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SunWise setting up shop in Perham

SunWise Foods will be producing the above "crustless" sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches in Perham--for sale primarily to school districts and institutions. Based on preliminary market research, they estimate the current market for their product to be 15 million sandwiches per year. First-year projections call for one million sandwiches.

Some Perham folks got their first look--and taste--of the latest "made in Perham" food product.

Crustless sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches were served up by Bill Daggett, one of the partners in "SunWise Foods."

The premise behind the venture, which is aimed at supplying tens of thousands of the special product to schools, is two fold:

---Kids don't like to eat bread crust.

---An increasing number of kids, and adults, are discovering that peanut allergies are a serious concern.

"Bread crust is poison to kids...they just don't like to eat the crusts," said Daggett, who hosted a group of Perham city and Chamber of Commerce members on a tour of the facility on July 15. This is why the bread is "de-crusted," said Daggett.

SunWise is mostly in the research and development stages. Contracts with schools and institutions are still pending, but potential customers include colleges, Head Start and pre-school programs, and even prisons, said Daggett.

Production is labor intensive, as the process has limited mechanization potential at this stage. Basically, this is the process at the plant, which is located in the former Route 66/Nelson Confectionary chocolate factory building on Main Street:

---Bread, baked at the Sarah Lee plant in Fergus Falls, is applied with sunflower butter and jelly.

---The sunflower butter supplier is Sun Gold foods, based in West Fargo. The jelly is grape, and is a standard product bought at wholesale, in bulk.

---The bread is "de-crusted" with a cookie-cutter device.

---The edges of the sandwich are crimped, to hold the sunflower butter and jelly inside.

---Then, the product is packaged in a clear plastic wrap, and frozen.

Eight employees are anticipated, said Daggett, who also introduced two of the management staff who are on board now: Nick Behler, production manager and Jenny Nelson, human resources and accounting.

Not only is sunflower butter free from most of the allergic reactions associated with peanut butter; but Daggett contends it is healthier. Sunflower butter has less fat and more fiber than its peanut counterpart, said Daggett.

To comply with nutritional standards for schools, the sun-butter is measured precisely to meet the requirements for school children.

The concept of a "crustless" sandwich isn't totally new. There are a couple other companies, including the well-known jelly brand Smucker's, that have produced similar products. But SunWise is the first to use sunflower butter in a crustless sandwich, as far as Daggett is aware.

As for the decision to locate in Perham, Daggett said "it is the right town for us." For one thing, the former candy company is already a "food grade" facility.

Also, Perham has an established record in food processing--with Barrel O' Fun, Tuffy's Pet Foods, Kenny's Candies, and Bongards' Creameries being major food product producers.

One of the four main partners in SunWise Foods is Kenny Nelson, president of KLN Enterprises, who owns the Route 66 building.