Natural Products finds right niche with non-GM soy flour ingredients

When Paul Lang and his brothers, Ray and Jerry, launched Natural Products, Inc., (NPI) in 1995 to produce soy ingredients they knew they were taking a gamble. "We were building a company to create a product that had no existing market," says Paul Lang. The gamble paid off and today, Natural Products meets a growing demand for non-GM and organic soy ingredients.

Whole soy ingredients

NPI's products include roasted and enzyme active (raw) full-fat, whole soy ingredients, including chips, meal, grits, and flour. These products are used in a wide range of foods, including breads, bagels, waffles, pancakes, energy bars, granola, and the growing number of soy-based products including soymilk, tofu, dips, yogurt, dressings, cheese, and more.

Natural Products sells its products primarily to U.S. technology providers who provide processing knowledge and formulation abilities to food manufacturers. Outside the U.S., Natural Products' strongest market is Korea. Its products end up in foods worldwide: soymilk in the U.S., China, and the Philippines, pancake mixes in Chicago, bread mixes in Oregon, ice cream in New Jersey, sausages in Hong Kong, and famine relief mixes in Sudan are a few examples.

No competitors

While starting the company was a gamble, the Langs had a rich agricultural family tradition to draw upon, spanning six generations over 150 years in Iowa. The Langs have 75 years experience in value-added processing alone. Paul Lang's father, James, who is 80, has operated a business dehydrating alfalfa to create feed pellets for nearly 50 years.

"We started Natural Products to add value," says Paul Lang. They did not want to work with a commodity, and they wanted to choose an area where no competitors existed. In fact, very few companies produce full-fat, whole soy ingredients using a cold-pressed process. Large processing companies such as ADM and Cargill produce soybean oil and protein products using a hexane extraction process.

Factors driving growth

NPI's growth has been fueled by two technology developments. First, new technology became available to make soyfoods from soy flour instead of using the whole soybean, as is required by traditional Asian methods. This advancement allowed technology companies to make soyfoods and created market opportunities for Natural Products who supplied soy flour to the companies. The second technology development was genetic engineering. When Natural Products started production in 1995, GMOs were a non-issue. But as they started to become widely grown, Lang says his company received immediate attention because their products were non-GM.

IP system

NPI's products are derived from several soybean varieties: certified organic, high sucrose and low stachyose, clear hilum, and high protein. All are non-GM. About 30% of NPI's production is organic and 70% is non-GM.

NPI works with Central Counties Cooperative in Kellogg, Iowa, and contracts local farmers to grow the soybeans. Central Counties conducts training meetings to educate farmers on IP production. NPI specifies the varieties that farmers must grow and conducts random tests on the seed using rapid immunoassay "strip" tests to ensure no GM varieties are present. Farmers must follow IP procedures specified in the contract, such as proper segregation and cleaning of equipment and storage. They follow a checklist detailing the steps, which they must sign and turn in.

At harvest, Central Counties' grain elevator receives the soybeans. The elevator has dedicated unloading pit and storage bins for NPI's varieties to keep them segregated from other soybeans. Central Counties then delivers the soybeans to NPI's two processing plants. Before unloading, samples are taken and tested using strip tests. Any loads that test positive are rejected, which has happened says Lang. In addition, NPI can provide DNA-based PCR testing at a laboratory upon customer request.

NPI has 12 storage bins with capacities of 10,000 bushels on-site. Two storage bins, one for organic, the other for non-GM feed into the processing facility. NPI personnel clean the processing facilities as much as five times per week to allow for processing of different organic and non-GM soybean varieties.

1% tolerance

NPI guarantees that its products will have no more than one percent GM material in the finished product. If tests indicate GM content higher than one percent, NPI will bear the liability of the value of the product.

Lang believes the U.S. government and the organic industry should establish a standard for what constitutes non-GMO. "Every major country has created standards for non-GMO except America," he says. This is ironic, Lang says, since the U.S. is the world's leading producer of soybeans. Lang also sees the industry moving to establish third-party, non-GMO validation programs.

Lang's insights into soyfood production have led him to give many presentations at conferences. He is also a board member of the Soyfoods Association of North America.

Finding the right niche and filling it is Lang's common-sense approach to value-added production. "Everyone needs to do what they do best and pass it on," he says.
(June 2002)