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Now two decades old, North Dakota based Giants Snacks thriving

Giants Snacks is poised to expand its kettle roasted line of sunflower seeds with several new offerings. Robert Schuler, whose family operates the North Dakota based company, says fans of sunflowers enjoy trying new flavors. Dave Olson/The Forum1 / 2
Giants Snacks opened its processing and packaging plant in Whapeton, N.D., in 2009. Dave Olson/The Forum2 / 2

WAHPETON, N.D. -- Giants Snacks -- a family-owned company born from the idea that, when it comes to sunflower seeds, bigger is better -- is now two decades old and still growing.

That growth is fueled by the company's willingness to try new things, like when it rolled out its kettle-roasted line of roasted, in-the-shell sunflower seeds a few years back.

Its "Salty Sweet" flavor, a blend of sea salt and sugar, was a big hit, and now Giants is expanding its kettle-roasted lineup to include several new flavors: Sweet Dill Pickle, Fresh Cracked Pepper and Toasted Coconut.

The flavors will be available to the public in June, but they are already being consumed in large amounts at the Giants headquarters in Wahpeton, where seeds are processed and packaged.

"We're always eating lab samples. When I get a bag, I eat the whole thing," said Robert Schuler, vice president of marketing at the snack company that was formed in 1995 by his father, Jay Schuler.

Before the birth of the Giants brand, the company had a different name and processed sunflower seeds for large U.S. snack companies. A fairly large part of the business involved exporting a plumper variety of sunflower seeds to overseas buyers.

At the time, Jay Schuler was hooked on the idea American customers would flock to the larger, higher-quality seeds, but he said he tried in vain to convince domestic snack companies to use the bigger seeds.

"We were concerned about the consumer. They were concerned about their bottom line," Jay Schuler said.

When it became clear no one was going to market the larger seeds, Schuler said they decided to put them in a bag and call them Giants.

It took time, but the brand gained a following. By 2004, Giants was the official sunflower seed supplier to the Minnesota Twins, a triumph credited to Jason Schuler, Jay Schuler's son and vice president of sales at Giants.

Today, Giants also has an official partnership with the Colorado Rockies, and Giants seeds are consumed in the dugouts of many major league ballparks.

The company grew physically, too, and in 2009 it moved into a new facility on the outskirts of Wahpeton.

With more than 35 employees, the company is already feeling cramped in that space, but there are no imminent plans for further expansion.

Instead, the company is focused on rolling out the new flavors, which Robert Schuler described as "outstanding."

A good product starts with good seeds, he said, and the company controls that aspect by contracting directly with farmers within 100 miles of Wahpeton.

"We watch our fields from the time they (sunflowers) are planted until the time they come into our plant; that really ensures the best quality we can get," Robert Schuler said.

A timeline of important dates in the history of Giants Snacks

1995: Jay Schuler and a business partner are operating Dakota Gourmet, a manufacturing and packaging plant for snack products sold by other companies, when they decide they can process, package and sell the snacks themselves. Giants Snacks is born.

2004: Giants Snacks forms a partnership with the Minnesota Twins and the snack company becomes the team's official supplier of sunflower seeds.

2007: The Colorado Rockies baseball team also agrees to partner with Giants Snacks.

2009: The snack company moves into a new headquarters and processing plant on the edge of Wahpeton.

Summer 2015: Giants Snacks is set to expand its kettle-roasted sunflower seed lineup with several additional flavors.

Dave Olson
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