods. GPC is involved with the frozen food market by producing ingredients for those producers, such as corn syrup solids and starches. Those ingredients are aimed at keeping frozen foods that are fresh with a good texture — that is, to make them as similar to fresh-ingredient foods as possible. The company’s Customer Solution Center, built as part of GPC’s Technical Development Center, is aimed at improving these products for commercial use.
Kent Corp. is also developing better ways to feed man’s best friend.
The Kent Pet Group is a relative newcomer to Kent Corp. It was founded in 2010 through a reorganization that saw three pet product lines produced by different Kent Corp. divisions moved into a new division dedicated solely to those products while other feed products were concentrated under the Kent Feed Group.
“The Pet Group is really focused on the emerging pet category in terms of consumer packaged goods,” said Mike Eversmeyer, Kent Pet Group president.
Currently, that group produces World’s Best Cat Litter, a corn-based cat litter, and the By Nature pet food line. Eversmeyer said the group has grown into an organization that can work with retail companies and distributors just as well as larger industrial clients.
“Over the course of 2010 to today, its been an evolution in terms of putting talent together, to understand consumer packaged goods in greater detail than we ever have before,” Eversmeyer said.
Eversmeyer and other Kent Corp. officials see growing globalization and product regulations as important parts of Kent Pet Group’s future, as well as the company’s approach to increased social media marketing. A growing middle class global market is demanding higher-quality pet food, food that can meet human-food-level quality. Eversmeyer said the company is prepared to meet these growing future needs.