Tucked near the northeast corner of Kent’s vast industrial zone sits one of The Krusteaz Company’s production facilities that pushes out hundreds of pounds of mixes for pancakes, muffins, cornbread and other products each day.
The small Continental Mills sign that now stands outside the building tells little about what’s behind the walls at 7851 S. 192nd St., west of Highway 167, where about 200 employees staff a seven-days-a-week operation of food mix systems and packaging lines.
Company officials expect more exposure with the announcement earlier this month that Tukwila-based Continental Mills is changing its name to The Krusteaz Company. Company leaders made the decision in honor of its flagship brand and 90th anniversary of the brand started in Seattle in 1932.
“We’re really promoting Krusteaz,” said Mike Allen, plant manager in Kent, where the production facility opened in 1975. “The name change is to focus on our core product.”
Allen said people in the Pacific Northwest might know the Krusteaz name but that’s not the case in other parts of the country. The company also has production facilities in Hopkinsville, Kentucky; Manhattan, Kansas; and Effingham, Illinois.
“We moved out to the Midwest and East Coast and nobody had heard of Krusteaz,” Allen said Sept. 21.
About 300 products are packaged in Kent, transported to the distribution facility in Tukwila and moved to retail and food service locations.
The Kent plant features a 135,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and an 80,000-square-foot materials warehouse. It has eight production lines and six mix systems.
“We produce about 190 million pounds of product a year, 4 million pounds a week and 700,000 pounds a day of product,” Allen said.
Krusteaz goes through a lot of flour and sugar each week that help compose the mixes. Truckloads of flour and sugar are delivered weekly to the site.
As with other industries, much more is automated at the facility than it used to be.
“Over the last decade we’ve automated a lot of system processing within the plant,” said Allen, who has worked 13 years for the company. “We probably spend $1.5 million to $2 million per year to reinvest back into the facility.”
But it still takes employees such as packaging operators, packaging support, process operators, process support, warehouse technicians, forklift operators, mechanics and quality specialists to get the work done.
Those employees, with lots of safety measures, continued to work during the pandemic when the Kent plant set record production numbers.
“We probably had the largest volume ever out of this plant during the pandemic year,” Allen said. “We set a record for the amount of pounds produced. That’s a testament to our people with all the protocols we put in place with masks and social distancing. …It was hard to do but we did it.”
People might have cooked and baked more during the pandemic with so many working from home and eating at home, but the high production numbers have continued.
“We are again on a record pace for volume out of this plant,” Allen said.
Sales are going well, even with major competitors such as General Mills and PepsiCo.
“We compete well with much bigger manufacturers,” Allen said.
A pretty good showing for a third generation family owned business started in 1932 by a entrepreneurial woman named Rose Charters in Seattle with the world’s first just-add-water pie crust. Charters combined the words crust and ease to come up with the brand name.
Now the company hopes that name helps it grow even more.
“Hopefully, from a Kent perspective, moving to the Krusteaz name will give us more recognition from a recruiting standpoint bringing new employees in,” Allen said. ” I think that will help with getting our name out there more than it is today.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with the correct amount of pounds of product produced per day.