A company based in southwestern Minnesota that farms shrimp indoors has named a new president and CEO.
Brian Knochenmus — also the chair of the company's board — will lead Balaton's Tru Shrimp Companies after spending 25 years with Ralco Nutrition Inc., most recently as CEO. Tru Shrimp began in 2014 within Ralco, which produces animal feed and crop treatments and is based in Marshall, Minn. Ralco is the majority owner of Tru Shrimp.
About a year ago, Tru Shrimp expanded into the market for chitosan, a byproduct extracted from shrimp shells that is used in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. The startup also produces Tru Protein, a "high-protein, low-fat, pathogen-free pet ingredient protein made from 100% raw shrimp," per the company's website.
Chitosan is significantly changing the company, according to Knochenmus.
"The chitosan opportunity is dramatic. The dominant revenue source for our company is going to be pharmaceutical," Knochenmus said. "We are now more of a pharmaceutical company than a food company."
In August, Tru Shrimp signed a deal with Roseville-based Hawkins Inc. to be its exclusive U.S. distributor for chitosan in the medical device and pharmaceutical markets. Hawkins, a producer and distributor of specialty chemicals and ingredients, has been seeing strong growth. For its fiscal year ending April 2, it reported sales of $935.1 million, an increase of 20.7% from the year prior.
Knochenmus became CEO effective Monday. Previous CEO Michael Ziebell moved into a new position as chief operating officer to run the day-to-day operations.
Tru Shrimp filed for an initial public offering in January 2022 but pulled those plans a month later. A company filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in December requested the agency withdraw its IPO registration because of "prevailing market conditions."
Tru Shrimp announced plans for a large shrimp production facility in southwestern Minnesota in 2017. In early 2019, the company revealed it instead planned to build the project in Madison, S.D., a move that rankled officials in Luverne, the original site.
At the time, Tru Shrimp leaders said the South Dakota strategy would allow them to build the facility more quickly. But more than four years later, the project still hasn't broken ground.
Knochenmus said the project budget is now about $150 million and assembling financing is going well. He refrained from projecting a start date but said once construction begins, it will take 18 months to complete.
"My role as CEO is going to be hyperfocused on getting this funding done," Knochenmus said.