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With a sense of the growing demand for their product — proprietary varieties of 'Creamer' potatoes that are packaged for quick preparation — a Canadian company has begun its expansion in the United States with construction of a new facility near DeForest, just north of Madison

The Little Potato Company and Ryan Companies, Inc., celebrated the groundbreaking for the 133,000-square-foot processing facility on a 16-acre site just north of DeForest last week. It is the first facility The Little Potato Company will have in the United States.

The company was started in 1996 by company CEO Angela Santiago and her father when they grew a one-acre plot of the tiny potatoes that they harvested, washed and bagged by hand. In the 20 years since then, the company has concentrated on selecting and growing Creamer potatoes, harvested when they are at their peak of flavor and packaged for easy preparation by consumers.

Creamer potatoes — known for their thin skins and small size — are the smallest in the potato family and are bred to be naturally buttery tasting, nutritious and easy to prepare. The Canadian company with headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta has invested in the development of traditionally bred varieties of Creamer potatoes. They now have varieties called 'Baby Boomer,' a red called 'Blushing Belle,' a blue potato called 'Something Blue,' Fingerlings and Miss Blush.

The company's products are sold in produce sections of grocery stores and other outlets in 43 states. (In Wisconsin they are found in Hy-Vee, Woodman's, Walmart and other local markets.)

The company's small potatoes are sold in microwave-ready or oven/grill ready packages that consumers can prepare in a half hour. Her company's varieties, says Santiago, were bred and chosen for their outstanding flavor, color, nutrition and consistency.

Santiago said her 'passionate potato professionals' search the world's potato-growing regions to look for different varieties that could lend themselves to the company's traditional breeding program.

Creating a new Creamer variety takes many years, she said, and care is taken to ensure perfect and consistent taste and color all the way to a consumer's plate. All potential new varieties are screened and selected by a professional tasting panel and then introduced slowly in limited markets.

The potatoes are grown on farms across Canada and the United States to ensure a year-round supply.

'We are absolutely delighted to be opening our first U.S. facility in DeForest,' Santiago said.

In addition to being passionate about her company and its future, Santiago (who is the mother of four children) is passionate about helping families develop better eating habits and helping kids learn how to prepare nutritious foods.

The company sponsors the 'Little Chef Program' to help kids learn about cooking and food by creating meals with their families. Santiago believes that preparing and cooking simple meals as a family creates an opportunity for a fun, shared experience — something most busy families crave more of.

As kids learn to cook they develop important life skills, she believes. Those include planning, knowledge of food and nutrition, learning where food comes from and building a connection to the environment, as well as being contributors to an important family activity.

The location of the large office building and processing facility in Dane County was worked out after visits with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC,) the Madison Economic Regional Partnership and DeForest officials who courted the company. Once completed, $11.7 million of the $20 million project will quality for WEDC tax credits.

When considering where they would build their first U.S. facility, the spud company felt that Wisconsin was a good fit because of its proximity to growers. They previously had 400 acres under contract with Wisconsin farmers to grow the tiny potatoes and expanded that to 4,000 acres for the 2016 growing season.

The DeForest site was considered a good fit since it is close to major transportation corridors and to the contracted growers. DeForest officials were also anxious to see the company move forward in their industrial park since they wanted to see more development there.

Late last year village officials agreed on a package of incentives — subsidized land and some infrastructure costs — to get the company to locate in DeForest. The village will pay for roads and other infrastructure to the potato company's site and those are expected to be completed this fall.

Construction on The Little Potato Company's new building began after a formal announcement in April and the acquisition of the DeForest land parcel by Ryan Companies last month. Construction officially began on the site in May, following the acquisition.

When completed, the building will include 11,730 square feet of office space and 121,000 square feet of warehouse and processing space as well as expandable cooler space. The facility will be used to wash, sort and pack the company's little potatoes.

The facility is being developed and constructed by Ryan Companies through its Great Lakes Region, (with headquarters in Milwaukee and Naperville, IL) and is slated to open in early 2017. During the construction of the facility it is estimated that approximately 40 construction jobs will be created.

The Little Potato Company has already begun to hire core team members and will expand recruitment to about 50 people prior to opening. The Company anticipates employing approximately 130 people when the facility is fully operational.

Ryan Companies have extensive experience in developing food processing and distribution facilities across the United States.

For more information: www.LittlePotatoes.com. For more information on the company's program for helping kids learn about food: www.LittlePotatoes.com/LittleChef. The company is also active on social media — Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube.

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