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South Dakota wheat to feed new ramen noodle factory

Albany Farms says the total investment in the Belle Fourche, South Dakota, site will be approaching $300 million once a flour mill and freeze-dry pieces are added to the production site.

A package of a cup of ramen noodles.
Albany Farms is moving production of its ramen noodle products to Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
Contributed / Albany Farms
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BELLE FOURCHE, S.D. — As Albany Farms was looking for a U.S. location for a new ramen noodle production plant, it honed in on a site “right in the middle of 21,000 square miles of the very best wheat that grows on the planet,” said Lyle Rogalla.

Rogalla is an engineer with Albany Farms at that new location in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, where a former storage tank manufacturing facility is being transformed into a noodle factory with room to eventually build a flour mill for the wheat that it needs.

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Jim Rogalla, Albany Farms
Courtesy of Albany Farms

At the end of June, Rogalla said the production plant was weeks away from starting production. It will initially start with flour already milled at other sites in the Midwest.

“We're very near to our initial startup — recipe testing and proving and we hope to actually be into shipping product at retail quality level, early part of August,” Rogalla said.

Albany Farms announced last fall that it was moving its ramen noodle production to Belle Fourche, northwest of Rapid City in western South Dakota.

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“We’re thrilled to have them in Belle Fourche,” said Hollie Stalder, executive director of the Belle Fourche Economic Development Corporation.

While Belle Fourche may only have a population of about 5,700 people, she said the northern Black Hills area has about 30,000 people.

The company said it would initially employ about 50 workers and has been actively recruiting to fill positions. The site might eventually employ as many as 500 workers.

Rogalla said the company has been in discussions with groups of wheat growers.

“We will be able to say not only is our product 100% USA made, the wheat is 100% South Dakota grown and is non-commingled,” Rogalla said.

He said the plant will need the equivalent of about 80,000 acres of wheat annually. It could be either hard red winter wheat or hard red spring wheat.

With no middlemen between the ramen plant and the growers, “we still will have an extremely competitive price on your grocery market shelf,” Rogalla said.

Then there are plans for a freeze-dry facility that could handle vegetables and meat products for its full ramen meals.

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Rogalla said the total investment in the Belle Fourche site will be approaching $300 million when those pieces are added, which he said he hopes will be in less than three years.

Part of the appeal to the Belle Fourche site was its rail access for bringing in bulk loads of ingredients.

Rogalla said the only timeline on the mill was “as soon as possible,” but as global supply chain issues persist, there is nothing firm yet.

Those supply chain issues have led to some creative problem-solving as Albany Farms has sought to equip the Belle Fourche facility.

“So it's been quite a journey,” Rogalla said. “You know, parts not available, steel not available. So we've had to be very clever in our design, in our setup, to cross sometimes availability challenges, but it's going well.”

But global shipping and supply issues are also a big reason why Albany Farms is relocating to South Dakota.

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The California-based company had been using a facility in Asia for ramen noodle production. Those noodles were then being shipped in bulk to the U.S., where they were being repackaged for retail distribution.

But with the skyrocketing costs of shipping, Albany Farms made a strategic decision to build a production facility in the heart of wheat country.

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From there, the ramen noodle products will eventually end up on grocery shelves in stores such as Target, Food Lion and Walmart Canada. H-E-B Grocery in Texas is another new partner.

“We plan to change ramen … to a well-balanced meal that is economical and get a good day’s supply of all the nutrition groups,” Rogalla said.

But for now, Rogalla said Albany Farms is “starting humbly with some honest ramen.”

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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