MARS HILL, Maine — A $7.5 million expansion project at Pineland Farms Naturally Potatoes is nearing completion.
“We’re probably about 90 to 95 percent complete,” Rodney McCrum, president and chief operating officer, said earlier this month.
Officials broke ground June 4, 2014, on the expansion, which includes 12,000 new square feet for dry storage, doubles the refrigerated warehousing area and more than doubles the product cooling capacity.
McCrum said things have been going well at the potato processing plant.
“Sales have been good, business is up, and we’re planning on contracting more potatoes from growers this year,” he said. “We’ve hired about 40 new people since August, bringing the total number of employees to 140, and that’s all full time. We have people who work here from Fort Kent down to Houlton. Our employees are the ones who make it happen.”
Recognizing the plant is “very sophisticated,” McCrum said all the machines are computer controlled and the facility now has robots.
“When you run a state-of-the-art facility, you need people with technical abilities from people who are master electricians to understanding IT … the full gamut,” he said. “Our preference is that employees have a minimum of a two-year degree. People need to understand computers, modern technology and food safety.”
Wanting to see the company’s growth firsthand, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins toured the plant April 2 and spoke to employees about the importance of growing and protecting good-paying jobs in the state.
“We need to look for opportunities to add value to our natural resource base in Aroostook County,” Collins said. “There’s a real County and Maine mystique to products and foods that are made and grown here, and I think we should take advantage of that.”
Pineland Farms Naturally Potatoes is looking into a macaroni and cheese production line.
“Our growth has been so phenomenal in the potato market, but we are looking into a mac and cheese line,” McCrum said. “We are not ruling it out.
“We are also aging cheese here at our facility in Mars Hill. We bought Pineland Farms Creamery in 2013, and we’re going to start packing cheese here in our facility in the next month or two. We’ve been packing it at the cheese plant in New Gloucester, but we’ll be doing it locally shortly,” he said. “We’ll still be making the cheese at the creamery, but will be aging and packing it in Mars Hill. It’s artisan cheese that you can find in the grocery store.”
Pineland Farms Naturally Potatoes’ products can be found at Applebee’s, Logan’s, BJs, Pizzeria Uno, Disney, O’Charley’s, 99 Restaurants, Famous Daves, Publix, Hannaford, Golden Corral, Sysco and Dot.