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Walmart reps, Gov. Burgum highlight Fargo sunflower butter company

N.D. Gov. Doug Burgum and Lisa Nelson, Public Affairs & Government Relations Director for Walmart, choose pastries frosted with sunflower butter Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, at the SunButter plant in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
Some SunButter products stand on display Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, at the company’s Fargo plant. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — As employees continued their work in the background, representatives of Walmart stopped by a Fargo-based sunflower butter company to put the spotlight on a local example of American manufacturing.

A short ceremony was held Monday, Nov. 13, at SunButter LLC, 4040 7th Ave. N., that featured remarks from local and state leaders, business officials and Lisa Nelson, a public affairs and government relations director with Walmart.

She said the Arkansas-based company — the largest retailer in the world — wanted to find a way to mark its America at Work commitment to invest an additional $250 billion in purchasing American products by 2023. The plan, she said, was to hold 50 events in 50 states, with the company highlighting one local example in each.

SunButter got that nod for North Dakota, a logical choice because the state is the No. 1 producer of sunflowers in America, according to Gov. Doug Burgum.

Nelson said Walmart's $250 billion pledge will support "a huge amount of product" while also adding up to a big impact in every state.

"We can leverage our size and strength to help communities and help our country really grow our economy," she said.

Adding value

Justin LaGosh, who serves as SunButter's director of sales and marketing, said the Fargo business is a "15-year-old overnight success" story that started in 2002.

At first, SunButter was focused on providing an alternative to peanut butter, a big concern as peanut allergies continue to become more common. The company's products became more prevalent in public schools because of its unique ingredients, but he said its sunflower butter is also now recognized as a great-tasting product grown and made in America that's now available in more than 4,000 Walmart stores.

SunButter employs more than 20 workers locally and is a part of Red River Commodities Inc. President and CEO Bob Majkrzak said the work to turn sunflower seeds into this product involves "hundreds" more beyond the SunButter payroll, including farmers, truckers, storage operators and others.

"SunButter is a lot more than just the 20 employees that you see working in the facility that's behind us," he said.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said his connection to SunButter is a little more personal. When his son was 1½ years old, he said, the boy ate a peanut butter sandwich and had a severe allergic reaction. He said that situation made him more aware of just how widespread peanut products are and the importance of providing peanut-free areas, especially in schools.

It's one of about 6,000 businesses across many industries in the Fargo-Moorhead area, he said, but it's also a prime example of what can be done right here that has an impact across the country.

"This company's made a huge commitment to safety and will put out a product that is safe," he said.

Burgum said it's no secret that North Dakota is an "agricultural powerhouse," with the state leading the nation in the production of more than a dozen crops, including sunflowers.

But he said it's becoming increasingly important to find ways to not only ship out those goods as raw products, which leaves producers and the whole state tied to the rapid fluctuations of commodity markets.

"When we process those products here, when we add value to them, when we brand and turn them into consumer products, then we take control of our own destiny," he said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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