AGT Foods, with two locations in ND (Minot and Williston), has become a global powerhouse in value-added pulse products. Starting in Regina, Canada, AGT Foods had the vision to keep the value-added processing facilities near the producers. The origin-based processing model has aided in global growth with this combination of producer/processor cooperation that serves the local community well. At the consumer level, many have not heard the name AGT Foods, but Eric Bartsch, Division Head, highlighted a variety of everyday products that have ingredients processed by AGT. Their products include value-added pulses such as peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans and more.
AGT’s model of building processing facilities near the crop production adds value to that community, instead of the traditional model that exported raw products worldwide for value-added processing. “Within a 2-3 year period, we were able to become a dominate player in the pulse industry for value-added pulse products,” explains Bartsch. By bringing together quality pulse crop producers along with processing capabilities and technology, AGT was able to bring more to the table than other companies in the pulse ingredient market.
In 2013, AGT built its first large-scale facility for milling of pulses in Minot, ND. The operation focused on producing flours, proteins, starches, and fibers to be used as food ingredients. In Minot, pulses are transformed using milling and extraction techniques, pulling out proteins, starch, and fiber to fit different market demands. This value-added process benefits ND in many ways, and Bartsch (a ND native) wouldn’t have it any other way, “this area is attractive because of its hard-working people, with strong ethics. The diversity of agriculture is also a key factor. This area can support anywhere from chickpeas to dry beans. Really, this region with its environment from people to the land is what created a thriving business.”
ND, SD, and MT produce a variety of high-quality pulse crops such as dry beans, lentils, and peas. There are many benefits in keeping the value-added processing and producers in close proximity. “We can see the market changes and anticipate the need with so many connections to the farmers themselves,” noted Bartsch. Building and maintaining these relationships directly with the buyers and the producers, AGT can facilitate the perfect products and processing needs for all parties involved.
The pulse industry has seen great shifts in consumer demands over the past decade. In previous decades, the majority of pulse crops were heavily utilized in Asian and Middle Eastern markets, “now there is increased demand for these products across the US and other parts of the world,” explains Bartsch. Consumers are more aware of their food’s nutrition and ingredient makeup, and pulses have the perfect profile for supplementing those needs. AGT’s processing facility goes beyond cleaning, splitting, and color sorting (although they do that too); the company has the technology to separate protein from starch and concentrates the results, uses non-chemical de-flavoring techniques, and much more to provide a variety of ingredients. Bartsch notes the changes in how consumers have increasingly adopted pulse products, “there was a time when the only thing people knew what to do with a bag of split peas was making split pea soup, and now we see the ability of these products to be transformed into snack foods, beverages, and even pasta.” More recently, VeggiPasta has hit the market for consumers as a pasta alternative and was developed in Minot, ND. The pea pasta is a successful gluten-free pasta alternative.
The company has expanded its model of origin-based processing, adding facilities in the US, Canada, Turkey, Australia, and South Africa. They have also expanded ingredient offerings with non-GMO, gluten-free, and non-allergenic products, all of which ship to more than 120 counties worldwide. With so much product movement across the US and globally, AGT utilizes Minot’s intermodal facility with great success. But, like so many, transportation has been a challenge with the ongoing pandemic impact. Making the most of the obstacles, AGT has been able to work with US companies to help on-shore some activities and supply pulse products that were previously imported to US companies. They have also seen buying shifts that moved away from restaurant sales to focus on increases in consumer products. “We are starting to see some stabilization, overall, but it has been a mixed bag,” says Bartsch.
AGT is reimagining how pulse products and benefit all. “Prior to 2010, no one was transforming pulses as a functional ingredient. It just wasn’t done,” says Bartsch, “ but now, they can be made into snacks, drinks, and even burgers, but the innovation had to be there to make it happen.” By utilizing technology and creating new methods of processing, AGT continued to push the boundaries beyond traditional applications for pulse crops. Keeping the producers at center stage and leading innovation for pulse products globally will continue to be the focus of AGT Foods.