By Barry Dalton
MEXICO–Most locals who drive on Hwy. 54 past Mexico are familiar with the Missouri Plant Science Center building on the northwest side of the road, but few realize the former science center is now the new location of Tiger Soy.
The State of Missouri originally developed the science center as an incubator for startups in the agricultural sector. While Tiger Soy is not a startup business, it is a company using innovative approaches for expanding the soybean market.
“We have installed a differentiated process to focus on our prime product–soy flour,” said Scott Crittenden, director of operations. “For us, we’re getting the soy flour to be used in human foods, and the soy oil for us is more of a coproduct of it.”
Tiger Soy took over the facility located at 651 Commerce Road in March 2019 and began operation in March 2020. It is now preparing to transition to 24-hour operations, four days per week, beginning in November.
“We’ve been scaling up production,” said Crittenden. “Right now we’re at eight employees, but we’d like to expand that to 20 employees at the maturity of the facility here.”
At least one of Tiger Soy’s employees is from Vandalia, and hiring locally in Audrain County, at a competitive wage, is one of the benefits that the company brings to the community.
“We’re excited to start a new manufacturing facility where we can hire local people and do something that’s unique and beneficial to advancing human nutrition,” Crittenden said.
The company works with local grain elevators, MFA coops and directly with farmers to locally source all of its soybeans. Tiger Soy is still in the intermediate phase of its growth, so it doesn’t compete so much on volume as it does on price, product differentiation and quality.
Whereas a large soybean plant may process over 300,000 bushels per month, Tiger Soy currently processes in the neighborhood of 30,000 bushels a month.
“The nature of the flour that we’re producing, we can offer soybean farmers maybe a few cents more per bushel for their beans,” Crittenden said. “So we’re able to be a benefit to local farmers to provide their beans to another outlet for sale, competition for their beans.”
Crittenden added that, being a small company, it isn’t large enough to have the economy of scale to compete strictly on price.
“We have to compete on quality of our product and service to our customers,” he said. “We have to do that as well if not better than others to prove our value to our customers.”
Tiger Soy is developing its customer base, working for example with a co packer south of Chicago, but it also supplies soy flour to its parent facility in Scott City, which produces corn flour. There, they develop a specialty product that is sold to the United States Agency for International Development, which uses it in the World Food Program.
“Down there we make a product that’s called, the acronym is CSB plus, but it’s a corn-soy blend with a vitamin fortification added to it,” Crittenden explained. “We blend that through a nutrient profile, package it in 50-pound heat-sealed bags and then we put those on box cars and they go to whichever port necessary to hit ships to go to countries that have a need for additional food in the form of donations from the United States.”
The advantage of being a small company is that Tiger Soy can focus on finding creative approaches and methods to adapt to the ever changing food market.
“Some customers want low fat soy flour, some want high fat soy flour, so we produce to meet different specifications,” said Crittenden. “As well, we have gotten our certification for organic, non-GMO, kosher products. So we have multiple specialties for the soy flour market.”
Crittenden, whose background has been in both human and animal food production, is optimistic about Tiger Soy’s future in Audrain County.
“People as well as animals always have to eat, so it’s a pretty steady business from that perspective.”