Congress is debating a $17 billion agriculture spending bill that's sparking conflict on Capitol Hill, and interest in the U.S. livestock industry.
The Senate late Thursday rejected efforts by the House to exempt meat products from the country-of-origin labeling law. Lawmakers also recommended a seven-year ban on imports of Canadian live cattle in light of that nation's single case of Mad Cow disease. USDA wants the ban lifted in early 2004.
The opposing views must be reconciled before the spending bill is passed. But Washington is a place often paralyzed by detail. In the business world, that kind of paralysis can be fatal. Indeed, the changing nature of the corporate climate forces some companies to reshape the kind of business they practice. Nancy Crowfoot has this update.
Elaine Wolf, Home Economist, Soy Creations, Des Moines, Iowa: "It's got to taste good and look familiar to the person eating it. So, we want to have cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies Grandma made and sloppy Joe's that look like Dad whipped them up for Saturday dinner."
Home Economist Elaine Wolf and the company she works for -- the Soy Creations division of Triple F Incorporated in Des Moines, Iowa -- are creating new soyfood products for the health-conscious consumer.
The main ingredient, dehydrated soy protein ... and the soy processing technology ... are what the company used for more than 30 years to make its once primary product --livestock feed from soybeans.
While much of the business still relies on custom blending of nutritional products for livestock, the company hopes to eventually grow to have 50% of its business be food related ... in product or sale of extrusion equipment.
Using friction and pressure as a source of heat, in less than thirty seconds the beans are cooked, sterilized, the nutrients are stabilized, the oil cells ruptured and growth inhibitors removed. The beans then go through a press where the oil is squeezed out and the soy is dehydrated.
But the company that designed the equipment and its own extrusion process for livestock and poultry feed, and once employed 300 feed salesmen in eight states, was losing ground in the pig pen. Much of the livestock industry consolidated into larger operations. They became more vertically integrated --and many companies began to own and operate their own feed mills.
Wayne Fox, Chairman of the Board & CEO, Triple F, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa: "When you're someone like myself who has grown up in this business all your life you can't believe that the business is going to die. And yet, we stayed with the feed business probably five years longer than we should have because what was happening was inevitable."
Rather than lose their soy-based business entirely, Wayne Fox and his partner Dr. Leroy Hanson, took their product up a notch in the food chain ... soyfoods for humans. They developed additional processing steps to texturize the soy to look and feel more like meat. They market their analog meat and other products like baked goods under the Premier Harvest label.
Dr. Leroy Hanson, President, Triple F, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa: "Well, actually moving from feed to food is probably not as big a stretch as it seems on the surface. The reason being is that since we'veve been in the extrusion business and since we've been a global company since the early 70s we have had the opportunity of touching the food business internationally."
Since 1979, Hanson's foreign customers ... particularly those countries where little meat is available ... have been using Triple F equipment to extrude soy and other grains for human consumption. But soy consumption in the U.S. didn't really catch on until 1999, when the Food and Drug Administration allowed soyfoods to carry a health claim: "25 grams of soy protein a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Elaine Wolf, Home Economist, Triple F, Inc.:"And you should get it in four servings, each one being 6.25 grams of soy protein. So all of the Premier Harvest products will give you that in a serving, which means if you eat two cookies you get 6.25 grams of soy protein and I'll tell you, eight cookies a day will fit in my diet."
Wolf can smile now, but for a feed and equipment company to succeed in the food arena took more than a sense of humor. It took the hiring of food experts such as a home economist and a food scientist. The company also formed a partnership with an Illinois food manufacturer to package and market the products, both on-line, and placement in grocery stores.
Wayne Fox, Chairman of the Board & CEO, Triple F, Inc.: "I'm more encouraged now than I've ever been and the fact that we have this product of textured vegetable protein, we're into the soy powder, we're into the refined oil, the naturally refined oil and the sales of that are growing by leaps and bounds."
While tapping into the popularity of a diet rich in soy, Triple F also wanted to help farmers reap some of the benefits of the value-added soyfoods market. Their first joint venture with farmers to refine oil was with a Michigan cooperative. Triple F sold the cooperative the equipment and the processing technology.
Dr. Leroy Hanson, President, Triple F, Inc.: "They were an organization that is made up of 200 farmers that are growing non-GMO soybeans for meal and oil and very early in their development they knew they needed to do something special with the oil."
The oil is refined without chemicals. It is not hydogenated and it contains no trans fatty acids ... a substance said to contribute to heart disease. The coop produces 30 tons of refined oil a day. Demand for the naturally-refined product will likely grow as the federal government is now calling for the labeling of trans-fat content on products.
Mark Andrews, Manager, Waterfront Seafood Market Restaurant, West Des Moines, Iowa: "We found out since we started using it that it can be healthier for people."
Seafood restaurant manager Mark Andrews says 40% of the food prepared at the restaurant is fried. They were going through an average of eleven 35-pound tubs of canola oil a week. He says while the coop's oil is a bit more expenseve, it lasts longer.
Mark Andrews, Manager, Waterfront Seafood Market Restaurant, West Des Moines, Iowa: "We found that it lasts four to six days longer. The food seems to fry faster. You get your food out quicker and it doesn't have an oily, greasy taste to it."
If more people like Andrews become enthused with the oil, Triple F hopes to help convince other farmers to get into the food-grade vegetable oil business using the Triple F system.
For its part, the company is confident it is on the right track in its product development. ... especially since one of it's products was accepted into the NASA space program. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration ordered 100 servings of spicy soy chili ... and the meals are to be on the next space shuttle.
For Market To Market, I'm Nancy Crowfoot.