Conagra Brands on June 29 announced the opening of a new vegetable processing facility in Waseca, Minnesota, USA. Approximately $300 million was invested in the 245,000 -square-foot factory, which processes freshly harvested vegetables to supply the Chicago-headquartered company’s Birds Eye brand and its frozen meals businesses. The factory was built from the ground up with a focus on maximizing automation to create greater efficiencies and enhance food safety throughout.
“The significant investment is indicative of the strong opportunity we see in our frozen foods business,” said President and CEO Sean Connolly. “We are committed to innovating across the company, including our supply chain. We are also pleased to make the investment in Waseca, where Birds Eye has a long history.”
The peas and corn packed at the factory come from a network of nearby growers who employ a variety of environmentally friendly practices such as smart technology to save water, support biodiversity and improve soil health. Conagra has invested in ways to monitor the nutrient needs of crops in the field using real-time data. This allows harvesting to synchronize with the facility’s production schedule, so that the vegetables are picked at peak ripeness and transported directly to the new Waseca plant where they are received, washed and frozen within a few hours.
“Our teams looked at every aspect of the facility to identify automation opportunities to improve productivity and modernize food safety practices throughout our operations,” said Ale Eboli, executive vice president and chief supply chain officer at Conagra Brands. “The state-of-the-art design and uniquely designed equipment featured in the facility process vegetables in the most efficient and responsible way possible.”
The new factory replaces a 92-year-old facility in Waseca and will provide approximately 20% more capacity for processing vegetables. On an annual basis, the plant can process and produce 120 million pounds of cut and cob corn, 45 million pounds of peas, and more than 20 million pounds of rice. In addition, Conagra anticipates the new facility uses approximately 25% less water per pound of product produced than the company’s previous factory.
In fiscal year 2021, Conagra’s Birds Eye brand generated more than $1.5 billion in retail sales.