Local Firms Market Cold-Press Sun Oil
The key to reaching the consumer for any cottage industry is awareness – getting your product out in front. Sunflower has been one of those industries where small beginnings have on occasion ended up becoming a full time business. It has happened in the birdseed portion of the industry as well as in confection sunflower.
Now it appears to be bottled sunflower oil. There presently is not a nationally distributed brand of bottled sunflower oil in the U.S. market. This, of course, is a perfect opportunity for cottage industries to fill the market void. There has also been a national effort to buy local produce and other food products.
What began as an idea after a few drought years for Tom Smude, Pierz, Minn., farmer and businessman, transformed into two years of thinking and building and has now taken shape as a home-based business. Smude Enterprises LLC began its cold-press sunflower oil crush operation in February 2010.
“The idea came about a couple years ago after two or three dry seasons. I took a closer look at my sunflower crop and started thinking of a way to make a product that was grown, processed and marketed locally,” Smude explains.
From the field to the bottle, Smude dedicates about 30,000 bushels of sunflower to the process. The crop is augered into the processing building, which he built specifically for this operation. The seed is then sent though an automated system to be cleaned, destoned, hulled and sorted. From there it’s on to the press. No chemicals are used in the cold-press process, which extracts about 90% of the oil.
Once the oil is extracted, it is filtered and sent to three 7,000-gallon holding tanks before being hand-bottled and labeled. Four part-time employees help out with processing, bottling and labeling.
When it comes to Smude’s sunflower crop, nothing is wasted. That’s exactly how he designed it. The byproduct goes to the commodity shed. The nutmeat is pressed into 32% protein pellets, which Smude feeds to his 400 steers. The hulls are used as bedding for poultry and cattle. “I’d also like to get a press to make hulls into pellets for burning as a fuel or heating source,” Smude says. “I understand it’s high in BTUs. We’d likely look into mixing it half and half with corn.”
Smude is always thinking of ways to utilize the byproduct. And when he can’t use it all, he has a list of neighboring growers, ranchers and dairy farmers who can.
Smude figures he’s the only cold-press sunflower oil operation in Minnesota, drawing from about 800 acres at this early stage. In addition to his own acreage, he partners with five growers, all within about 25 miles of his operation, for additional acres.
There are very few processors in the United States of natural, food-grade cold-pressed sunflower oil who market locally.
About 550 miles down the road from Tom Smude’s operation is Bainter Sunflower Oil LLC, located in Hoxie, Kan. They’ve been a supplier of “all-natural” sunflower oil to grocery stores and restaurants around northwestern Kansas since the summer of 2009.
The Bainter oil is for sale on grocery stores shelves and health food stores in Kansas and adjacent parts of Colorado and Nebraska. Dellene Austerman, who works on sales and marketing for the Bainter products, says they contract with restaurants and wholesalers to try and capture high-volume customers. Awareness and education are keys to keeping their products in front of the consumer. They work closely with restaurants by providing them with window clings and menu stickers to draw attention to the fact that the establishment uses sunflower oil.
“The marketing opportunities are unlimited. We use every method we can think of,” Austerman says. “We’ve done everything from sampling in grocery stores to connecting with people in the gluten-free market. We have our product in bakeries, candle- and soap-making and other manufacturing sectors such as pet food.”
Austerman says that thanks to increased marketing strategies and the involvement of wholesalers, Bainter sales have increased by four-fold since March.
For Smude’s product, if the future continues to look good, he envisions utilizing the additional capacity of the facility that he initially built to handle 1,600 acres a year.
Smude Oil can be found on the shelves at more than 30 retail locations in the area, at various farmers markets, food shows and other events. The Internet has also served as a valuable marketing tool. His oil is also in the high-end pet food market with a manufacturer in the area.
Smude has been contacted by the local school district about the farm-to-school program. This is part of a growing, nationwide movement in which school districts obtain some of their menu items close to home. The goal is helping the local economy while also providing students with healthier foods and more insight as to where the food comes from. One large-scale distributor has also inquired about purchasing Smude oil in bulk.
This dedication of both public and private sectors seeking products produced locally is driving the demand for sunflower oil — that and the emerging food trend pushing the public to seek out the incredible nutritional value of sunflower oil. Plus, cold-pressed oil is a growing segment in the U.S. marketplace. The key to success is trying to diversify and get the product into as many markets as possible, since there are so few domestic all-natural sunflower oil choices out there like those produced by Bainter and Smude.
To find more information about these two sunflower processors, go online to www.smudeoil.com and www.baintersunfloweroil.com. — Sonia Mullally
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