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Published March 26, 2012, 09:59 AM

Sunflower 'Giant' expands into corn

FARGO, N.D. — Giant Snacks Inc., of Wahpeton, N.D., is expanding from its sunflower business and is starting to produce a “toasted corn snack.” The company calls it an announcement “of importance similar to when the firm launched its Giant Sunflower brand.”

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Giant Snacks Inc., of Wahpeton, N.D., is expanding from its sunflower business and is starting to produce a “toasted corn snack.” The company calls it an announcement “of importance similar to when the firm launched its Giant Sunflower brand.”

Giant brand snacks are sold in 35 states and have a market share of “well in excess of 50 percent in Upper Midwest convenience stores,” says CEO Jay Schuler.

The corn snack will not be made in Wahpeton, where the company makes and packs sunflower products because the building is already “busting the seams and is full,” Schuler says. The corn will be grown in northern California on a contract basis. It will be packaged in Wahpeton into three-ounce packages.

As with its sunflower products, the Schuler family touts the product’s plant breeding history.

Don Shaver (pronounced Shafer) of Illinois bred a special corn in the 1950s in the Alameda, Calif., area. The genetics of “Cuzco corn” originated in the Andes Mountains near Cuzco, Peru.

Maurice Holoway, chief executive of the Corn Nuts company, hired Shaver as vice president of research, to breed the traits into high-yielding, disease-tolerant U.S. crops. In 1997, Nabisco (Kraft) bought the company. Shaver eventually left the company, but was able to continue to breed a separate, larger, softer corn for the edible market. Several years ago, Giant formed an exclusive agreement with Shaver. Shaver worked with Clifford Hall at North Dakota State University to study ways to process the raw corn to develop Giant snacks.

The result: corn “bigger and softer” than other toasted corn, but competing in a market proven by the Kraft Corn Nuts, the one competitor for that type of product, which accounts for 98 percent of the market.

The first flavors of Hickory Bacon Ranch and Salt & Pepper will be available on store shelves in mid-April, and soon will be joined by Honey BBQ Rib. It initially will be available in North Dakota and Minnesota, but eventually wherever it markets sunflowers.

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