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Dakota Kid comes to lakes country: New packaging facility opens in Detroit Lakes Industrial Park

What do sunflower seeds and the Detroit Lakes Industrial Park now have in common?

Dakota Natural Foods Inc. has opened up a packaging facility locally, bringing their familiar Dakota Kid Sunflower Seeds to town.

"We closed the end of August and are already getting ready for an expansion," commented Dakota Natural Foods, Inc. President and Managing Owner Guy Huus.

Huus, along with Gary Ellingson and Darrel Warne, co-owns the 30-year-old sunflower seed company based in Fargo.

A regional marketer of confectionary sunflower seed products, Dakota Natural Foods, Inc. introduced its Dakota Kid products in 1977 and Jumboz in 2002.

"We started out selling our products 30 years ago in Fargo Stop-n-Go's and now have a regional presence. Locally, we have products at Central Market and Wal-Mart," added Huus.

Forging solid relationships with grocery retailers Nash Finch and SuperValu, as well as various conveniences store chains, helped to establish Dakota Natural Foods as a top quality supplier of sunflower seed snack items in the Midwest. Continuing to grow, they have also branched out into new markets such as Major League Baseball.

Said Huus: "We have been selling regionally for more than 30 years and are now one of the top three sunflower seed brands in the country. Jumboz also has become the official sunflower seed of the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers."

Featuring pack to order, oven-roasted seeds, marketed in re-sealable bags, Dakota Natural Foods Inc. are looking to expand their distribution nationally, recently signing baseball MLB player Darin Erstad to be their spokesperson.

"As a native to North Dakota, Erstad was a perfect fit for us. We are also flying down to Bentonville, Ark., later this month to speak with Wal-Mart about additional distribution opportunities," said Huus.

Dakota Kid and Jumboz are currently distributed in Wal-Mart's in the Midwest.

"We are hoping to go national and diversify as well, branching out into meat and other snack food items," added Huus.

According to Huus, about 70 percent of the confectionary sunflower seed industry is located in the Red River Valley. With that said, Dakota Natural Foods' Fargo headquarters has provided a central base for the burgeoning sunflower snack food business. Looking to grow his company, though, the move to Detroit Lakes was both business and personal, explained Huus.

"We wanted to expand and take Jumboz into national distribution," said Huus.

Hoping to increase market share and make a national splash, the local sunflower seed marketer sought to create a state-of-the-art production facility for its sunflower seed roasting and packaging operation -- something that would accommodate for future growth and locate the business closer to home.

"Our new Detroit Lakes building is still centrally located to the Red River Valley sunflower seed production corridor," explained Huus, "and as Darrel and I have also have kids in the Perham school district, Detroit Lakes just made sense."

Detroit Lakes was one of three communities Dakota Kid was considering for its move -- Barnesville and Perham were the other two. Huus noted availability, timing and opportunity helped DL win out over the other two manufacturing towns.

"When we started looking to move, we came across this building that was already here. We bought it from Bob Bristlin while it was still being constructed and made a few minor changes to accommodate our business and shipping needs," said Huus.

A second lot was also purchased to the south of Dakota Kid's current location. Situated in the northeast corner of the North Industrial Park, the additional room affords for further expansion opportunities from the get go.

"When we bought the building, we also bought the lot to the south of us for an expansion in the near future and are making plans to purchase two new special million-dollar roasting ovens," said Huus.

Another factor that brought Dakota Kid across the Red River was Minnesota's rural economic development program JOBZ, Job Opportunity Building Zone, which provides tax relief to companies that start up or expand in targeted areas of Greater Minnesota.

"We've been approved by the development authority for the JOBZ program, which will be a real benefit to help us grow our business," said Huus.

Dakota Natural Foods currently employs three at their Detroit Lakes facility -- 15 are expected to man the building once they begin to move their operation to Detroit Lakes and turn over their Fargo building to seed suppliers.

"Detroit Lakes is a fast-growing business community. We are very excited to be here and soon envision numerous Wal-mart trucks carrying our products across the U.S.," concluded Huus.