Puris ready to make 'Gnome Town' capital for plant-based protein

·4 min read

Oct. 16—DAWSON — Startup operations got underway this week at the new Puris facility in Dawson.

Its opening represents more than 100 new jobs for the western Minnesota community and what company officials called an opportunity to be a world leader in the production of plant-based foods.

"I am inspired by this job creation," Gov. Tim Walz told a gathering of Puris and Cargill company representatives Wednesday at a ceremony at the plant to mark the startup. "Real jobs that build something and make a difference in the community," he said.

Puris will produce pea protein sourced from a network of more than 400 growers raising peas on more than 200,000 acres, according to Tyler Lorenzen, CEO of Puris Proteins.

"Dawson is known as Gnome Town USA, also soon to be known as the pea protein capital of the world," Lorenzen told the gathering.

He was joined at the event by his father, Jerry Lorenzen, the company's founder, and sister Nicole Atchinson, who leads Puris Holdings, the company's plant-based operations their father began in 1985.

Puris purchased the 200,000-square-foot, former AMPI dairy facility in Dawson in 2019. With an investment of more than $100 million by Cargill, it has been completely retrofitted as a state-of-the-art facility to produce pea protein along with starch and fiber. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development also provided $2 million to the project.

Puris now "possesses the only vertically integrated, multi-plant pea protein production model in the U.S. It will enable Puris to supply roughly 50% of North America's pea protein and do so sustainably," it stated in a news release announcing the startup.

Tyler Lorenzen said the former AMPI plant represented a very valuable asset to the company and brought the company to Dawson. The infrastructure the plant offers is very hard to find, he said.

Its location in Dawson is a benefit as well. It's in a good location for peas produced by its network of producers. It can be operated in coordination with the company's corporate headquarters in Minneapolis and its pea protein plant in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin.

The company CEO also cited the work ethic and support of the community as important for the company.

"Dawson has been great," he said. "A lot of hard-working folks out here. They just want to make something happen."

This venture into plant-based foods is good news for Minnesota farmers, who stand to benefit from the demand for peas, according to Thom Petersen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. He believes there will be continued growth in the demand for plant-based proteins.

While peas represent a small share of the plant-based protein market as compared to soybeans, they are used in faux meats products that are growing in popularity. Puris is the main supplier for Beyond Meat.

Gov. Walz is among those who expect growing demand for plant-based proteins. He pointed out that the world population is expected to reach 10 billion in four to five years. Affordable protein sources will be increasingly important in a hungry world, he explained.

Lorenzen said the world's growing population and need for affordable and sustainable plant-based protein is behind the company's growth. He noted that plant-based protein represents a very small share of total food consumption at this point.

But he told the West Central Tribune that he believes the world is at a tipping point. Consumers and farmers are looking for better ways to consume and grow food and make more profitable choices that translate to longevity in life and affordability and accessibility, he explained.

"There's been a mindset change," said Lorenzen. "People are certainly more open to try different types of food from places very familiar, (from) soil right here in the U.S."

The Puris facility is designed with an eye toward the ability to increase production as markets grow, according to the CEO.

Walz pointed to Minnesota's role as a leader in agriculture and the Green Revolution, citing the role of Norman Borlaug of the University of Minnesota.

The new jobs that Puris brings are so important to rural Minnesota, Walz told those attending the event.

"It allows people to make a choice. People chose to live in Dawson because of the quality of life and the sense of community. It's not just a business that comes here. It's a business that understands: It's about community," he said.

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