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KanPak: A Global Company with Finger Lakes Roots

Yogurt is big business in New York State. New York is the #1 yogurt producer in the country. Many people are familiar with Chobani Greek Yogurt, well known in NY for its facility in the Southern Tier region of the state. But you may be surprised to hear that another fan-favorite yogurt brand, Siggi’s Icelandic skyr yogurt is also made in NY. Siggi’s is owned by Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy company.

Skyr is similar to Greek yogurt and is made by mixing cultures with milk and straining out any water. It yields a thick and slightly sour taste, with less sugar and more protein than traditional yogurt. Siggi’s makes yogurts with milk from family farms in Upstate New York and Wisconsin. Their products don’t contain any artificial sweeteners and they only use milk from family farms who do not use growth hormones like rBST.

Here’s where we meet KanPak, a specialist in the contract manufacturing of aseptic specialty products based in the Finger Lakes. KanPak put down roots in Penn Yan in 2014 when it acquired the manufacturing plant that was originally built in 2010. Aseptic food manufacturing includes a processing technique where thermally sterilized liquid foods are packaged into previously sterilized containers under sterile conditions to produce shelf-stable products that do not need refrigeration.

Brian Gatesman

“When KanPak purchased the Penn Yan facility in 2014, Siggi’s Yogurt was our main customer,” say Brian Gatesman, Human Resources Director, KanPak U.S. and Bryan Bartee, Vice President, Manufacturing Operations at KanPak.

“At that time, we were the only producer of Siggi’s, but now there are several facilities producing their products. KanPak remains the sole producer of Siggi’s plant-based product line,” Gatesman and Bartee said.

KanPak’s Modern Manufacturing is Growing in Penn Yan

Penn Yan is a small town at the northern tip of Keuka Lake, and it has been home to dairy farms since the 1800’s. The proximity to dairy farms is good for Siggi’s and its regional sourcing.

KanPak’s Penn Yan plant used to be the-little-manufacturing-plant-that-could, but the facility is certainly not little anymore. “We’ve continually grown the Penn Yan plant to expand manufacturing, add jobs, and deliver goods through the newly built warehouse on the facility grounds,” said KanPak’s Gatesman and Bartee.

Bryan BarteeGatesman and Bartee went on to proudly share more about KanPak’s expansion. “In 2019, we completed a 195,000-square-foot expansion to the Penn Yan facility, enabling KanPak to store larger amounts of ingredients and materials to better service our customers and to meet the increased demands for aseptic dairy products. We have seen a fantastic amount of growth in these several years and look forward to our future in Penn Yan.”

KanPak currently employs 214 associates in Penn Yan, and they have a number of opportunities open, from project manager to quality control technician to maintenance mechanic, and several others.

KanPak’s History

KanPak LLC began as a family-owned dairy company, based in Arkansas City, Kansas. From the beginning, KanPak has led the way in the development of aseptic processing and packaging for beverages and desserts. In 1983, KanPak was one of the first companies in North America to qualify, process, and aseptically package low-acid foods.

In 2011, Golden State Foods became partners in KanPak China and the company later acquired a controlling interest in KanPak LLC. KanPak’s U.S. presence expanded in December 2014 with the acquisition of the Penn Yan facility. The newly combined entity was poised for continued international growth and success.

Now headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, the company has state-of-the-art facilities, including manufacturing plants in Arkansas City, Kansas; Penn Yan, New York; an equipment-dispensing plant in Southbury, Connecticut; and offices in Wichita, Kansas and Toronto, Canada.

Poised for Growth

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on consumer preferences for healthy eating. That’s good news for industries like yogurt. But it’s not just the traditional product lines that are thriving. New products in the yogurt industry – like plant-based yogurt – are rising in popularity too.

Even though KanPak is now a global company, they recognize the value of their regional relationships that have helped them grow. Gatesman and Bartee emphasized the value of the Finger Lakes community, “We have long-standing relationships with many local partners and continue to focus on these partnerships as a local manufacturing facility, no matter the size of our operation.”

Siggi’s, for example, sources milk from local farms in Upstate New York, and they also divert whey from food production to regional farms where it’s treated in a digester and used as a crop fertilizer1.

“One of our core values is to treat others the way you want to be treated, and we live that out daily in our continued engagement with the local community. The Finger Lakes region has become home to us, and we’re very grateful to the community and resources that have supported us from the very beginning,” Gatesman and Bartee said.

Giving Back to the Community

Companies with shared value, which includes establishing company practices that contribute to competitive advantage while strengthening the communities in which a company operates2, are a rising trend today. And KanPak is no stranger to good stewardship.

KanPak’s Penn Yan associates are very active in giving back to the local community through the GSF Foundation. Foundation volunteers have collectively donated 977 hours of their time in the past year alone and raised more than $35,000 (including donation pledges from their own paychecks) to support local children and families in need.

In 2018 the Penn Yan team earned KanPak’s top facility honor, the Chairman’s Challenge Award.

The Finger Lakes Advantage

Companies like KanPak thrive in the Finger Lakes because they leverage the unique resources available in our region. KanPak has found success in strong relationships with NY’s dairy farmers, a supportive workforce and a global demand for the products it manufactures.

Next up, we’ll look at another successful Finger Lakes company that opened its doors more than 220 years ago in Penn Yan, The Birkett Mills.

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She owns 29 Design Studio, a Finger Lakes-based branding and marketing agency that specializes in food, beverage and agriculture. She is also a partner in Metro Collective, a collaborative network of people, ideas, and shared space communities in the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes regions.

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