Currently, Blair is home to an existing Cargill manufacturing plant– Cargill is the largest privately held company in America, with more than 4,000 employees at 22 locations in Nebraska. They provide food, agriculture, financial, and industrial products and services, among others.
Recently, it was announced that Cargill is pairing with a Swiss company, Evolva, to overhaul their Blair plant and begin manufacturing next-generation Stevia sweeteners. For coffee-lovers and those with a sweet tooth, this is good news!
They’re just beginning the engineering phase of converting the existing Cargill plant, on a timeline of making ingredients commercially available next year. The Fremont Tribune reports that the stevia plant’s broader use is “constrained by the plant’s taste at high-usage levels, which can be bitter or have an aftertaste. Fermentation removes these constraints and should allow a dramatic expansion in the use of next generation stevia sweeteners, allowing food and beverage producers to create new classes of lower calorie products that taste great and are affordable to all.”
The Blair plant will move to a Cargill fermentation system, in which the larger existing plant allows the companies to expand rapidly and cost-effectively to meet commercial demand. In 2013, Evolva received an option from Cargill to obtain up to a 45% stake in the business to commercialize the sweeteners. This is a fairly massive undertaking, as total investment by Cargill and Evolva in just the engineering phase will be $3 million dollars. After signing the final agreement, Evolva expects to invest in the low tens of millions of dollars. In other words, this is a major development.
In terms of size, Evolva is actually neither massive nor old. It’s a 10-year old company with 150 employees, tiny when compared to the behemoth that is Cargill. They believe that “nature, notably food, contains a treasure trove of ingredients that can improve health, wellness, and nutrition, but most of these ingredients have issues. The plant or animal that makes it is too rare, too hard to grow, or does not make enough. So the ingredient is not available at the right quality or price for most of us. By combining modern genetics with traditional brewing, we remove these issues. We take baker’s yeast and give it the same ability to make the ingredient as the original organism. Now we can make it like bread or beer. The better quality, lower price, and improved sustainability means far more of us can benefit from the ingredient.”
It sounds like a fascinating collaboration that will be a boon for both companies, and we look forward to seeing how they develop manufacturing right in our backyard of Blair!
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