Beloit company turns to wind power

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November 5, 2007
— Thankfully, the potato chips aren’t green.

But the new Beloit plant that produces them is, and that’s earning Kettle Foods recognition for efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.

The 73,000-square-foot plant that opened earlier this year recently earned gold level certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The Kettle plant is one of just three so-certified facilities in Rock County.

In an effort to reach markets to the east and southeast, Kettle, which is based in Salem, Ore., settled on Beloit to build a new potato chip factory.

The fact that Beloit is near the potato farms of America’s heartland made the company’s decision almost as easy as the decision to build the plant with the environment in mind, company officials said.

“Investing in green building was a conscious decision on our part to demonstrate our values in a very tangible way,” said Tim Fallon, Kettle’s president. “Our employees have always encouraged us to look at ways to minimize our impact on the environment.”

The new plant, which is running at full speed and employs nearly 100 people, features:

-- Eighteen wind turbines on the roof that generate enough energy to produce 56,000 bags of potato chips each year.

-- Equipment that filters and reuses 1.65 million gallons of potato wash water.

-- High efficiency equipment that cuts the use of natural gas and electricity.

-- The conversion of cooking oil into biodiesel.

-- Five acres of native prairie land.

In addition, more than 35 percent of the plant’s building materials were sourced within 500 miles of Beloit.

“We like to take a long-term perspective,” said Michelle Peterman, Kettle’s vice president of marketing. “There were more upfront costs, but we’ll see the savings down the road.

“First and foremost, building green was a conscious decision to demonstrate our values. It will have a triple bottom line: social, environmental and financial.”

Founded in 1978, Kettle Foods is a privately owned company that produces more than 20 flavors and four varieties of potato chip offerings, five flavors of tortilla chips made with organic corn and a variety of nut butters and trail mixes.

Peterman said adopting sustainable business practices is the norm for Kettle Foods, whose all-natural chips account for nearly half the growth of the premium potato chip category.

“We like to think it’s a point of difference,” she said. “We know our No. 1 job is to make a great-tasting potato chip, but we think that when customers find out about our commitment to the environment they will put a value on it.”

In reaching markets to the east and southeast, the Beloit plant is also reducing the company’s footprint by eliminating long distance truck traffic from Oregon, she said.

Kettle’s plant on Oregon has one of the largest arrays of solar panels in Oregon. At one time, it was the largest in the Northwest.

“That’s the kind of competition we like,” she said.

The company also has restored wetlands adjacent to its Oregon plant that are annually home to a pair of nesting Blue Herons.

“Believe me, it’s always a big day at Kettle when the herons return,” she said.

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