Already household names, Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce and Ken’s Foods dressings are soon to become even more familiar to Hoosiers. The Massachusetts-based food manufacturer will soon break ground on a $90 million facility at the Lebanon Business Park in Boone County. Hinting that it will also be the choice site as the company considers expanding its portfolio, Ken’s Foods, Inc. is helping the Lebanon area find a sweet spot in the food and beverage industry.

“[$90 million] is such a significant investment, it has almost started the ball rolling for Boone County  finally being recognized as a food and beverage hub—or potentially becoming that in the very near future,” says Boone County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director Molly Whitehead.

Other food and beverage tenants at the Lebanon Business Park include US Cold Storage, food ingredient producer Skjodt Barrett and Maplehurst Bakeries. Pop Weaver is headquartered in nearby Whitestown and Whitehead says Hurst’s Beans plans to expand to Zionsville. Area leaders believe it amounts to a bonafide boom in food production, especially counting the 750,000 bottles of sauces and dressings that will be coming off Ken’s Foods’ production lines each day.

“It’s pretty interesting to watch a modern retail bottling line,” says Ken’s Foods Chief Operating Officer Bob Merchant. “From start to finish, the empty bottle moves through five to six different unit operations from rinsing to filling, capping, labeling, case-packing and palletizing—and the bottle never stops moving. There’s a lot of automation in the process and a fair amount of robotics, especially in the packaging and palletization side.”

Merchant says the new Indiana facility is needed because the company “just ran out of space” at its other production plants in Massachusetts, Georgia and Nevada. He notes Ken’s Foods has experienced 17 percent compounded annual growth since its inception in 1958. Merchant says the company intentionally purchased more land than it will initially need for the production facility.

“We’re still inquisitive as an organization; our ownership is very interested in continuing to buy brands and bring them into our portfolio,” says Merchant. “As we look at acquiring other brands, one of the challenges we’ve had is, where are we going to bring them to? All three of our other manufacturing plants are literally full to the walls.”

With a mission to increase capacity, Ken’s Foods says Indiana’s location is “a significant advantage” for inbound bulk materials, including oils, sweeteners and eggs. Merchant notes finding a rail-served location was also top priority during the selection process.

The Lebanon Business Park earned CSX Select Site designation in August for 250 acres that could be directly served by rail, meaning the land “is completely ready to go.”

“If a company needs to start building within a month or two, as soon as they get through their permitting process and work through construction and utility design work, they can go. Whereas other sites that are not as well prepared, it’s going to take longer for the company to get up to speed,” says Whitehead. “There are not that many rail-served, completely shovel-ready properties that exist. We’ve got a lot of great properties in Boone County, but most of them are not rail-served, so this presents us with a unique opportunity in Lebanon.”

Building on its foothold in food production, Boone County will shift its focus beginning in early 2017 to target more companies in the sector, says Whitehead. She believes the strategy also enhances quality of life in the area; the EDC recently began targeting microbreweries, and two will soon open in downtown Lebanon.

Noting the presence of other food and beverage producers “in kindred manufacturing roles,” Merchant says, “we can share experiences with and lean on each other if we have a need or want.”

Boone County leaders believe that synergy is just one ingredient in its recipe to attract more companies to an area ripe for investment. 

Merchant says Indiana’s overall business climate, work force and manufacturing heritage were factors in choosing to locate the facility in Lebanon.

Whitehead says the major investment helps Boone County EDC become less reactive and more proactive moving forward.

Whitehead explains the significance of the Lebanon Business Park earning CSX Select Site designation.

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