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Published February 09, 2008, 12:00 AM

Anything but run of the mill

Dakota Specialty Milling has customers in 11 countries. It uses more than 70 million pounds of raw grains and other ingredients each year. And, no, they don’t just make oatmeal for breakfast.
Empty canisters ride a five-tier conveyor line, each en route to being filled with 18.5 ounces of raw oatmeal.

By: Craig McEwen, The Forum

Empty canisters ride a five-tier conveyor line, each en route to being filled with 18.5 ounces of raw oatmeal.

That’s just one of 170 products made by Dakota Specialty Milling – formerly Roman Meal Milling Co. – at 4014 15th Ave. N. in Fargo for cereal- and baking-industry customers in 11 countries.

Each year, DSM uses more than 70 million pounds of raw grains and other ingredients to produce specially made products such as cereals, crackers, cookies, sweet goods, food coatings and batters, said Joel Dick, company vice president and chief operating officer.

“This is the toasting line, where we make toppings for granolas and that type of thing,” Dick explained.

Flat sheets of sweet, golden granola topping roll from an 8-foot-wide oven.

Nearby, steam rises from large, stainless-steel kettles in which ingredients such as water, sugar, honey and cinnamon are blended.

Grains grown in the Red River Valley pass through a twisted maze of pipes headed to cleaning, milling and blending stations.

So goes the process inside this five-story mill, its cutters, flakers, sifters, coolers, scalers and varied machines marching to the script of computer-generated recipes.

The company built the mill in 1990 to complement its manually operated, 1968 facility at 3301 12th Ave. N. in Fargo.

At the time, Charles W.H. Matthaei, founder of Tacoma, Wash.-based parent company Roman Meal, decided it was time for his company to start milling its own products, said son William Matthaei, chairman and chief executive officer of Dakota Specialty Milling.

“Up until 1969 we were purchasing milled grains from a company in Montana and blending them in Tacoma,” he said.

Eight employees operated the first mill’s two production lines – one for bakery mixes and the other for cereals, Matthaei said.

A $1 million packaging center was built in 1988 at 4014 15th Ave. N. in Fargo.

The following year, Roman Meal Milling Co. split from Roman Meal and became a separate company, Matthaei said.

Soon after, work began on a new, oversized mill that is now fully occupied.

“That space is completely taken up by processing equipment that’s totally different than we envisioned when we moved in there,” Matthaei said.

Eighty-nine employees – 68 full time and 21 part time – operate the mill’s seven production lines, three blending lines and other associated equipment, said Dick, who has a doctorate degree in cereal sciences from North Dakota State University.

On Jan. 1, the company changed its name to Dakota Specialty Milling Inc. to reflect where its principal ingredients are grown, to indentify its purpose and to eliminate name confusion with Roman Meal Co.

Breads and cereals

The Fargo operation initially milled grains strictly for Roman Meal breads and cereals.

“We only used four raw materials in 1969,” Matthaei said. They were whole wheat, wheat bran, rye and flax seed meal.

“We made three items. Each one used the same four ingredients,” he said.

Today, DSM distributes to a variety of bakery and food industry companies that use grain products, said R.C. Axlund, a company director.

“We develop them specifically for a given customer, one at a time,” he said.

“Our middle name is specialty,” Matthaei said.

Fargo: A good site

Matthaei said Roman Meal selected the Fargo site for several reasons.

“The wise thing was to locate close to our raw materials,” he said.

The Red River Valley provides consistently good crops. Much of the grain used by the mill is trucked directly from valley farms. Rail and highway transportation were readily available, Matthaei said.

“We were pleased with the quality of the labor force that we found in Fargo,” he said.

Early on, the Grand Forks-based North Dakota Mill and Elevator became an important vendor of specialty grain products used by Roman Meal, Dick said.

DSM buys white flour and wheat bran from Dakota Mill and Elevator and, in turn, blends and packages products for the Grand Forks operation.

NDSU, one of only two schools in the country that offers programs in milling and baking, provided educational resources, Matthaei said.

“That evolved into a very close relationship,” not only with NDSU, where Dick was a 10-year faculty member, but also the Northern Crops Institute, Matthaei said.

“We’ve had an excellent relationship with Roman Meal over the years,” said John Crabtree, NCI assistant director.

“The institute works with private companies in developing new products and adding value to crops,” Crabtree said. “Now we’re seeing tremendous interest in specialty crops like flax, peas and lentils.”

Roman Meal Milling helped fund an NDSU baking laboratory, which helps the company create new products.

“We continue to enjoy a very good relationship,” said Matthaei. “We use them more as a sounding board and source of reference. We depend on them to keep us up to speed on new things.”

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502