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Formation of Tri Foods

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Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 8:45 pm    Post subject: Formation of Tri Foods Reply with quote

The Need -

In the early days of Concordia Creamery, the excess buttermilk from the churn and later the whey from the cheese vats was simply dumped down the drain. This waste eventually wound up in the ditches north of Concordia (along Route 23) and created a terrible stench, particularly in the heat of the summer. There was no Enviromental Protection Agency back then, but people realized that something had to be done about the problem.

In 1946, as the production of cheese began to increase significantly, my father and the Creamery board decide to take action. They formulated a plan to convert the whey and buttermilk into animal food. The whey would be condensed into feed for hogs and calves, while the buttermilk would be dried into poultry food. The selection of a site for the plant was obvious. There was vacant land directly behind the creamery so that the buttermilk and whey could be piped directly over to it. More would also be trucked in from the neighboring creameries at Emma and Alma and from as far away as Windsor and Blue Springs. The plant location had one additional advantage in that it was next to the old abandoned swimming pool which became a source of cooling water for the evaporation equipment.

Funding –

Then came the need to obtain funding for this enterprise. Being president of the Missouri section of the American Dairy Association, Dad had a number of contacts in the dairy industry, as well as investors and lawyers particularly in the St. Louis area. Around this time he was involved in the formation of 20th Century Foods, a conglomerate of various creameries and feed businesses mostly in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Tri Foods Company was set up as a division of this group.

One of the interesting investors was Stuart Symington, president of Emerson Electric in St. Louis at the time. You may recall that Symington was appointed as the first Secretary of the Air Force by President Truman and he later became a four term senator from Missouri. (That was up until 1960 when he lost his bid to become a presidential candidate to JFK.) Few people are aware of this connection, albeit very slight, between Concordia and one of the “movers and shakers” in U. S. history. My father was always proud of having a personal relationship with him.

Staffing the business –

Next was the need to find someone to manage the business. Another of my father’s contacts was the Laabs Bros. Cheese Company in Clark Co., Wisconsin. He got Glen and Herman Laabs interested in the project and convinced Glenn to leave the family business and come to Concordia to manage the plant.

In order to encourage Glenn to come, Dad built a new home for him on Gordon St. close to the new plant. While he was at it, he also built a second house next to it. Concordia was in need of a veterinarian at that time and he used this house to entice Dr. Dale Bivin to come to Concordia. So Dr. Bivin brought his family and moved into the house at the corner of 4th and Gordon. (These houses were built on the corner of our family’s pasture that I have mentioned in other postings.)

Ideas –

Glen Laabs was an inventive and enterprising individual. He was always coming up with new business ideas. One of those involved paint. The condensed whey was packaged in surplus wooden whiskey barrels obtained from distillers in Kentucky. If you haven’t read it, you might be interested in the posting about the Creamery picnic which gives more information about the use of these barrels. The farmers would saw the barrels in half or knock them open and put them in the feedlot. Glen decided that the barrels should be painted. So he mixed some orange pigment in the whey and painted the barrels with the mixture. Surprisingly, the casein in whey has very good adhesive properties and it made a good paint.

Because of this success, Glen decided that whey should be used to produce house paint. So 20th Century Foods set up a subsidiary in southern Missouri to manufacture it. A lot of titanium dioxide pigment had to be used to make the paint good and white. Initially, the paint sold well in the area. My brother and I painted our garage with it. As a testimony to its quality, the paint on the garage lasted much longer than the BPS paint on our house. Unfortunately, the company failed to set up good distribution channels and the cost of materials, primarily the pigment, made the production of the paint economically infeasible. So, within a few years the paint factory closed.

Another of Glen’s ideas was “filled” cheese. He reasoned that the cost of cheese could be reduced by using vegetable oil in skim milk, in place of whole milk. Dad reluctantly went along with the idea, having fought the oleo-margarine industry for many years. (Do you remember the capsules on the margarine packages that had to be pinched in order to color it?) 20th Century Foods went ahead and built another plant in southern Missouri to produce the filled cheese. I’m not sure how long the business lasted. I never did like the taste or consistency of that cheese.

One of Glen’s more successful ideas was the 20th Century Plastic Wrap Sealer. It was used for packaging natural cheese at the vat. After an initial pressing, the cheese would be wrapped in a sheet of plastic and placed into this press. The hydraulic press would then squeeze the cheese into a square blocks (anywhere from 2 to 60 pounds) and seal the plastic wrap in one operation. I can remember Walt Stuermer welding these presses together in his free time at the Tri Foods plant. The press was easy to use and sold well. Units were sold throughout the U. S. and in various foreign countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Glen’s long-time dream was a continuous cheese production facility, where milk would be poured in one end and the finished and wrapped cheese would come out the other end, untouched by human hands. Part of the process would involve using microwaves to cook the cheese. While I was studying electrical engineering at MU, Glen asked me to work on this project. He wanted to build a working prototype in order to obtain a patent. To get started, he gave me a collection of glass tubing that some former student had blown for him into some weird shapes. Having only a sketchy description of the plan and not being familiar with food chemistry, I was reluctant to work on the project. Besides, I was busy with other things at school and never got around to doing anything about it. Finally, I returned the glassware to Glen which probably hurt the good relationship between us. I don’t know if he was able to get anything more done. Sometimes I regret not having tried a little harder. Who knows, it might have developed into something.

Later years –

My father was a lifelong Roosevelt Democrat. Through the years, he maintained the political connections he had established during his years in the dairy industry and his off-again, on-again terms as mayor of Concordia. He loved to rub shoulders with various senators/congressmen and Missouri governors. That undoubtedly helped in his efforts to obtain funding for the Concordia Lake/water reservoir. My mother (a lifelong Republican) relished the flower arrangement that Governor Hearnes sent to Dad’s funeral.

As the dairy industry changed, 20th Century Foods fell onto hard times and filed for bankruptcy sometime around 1961. Tri Foods' business was good and it continued to operate, assuming some of the liabilities. My only connection with that business is a number of worthless 20th Century Foods stock certificates that my brother, sister, and I inherited.

If anyone is familiar with the later history of Tri Foods, I would appreciate hearing about it.
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