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Ultra Green's paper products are made from wheat straw and renewable natural fibers and its bio-plastics are made from cornstarch. The company's manufacturing plant is in Devils Lake, N.D. Photo courtesy Ultra Green.

Ultra Green plans expansion at eco-friendly manufacturing plant in Devils Lake

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Ultra Green, a new Devils Lake manufacturer of eco-friendly food service products, will triple in size by the end of the year.

The Plymouth, Minn.-based company, which took over a former pasta plant in Devils Lake last year, currently operates with 19 employees in one daily shift, according to Bob Morando, company chief operating officer. That will grow to 35 to 40 employees by the end of September and about 60 employees, with 24-hour production, by December.

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“There will be quite a ramp-up between now and Christmas,” he said.

Ultra Green manufactures eco-friendly, disposable products, such as pizza pans and flip-top “clamshell” hamburger containers for the food service industry, making the products from locally grown wheat straw fiber — from the stubble left in fields after farmers harvest their crop.

The company boasts that the products will return to dirt within 90 days after being placed in a commercial composter.

The products are being marketed nationwide through a system of distributors and can be found at Whole Foods Markets, as well as Sam’s Club and Byerly Foods stores.

“You can microwave it and you can put it in the oven up to 400 degrees. It is oil- and moisture-resistant,” company president and co-founder Cal Krupa said in an article that appeared in a recent article in Grocery Headquarters, an industry magazine.

China to U.S.

Ultra Green, which started in 2007, had been making the products from sugar cane fiber in China, shipping them back to the U.S. for distribution to companies all over the country.

However, it announced in 2012 it was moving all production back to the U.S., with its initial plant in Devils Lake and switching the raw product from sugar cane to wheat straw.

When production began in Devils Lake last fall, officials expected to have as many as 100 employees by the end of 2013. However, delays in equipment delivery slowed the progress.

Some of that equipment now is being installed this summer and more will be on line by September, he said.

“We’re really just getting this thing going,” he said.

Now, Morando expects the Devils Lake plant to reach the 100-employee mark by early next year, and to have about 150 by the end of 2015.

“Then, the plant will be about half full,” he said. “So within a couple of years after 2015, we could double that.”

Morando is a Kansas native with a milling science degree and an engineering background who has spent his career in the food industry. Before becoming Ultra Green COO two months ago, he has been involved in food-based production plants for General Mills, Kraft Foods and Ocean Spray, as well as others.

Currently living in the Twin Cities, he expects to move to Devils Lake within a few months.

Local wheat straw

Ultra Green primarily is producing recyclable pizza pans now, as well as salad bowls and salad bar trays, as well as clamshell hamburger boxes. However, the product line will increase over the next several months and years, to bakeware, dinnerware, flatware and more.

When it reaches full production, the Devils Lake factory will process six to nine large, rectangle bales of wheat straw per hour, with 25,000 to 40,000 bales processed annually.

The company currently is working with 20 to 30 farmers in a 30- to 50-mile radius of Devils Lake.

The delay in the production start-up has allowed the company to stockpile enough wheat straw to last through all of 2015, according to Morando.

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Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: www.grandforksherald.com. He welcomes story ideas via email, kbonham@gfherald.com, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  
(701) 780-1110
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