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Washington company produces meals at food enterprise center, creates jobs

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RONAN – A Washington company is using Ronan’s Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center to produce prepared meals. Taste of Amazing is a Washington-based catering company that also makes prepared meals for Rosauers supermarkets. Since mid-March the company has been producing its line of heat-and-serve products at MMFEC. The products are being distributed under the Rosauers label in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon. 

Chef Gail Kurpgeweit is the president and CEO of the company. She describes the product her company makes at MMFEC as “a very high end gourmet prepared meal.”  The meals are sold frozen or fresh at supermarkets.

Kurpgeweit is partnering with MMFEC in order to utilize their USDA inspected food processing center. Products that will be sold in grocery stores across state lines must be produced at a USDA-inspected facility. Kurpgeweit could not find a processing facility in the Seattle area that met her needs, so she turned to MMFEC.

According to their website, MMFEC strives to “enhance regional and state economic opportunities by providing client services to value added agriculture and specialty food businesses.” The center provides processing services and access to processing equipment for food businesses.   

Taste of Amazing pays the food enterprise center a fee for the use of the kitchen and storage space. As part of that fee, MMFEC staff shows Taste of Amazing employees how to comply with USDA regulations. Kurpgeweit said that the collaboration with MMFEC has been beneficial to her business.

“They’re a valuable asset not just because of the kitchen but because of the knowledge that they have,” She said. “They understand processing and that’s a huge deal.”

Because their mission is to increase economic activity in the region and the state, MMFEC doesn’t often work with out of state companies like Taste of Amazing. MMFEC Center Director Jan Tusick said that though the company is from out of state, Taste of Amazing supports the local economy by creating jobs for people in the area.

“She pays higher than your average employer and they’re getting trained in food safety, so we’re getting some good experience and job training for people,” Tusick said. 

Kurpgeweit has hired 14 local employees to produce the meals. She says that in the next three months she plans to add two to four more employees. 

In addition to job creation, the food enterprise center works to increase consumption of Montana grown food. Currently, Kurpgeweit orders the ingredients for her products from Sysco Montana, a food service distributor located in Billings. She said that some of those products are grown in the state, but that she hopes to include more local food in her products in the future. 

“It’s a huge amount of food we’re moving,” she said. “We’re trying to market it as a Montana product as much as possible.” Kurpgeweit said that in two weeks they had produced 11,000 meals at the facility.

Tusick and Kurpgeweit said that they hope to work with Western Montana Growers Cooperative to get some local products into the meals.

Kurpgeweit said that she wants her business to be “a blessing” to the region.

“We have a big footprint—we’re producing a lot of food and using a lot of local resources,” she said. “I think it’s important that if we’re going to be there and use the facility that we become part of the community.”

Kurpgeweit is in negotiations with “a couple” of grocery stores that will distribute her prepared meals in addition to Rosauers. She is also designing a line of products that will be sold through a television network. 

According to Kurpgeweit, the business is in Ronan to stay. She said that in addition to MMFEC’s facility and expertise on USDA processing regulations, working in Montana has been economically beneficial to her business. Both Tusick and Kurpgeweit said that there is room for the business to grow at the food enterprise facility.

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