SunOpta is building a new "mega" facility in Texas, where everything is bigger.
The new plant will have a footprint of 285,000 square feet with room to expand to 400,000 square feet, making it the company's largest facility. It's a pivotal step in SunOpta's plans to double the size of its plant-based foods business in the next five years.
The Twin Cities company develops and manufactures plant-based and fruit-based food ingredients in fast-growing categories like dairy-free milks and creamers. It revealed plans for the new facility during its second quarter earnings report this week.
Its "shining star" right now is oat milk, a product that has grown more than 100% in the last year, said chief executive Joe Ennen.
The new processing plant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will manufacture the company's entire suite of non-dairy milks: hemp, soy, almond, coconut, cashew, rice, flax and more.
"Plant-based milks have been growing 10 percent a year for the last 20 years, so this isn't an overnight phenomenon," Ennen said. "We are in a position where, if we don't do this, we won't be able to have significant growth in 2023."
SunOpta has plant-based milk facilities in Alexandria, Minn., Allentown, Pa., and Modesto, Calif.
U.S. retail sales of plant-based milk totaled $2.5 billion last year, according to data compiled by Spins, a data and analytics firm, on behalf of the Plant Based Foods Association.
"Texas is the second-biggest state in the U.S., so therefore they consume a lot of everything," Ennen said.
By building this plant, SunOpta will cut at least 15 million miles out of its supply chain annually.
"This creates a diamond — east and west, north and south. So it gives us great geographic coverage," Ennen said.
SunOpta has pivoted from being an organic-commodities supplier to a food-ingredients company focused on making plant-based and fruit-based foods and beverages.
The company sold its international organic commodities business — which had been its largest source of revenue — for $389 million at the end of 2020. Under Ennen's leadership, SunOpta repositioned itself to focus on the high-growth, high-profit ingredients business.
Nut and plant milks are its portfolio's fast growers. Company leaders are focused on making its fruit business — which makes fruit strips, fruit bars and frozen fruits — highly profitable rather than growing sales.
SunOpta is building a new corporate headquarters and R&D space in Eden Prairie. It's on track to move its corporate workforce of 160, now in Edina, to the new office in December. SunOpta has a global workforce of 1,400.