LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, U.S. — The grain-based foods industry has seen constant change during the five years of Ardent Mills’ existence. To keep up with that change, the company is creating a chief growth officer position.
“This role will be driving innovation in the organization, be very customer focused in finding ways to work with our customers and help our customers and shift the way we think about even how we lead at Ardent Mills and the structure of our organization,” said Dan Dye, chief executive officer, in a Sept. 9 media briefing at the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas. “So we will be shifting toward being more innovative, being more agile, being more customer focused.”
Denver, Colorado, U.S.-based Ardent Mills plans to make an external hire to bring different views into the company, he said.
“We feel that we need new perspectives, fresh looks,” Dye said. “We have tremendous people, outstanding people, and this will just complement the great people we have at Ardent Mills.”
Ardent Mills was formed as a joint venture between CHS, Conagra Brands (then ConAgra Foods) and Cargill in 2014. Gluten-free was expanding as a category five years ago, and now other trends have emerged.
“We recognize we have a need for almost constant innovation,” Dye said.
With flour demand flat to declining slightly, Ardent Mills seeks to find pockets of growth for both the company and its customers, he said. To do so, Ardent Mills has expanded in ancient grains. Working with quinoa growers in Colorado gives bakers a domestic source and allows farmers to save on water.
“Water is a big issue in Colorado,” Dye said. “It’s a big issue in the nation, but it’s in the spotlight in Colorado. Quinoa uses significantly less water than corn or some other plants.”
Ardent Mills has become involved in heirloom wheat varieties like white Sonora and spelt and in pulses like chickpeas. The company has expanded in whole wheat flours and organic wheat flour as well as world flours like semolina and Neapolitan-style, Dye said.
The Annex by Ardent Mills, a new business unit founded in 2018, focuses specifically in the specialty area.
“The Annex in particular has opened the door to a whole new group of customers that we weren’t even thinking about five years ago,” Dye said. “They tend to be smaller, niche players but with room to grow. The volume on these products is generally smaller, but you can help those customers grow. We’ve seen some who went from one local bakery to three bakeries to, in some cases, a broader reach to other states and then nationally.”
Dye was asked what future trends might be discussed at the next IBIE in 2022.
“One, we’ll be talking about things that none of us in our wildest imagination would have thought about: something different, something that has emerged,” Dye said. “We don’t know what it will be, but it will be different.”
He said he expects customized or specialized food solutions to become more prominent while plant-based foods will evolve. Ardent Mills is working on a zero net-carb approach in which dietary fiber offsets the negative effects of other carbohydrates.
“I think we’ll have some new ways of bringing flour and grain-based foods to the market (in 2022),” Dye said. “Because I think people love bread. They love grain-based foods, and there is so much we can do with our products that have been around for a long time but continue to evolve and change.”