Employees of Vanmark Equipment, a staple of Creston’s industry since 1954, are celebrating the company’s 60th year in the vegetable processing equipment market.
Vanmark Equipment, located at 300 Industrial Parkway, now has a second factory in Boise, Idaho, which will focus on making vegetable cutters. The combination was made official in November.
“We have a good relationship, I would have to say, with all the French fry makers of the world,” said Tom Mathues, president of Vanmark Equipment. “And, from Creston, we have a good relationship with darn near all the potato chip makers of the world.”
Vanmark, originally Veg-A-Peel Company, was born in 1954, after the mechanical potato peeler was invented, and located on North Walnut Street where Innovative Industries is currently located. A few years later, the Model 96 peeler was introduced, with the capability of peeling 2.5 tons of potatoes continuously.
Veg-A-Peel Company was renamed Vanmark Corporation in 1964, and in 1967, the building on Industrial Parkway was erected, at 58,000 square feet. In 1988, the company built a 3,400-square-foot addition to the building.
Vanmark Corporation was bought by Grote Company in July 2007, and renamed Vanmark Equipment. In January 2012, Vanmark purchased GME International, a maker of hydrocutters and other food equipment.
Now, Vanmark Equipment builds peelers, as well as conveyors, hoppers and elevators.
Vanmark Equipment went through two years of work acquiring a company in Boise, Idaho, to expand their vegetable-processing equipment market.
“Vanmark has been a good, profitable company,” said Mathues. “And, we began to look for acquisitions in our segment of the market, which is primarily root crop.”
Root crops are vegetables that grow underground. Examples are carrots, potatoes and beets.
Vanmark, Boise, is focused on building water-based vegetable-cutting systems, called hydrocutters, which allowed the company to get their foot in the door of the French fry industry.
Since the acquisition, Vanmark Equipment has had record years.
“A significant part of that was made up of sales to French fry companies from Creston,” Mathues said. “It’s increased business. ... We went up 25 percent right away, just by taking on their (Boise’s) part of the business. And, in addition to that, we saw 2012 was also a great year for Vanmark in Creston.”
Potato-processing companies are located where it is cheapest to ship their product, which is why Vanmark, Boise, is in a prime location. French fry companies are located near potato farms because it’s cheaper to ship the finished product, packaged and frozen, than it is to ship potatoes to the company at a longer distance. The opposite holds true for potato chip companies.
“What we didn’t realize, in the potato chip business, we didn’t realize that the French fry guys really didn’t view us as a major player in their industry, ... until we got this business,” Mathues said. “This business is absolutely central to producing central. ... And, all of a sudden, Creston started getting orders for our equipment because now the French fry guys knew we were serious about French fries.”
The hydrocutter built in Boise is a water-based system. It is made of a tube of knives spaced at intervals. The potato, or other vegetable, is shot through the tube with water at a high speed, then cut into sections with the knives.
“It (the cutter) was cheaper, higher quality and easier to maintain,” Mathues said.
Vanmark Equipment is attending a show in Portland, Ore., to demonstrate changes made to the hydrocutter since the first model was produced.