Cargill Inc. wants in on plant-based meats in a bigger way.

The Minnetonka-based agribusiness is investing an additional $75 million in Puris, the nation's largest supplier of pea protein, a key ingredient in well-known products like the Beyond Burger.

Minneapolis-based Puris will use the funds to add capacity to its existing 200,000-square-foot processing plant in Dawson, Minn., doubling the company's pea production by late 2020.

It is a critical step for Puris as it tries to remain ahead of booming demand for its pea-protein, starches and fibers. Beyond Meat, which became the year's hottest new stock after going public in May, promised investors in its IPO filing that Puris, one of its key suppliers, would soon add production capacity.

As new companies emerge in this faux-meat space, demand is growing. Puris has a waiting list of companies that want its products. Executives decided several months ago to make Beyond Meat one of its "cornerstone customers." The Dawson plant will allow Puris to take on more food companies as customer, said Tyler Lorenzen, president of Puris.

"We are seeing more demand on both the farmer side and customer side," Lorenzen said. Cargill's investment "will allow us to make new products and innovate and we are really excited about it. It's a huge opportunity to find out what's possible in plant-based foods."

Cargill, one of the world's largest meat producers and a large maker of many food ingredients, sees the future opportunity as well.

"As consumer demand increases for plant-based proteins, we want to make sure that Cargill, with our partner Puris, can deliver on that demand," said Laurie Koenig, Cargill's texturizers and specialty lead, in a statement. "Our investment in pea protein not only enhances our diverse portfolio of high-quality ingredients but also expands our opportunity to work with customers to make products that use a variety of our ingredients."

This marks Cargill's second investment in Puris. Cargill, the nation's largest privately held company, put in $25 million last year to add production capacity at Puris' Turtle Lake, Wis., plant. In addition to Dawson and Turtle Lake, Puris also operates a pea-protein plant in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Lorenzen declined to offer a percentage breakdown in ownership, but did classify the partnership with Cargill in its pea-protein business as a joint venture. Puris has other outside investors, but Cargill is the sole investor in its pea business.

Lorenzen said this expansion helps give more farmers a market for their peas, which are considered good for soil health. Peas are legumes and are nitrogen-fixing, meaning they work in tandem with bacteria in the soil to produce their own nourishing nitrogen. That means fertilizer isn't needed. The enriched soil and the leftover nitrogen benefits other crops that the farmer might plant on the land after the peas.

Cargill has invested in a number of burgeoning alternatives to traditionally raised meat products. The company also has a stake in several cell-based meat companies, like Aleph Farms and Memphis Meats. These products, sometimes called "cultured" or "lab-raised" meat or seafood, are grown using animal cells.

Puris bought the Dawson plant, which was formerly used to make dairy products, in June 2018. The company is in the midst of converting the plant to produce its pea protein, starches and fibers.

Lorenzen, who grew up in a town of about 1,000 people, said he is happy that all of the company's processing plants are in rural locations. The new facility will employ about 90 full-time workers. Puris sources its non-GMO pea seed from more than 400 U.S. farmers.

"I am excited that Cargill and Puris are investing in the potential of greater Minnesota communities like Dawson," Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. "Repurposing an existing facility for a new pea protein plant is an excellent example of the smart, sustainable innovation that has kept Minnesota on the forefront of the food production industry."

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767