Expansion project underway at Ventura

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

The need for more storage space for products like margarine, cooking oil and shortening is driving the largest expansion project in the 38-year history of Albert Lea’s Ventura Foods plant.

Workers started moving earth last week, and officials gathered Thursday to recognize the official groundbreaking for the 75,000-square-foot addition, which is being added on to the north side of the 120,000 square-foot plant in the Jobs Industrial Park.

&uot;Our business has grown over the last few years,&uot; said Dan Wedel, controller at the Albert Lea plant. The company, which has 13 plants from coast to coast in the United States, has become a bigger presence in the &uot;fats and oils&uot; market, he said.

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Ventura takes bulk shipments of oil and turns it into products for retail sale and use in food service. The plant churns out packages of margarine sold in grocery stores, single-serving margarine tubs for restaurants and shortening used by pie makers.

&uot;If you buy margarine in the store, there’s a good chance it was made here in Albert Lea,&uot; Wedel said. Products made at Ventura are sold under a wide variety of brand names.

As the Albert Lea plant has increased its production, however, it has run out of space to store all its finished products. The company has been leasing space nearby for storage, but decided it would be more efficient to keep it on site, Wedel said.

The expansion project will include some refrigerated storage and some storage space at room temperature. It is expected to be complete in the spring of 2004. Ventura does not plan to add any employees when the addition opens.

Because Ventura isn’t adding jobs, it wasn’t eligible for economic-development assistance through the city, but Wedel said city hall has been helpful nonetheless with things like building permits.

He also credited the plant’s employees with making the expansion possible. The Albert Lea plant has the highest volume output of any Ventura plant, and its 185 employees make it the third-largest industrial employer in the city, according to a recent survey.

The plant has been open since 1965 under the Miami Margarine and Holsum Foods names, and it became Ventura Foods in 1997 when Holsum merged with Wilsey Foods.

(Contact Dylan Belden at dylan.belden@albertleatribune.com or 379-3433.)