Pass the pasta: Demand is good for Philadelphia Macaroni in GF
The recession has consumers turning to a familiar, versatile staple to stretch their food dollars: pasta. The demand for pasta in the pantry is also bringing the local job market to a rolling boil. "I can't say for sure, but I know we're certainl...
The recession has consumers turning to a familiar, versatile staple to stretch their food dollars: pasta.
The demand for pasta in the pantry is also bringing the local job market to a rolling boil.
"I can't say for sure, but I know we're certainly getting busier," said Tony Pierce, plant manager for Philadelphia Macaroni in Grand Forks.
The company is marking its 20th year in the city with the addition of a seventh production line, a new rail siding for transporting raw ingredients and finished products, and a new 55,000-square-foot warehouse. The expansion means Philadelphia Macaroni is looking for new employees -- now.
"I have to hire 17 by June 28," said Ashley Lind, human relations manager. "In the fall, we'll have another big hiring, maybe another 20, and as our orders expand, we may add another 20 at the end of the year."
Pierce said Philadelphia Macaroni, formerly Conte Luna Foods, will be adding an extra shift to its macaroni and cheese production. The lines run 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The new line produces 8,800 pounds an hour, almost double capacity," Pierce said.
That will help boost production from 91 million to 130 million pounds of dry, frozen and specialty pasta annually to be sold to clients including Campbell Soup, Costco, General Mills, Unilever, Con Agra and Associated Brands.
Mac & cheese express
Tom Polkinghorne, assistant plant manager, said working in the pasta plant is like living in an advanced Play-Doh factory. Computers mix the pasta recipes and cut the shapes and lengths according to customer specifications.
Most of the pasta is made with durum semolina, but hard red spring wheat also is used.
There are pastas blended with eggs and pastas that are yolkless.
Dozens of dies create the kid-popular animal shapes, wavy lasagnas, quill-shaped penne and various strands and thicknesses of spaghetti.
Some machines take 15 minutes to mix and knead the dough while newer models do the job in 40 seconds.
"Those lines produce 3,100 pounds in less than three hours, while traditional lines take five, six, up to 10 hours," Polkinghorne said.
Packaging lines can box 300 macaroni and cheese dinners a minute. From the time the flours are mixed through the drying to packaging takes about four hours, Pierce said. About 15,000 cases are processed in 12 hours; that includes 15,000 pounds of cheese.
Using its noodle
Philadelphia Macaroni has seen brisk sales in down times because pasta is affordable and consumption rises. But the 100-year history of the family-owned business and its 20 years in Grand Forks shows the company has used its noodle.
- In 1998, the company constructed its own durum wheat mill in North Dakota.
- In 2004, the addition of a hard red spring wheat mill to its milling operation in Minot opened the door to the bakery flour industry.
- In 2006, the business went coast to coast with the purchase of a pasta factory in Spokane, Wash.
- In 2009, Philadelphia Macaroni was granted a $228,000 loan from the state and almost $123,000 in loans from Grand Forks' growth fund, part of the city's existing sales tax used for economic development, toward the plant's $1.5 million recently finished upgrade. The company said the streamlining was done with local materials, will conserve more than 2 million gallons of water annually and use energy efficient fluorescent lighting.
Both Pierce and Lind said the Philadelphia Macaroni's biggest growth has been with its existing customers.
"That doesn't mean we aren't on the hunt for new business as well," Lind said.
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