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Ramen factory preparing for production in Belle Fourche

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Industrial park

Preparations are in progress for Albany Farms to open the first phase of its ramen production facility. Albany Farms bought the former Permian facility in the Belle Fourche industrial and rail park and acquired adjacent acreage. When complete, it could be the largest or one of the largest ramen-producing facilities in the United States.

 

Albany Farms is in the first phase of opening a ramen production facility in Belle Fourche. The company, headquartered in Los Angeles, anticipates some packaging production could begin in Belle Fourche by December or early January. Between 40 and 60 employees could be hired by January, said Bill Saller, CEO of Albany Farms.

Albany Farms purchased the Permian facility in Belle Fourche’s industrial and rail park. The purchase includes 15 acres and a 50,000-square-foot building previously used to manufacture steel oil tanks. The Belle Fourche Economic Development Corporation worked with Albany Farms to help them acquire another 23 adjacent acres. Plans are for the ramen facility to be developed in four phases “and we plan on using every square inch of that land,” Saller said.

The existing 50,000-square-foot building is currently transformed into the site for the packaging line. The packaging will say “Packaged in Belle Fourche, S.D.,” Saller said.

“Our lead engineer, Lyle Rogalla, who’s one of the top food and building engineers in the country, is moving to Belle Fourche to be stationed at that facility as we build out,” Saller said. “We’re in the food business so there’s a lot of cleanup that needs to take place. Our engineer is leading a small team … to ensure the building is food-grade worthy. He’s ensuring all the steps are being made so we’re prepared for December.”

Phase two of the ramen facility will expand the existing building from 50,000 to 175,000 square feet, Saller said, and hiring about 200 employees by March or April 2022.

Albany Farms’ plans for the ramen facility ultimately include a flour mill, production factories and packaging areas. Another 150,000-square-foot building will be built as part of phase three. By phase three, Sallers estimates the facility could be producing 3,000 cups and packages of ramen noodles every minute. A flour mill and packaging facility would be installed during phase four.

Albany Farms currently sells Panda Signature ramen produced at a facility in southeast Asia. The Belle Fourche facility will produce a new brand, Twisted Noodle, made entirely in the United States. The initial Twisted Noodle ramen could be in stores by February 2022. Saller said plans are to gradually evolve the brand into something higher in protein, lower in sodium, and that includes vegetarian/vegan options and a gluten-free rice noodle ramen. 

"I think we'll be one of the larger, if not the largest, ramen producing facilities in the country," Saller said. “Anything that we possibly can source locally, we will.”

International supply chain and shipping challenges caused by COVID-19, along with a plea from a retail customer, prompted Albany Farms to make the move to producing its ramen entirely in the United States.

“Early on, one of our retailers came to us and said, ‘We need you to continue. We have a significant amount of our customer base that relies on ramen for their food. They can’t afford other meals,’” Saller said. “We made a decision to continue (ramen production) because we don’t know what the food supply is going to be. We think we made the right decision to ensure our little part of the having food supplies on shelves.

“It’s pushed us toward U.S. production, manufacturing and warehousing. It’s become apparent to us that the food supply should be primarily U.S. sourced. We want to be part of bringing the food supply and jobs back to the United States. Having food facilities in the United States with lots of good-paying jobs we think is important,” Saller said.

By the time phase four is complete, Albany Farms hopes to employ as many as 900 workers in Belle Fourche.

“These jobs are new jobs. They’re not being taken from California or another state,” Saller said. “We think having a food company that’s very consistent is an asset to the community.”

“We’re going to treat our employees very well. We’re looking for 20- or 30-year employees that retire (working for) us,” Saller said. “We’re going to offer above-scale pay. We’re planning on offering a benefits package (and pay) so that people can make a living wage and support themselves and their families. Our goal is to have only long-term employees. We think once word gets out about the type of employer we are, we think lots of folks will want to work with us.”

Belle Fourche’s location in an agricultural state and near a railroad that can ship supplies makes it an appealing site. The ability to complete all four phases of the ramen facility is contingent on financial support such as loans and grants at the local, state and federal levels, Saller said.

So far, that support includes a $1.35 million loan from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, which Albany Farms plans to use to purchase manufacturing equipment.

“We’ve had really good support. We’re thankful for that. With that continued support, we anticipate having a very large, productive facility and we hope to put Belle Fourche on the map as a great food supply and food manufacturing location,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a real exciting opportunity.”

Albany Farms and the Belle Fourche Economic Development Corporation have been working together for nearly a year to bring the ramen facility to South Dakota.

Hollie Stalder, executive director of BFEDC, said plans are already in progress to provide housing as the ramen facility attracts workers and families to Belle Fourche, a city with a population of about 6,000.

"We're super happy to have Albany Farms here," Stalder said. "Of course it's great for job creation, and it's a perfect tie-in with the agricultural background that Belle Fourche has. Our transportation network will serve them well and we're so happy that our industrial park was ideally suited for their needs."

Belle Fourche has already seen an influx of new residents this year who were attracted to South Dakota largely because of its lack of mask mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, Stalder said. She anticipates people moving to the Belle Fourche area to work for Albany Farms will be gradual growth that takes place over two to four years.

Belle Fourche had completed a housing study in January that revealed strong needs for more single-family, multi-family and income-based housing, Stalder said. She believes the presence of Albany Farms could attract housing developers.

“Housing will be one of our top priorities and it has been a priority to Albany. This just helps us to put even more emphasis behind it. The need will be even greater. I think that will be that tipping point. Developers see there’s a driving force (for housing),” Stalder said.

Stalder said the BFEDC is interested in working with local and regional developers, and out-of-state developers are welcome as well. Information about available real estate and land in Belle Fourche can be found at bfdcsd.com.

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