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Nostalgia & History > Seeing Possibilties In Potatoes

Date: 06/10/19 16:51
Seeing Possibilties In Potatoes
Author: Fortyfooter

Disclaimer: this is a long post! 

Lamb Weston Co.

Lamb Weston began business as the F.G. Lamb & Company in 1932, when its founder, Frank G. Lamb, started his own fresh fruit shipping and packing enterprise. Ten years later, his business took a decisive turn when he bought a shuttered co-operative plant in Weston, Oregon, and expanded F.G. Lamb & Company's business to include vegetable packing. The Weston plant represented the foundation upon which Lamb Weston rested, but the credit for the company's quiet yet resolute rise in the food processing industry did not go to Frank Lamb, it went his son, F. Gilbert "Gib" Lamb. The younger Lamb, who was 27 years old when the defunct Weston plant was acquired, was responsible for transforming his father's fresh fruit packing business into a market leader in the processed potato industry, an industry that was forever changed by his pioneering. Lamb did not score his innovative coup, however, until he was in his mid-40s. The family business was nearly before its identity was firmly established. In the interim, that is, during the period separating the of the Weston plant and the beginning of the company's rise in the frozen potato market, Lamb Weston appeared to be evolving in a different direction. The company made its first distinguishing mark in the as a formidable pea processor. After its 1942 acquisition, the Weston plant was renovated and converted into a pea processing facility. It was this primary asset that Gib Lamb incorporated as Lamb Weston, Inc. in 1950. Lamb's talent in the food processing business demonstrated itself quickly, as the company rose swiftly through the ranks of its industry niche to stand as the king of its market. By the late 1950s, the Weston plant was regarded as the most technologically advanced pea-processing facility in the United States. Lamb Weston ranked as the largest single processor of frozen peas in the world, accounting for ten percent of the total of processed peas in the United States. Despite the unequivocal success, his company was enjoying by this point. 

In 1960, Lamb began exploring the opportunities available to his company in potatoes, one of the chief crops in the Pacific Northwest. He began studying the frozen potato processing business as a way for his company to reap some of the rewards generated by the region's potato wealth and developed a device that would change the way potatoes were processed from that point forward. Lamb created a potato "gun," the Lamb Water Gun Knife, invented and patented by Lamb in 1960. It was the first device to slice french fries in a high-velocity water flow, thereby signaling the end of the days when potatoes were processed by hand. Other manufacturers would be quick to follow Lamb's lead once they developed their own devices, but Lamb's proprietary slicing instrument was the first of its kind, giving the company a sizeable head start over all competitors. The next logical move was to actually enter the potato processing business. In 1960, when Lamb held his revolutionary potato-slicing device in hand, Lamb Weston was a pea processing company. Before the rest of the world could learn of his Water Gun Knife, Lamb ordered the construction of a new frozen potato processing plant. 

The plant, located in potato country in American Falls, Idaho, opened in 1961, marking Lamb Weston's debut in the domestic potato market. Armed with a processing device that yielded tremendous labor-saving, and therefore cost-saving, advantages, Lamb Weston moved quickly to establish a pervasive presence in its new industry. The company constructed and acquired as many processing plants as finances permitted, striving to wrest market share from more established competitors with a production process the competition had no answer for. In 1963, a five-person sales force was formed to promote the company's anticipated expansion and a broker network was fleshed out to cover the United States. With the sales support in place to spearhead future growth, major plant followed. Lamb Weston acquired a potato processing plant in Quincy, Washington, in 1966 and another potato processing plant in Connell, Washington, two years later. The company also opened its first research center in Portland, Oregon, in 1968, having learned first-hand about the significant advantages to be gained from a serious commitment to the research and development of proprietary slicing and processing systems. 

Today the largest producer of frozen potato products in the world, Lamb Weston, Inc. distributes a wide range of products--in numerous shapes and sizes--throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South and North America. Lamb Weston revolutionized the process of slicing potatoes in the early 1960s and used this innovative advantage to expand steadily throughout the United States and then into overseas markets. During the 1990s, the company's international expansion was rapid, producing prolific annual sales gains and enabling it to herald itself as the largest company of its kind in the world. In the late 1990s, Lamb Weston was supported by sales offices in the United States, Turkey, Holland, India, South Korea, China, and Japan. Its 13 manufacturing facilities were concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and placed strategically in Holland, India, and Turkey.

Gary A Rich Collection 
Gary A Rich-Slide

Date: 06/10/19 21:20
Re: Seeing Possibilties In Potatoes
Author: up833

Thanks for this post. While in college I worked at LW in Weston, OR for two years during the spring pea harvest. That was in 1961-2. The plant processed frozen peas mostly and canned peas for the school lunch programs/ After peas they processed corn. carrots and last in season was lima beans. They also had, while I was there, a start up program producing freeze dried peas with the total production going to the Navy submarine progam. In those days most everything was shipped in Pacific Fruit Express cars. The Walla Walla-MiltonFreewater-Weston line was a UP branch.  I stopped by last year and they still do peas. Signs say its a ComAgra facility

Date: 06/10/19 21:31
Re: Seeing Possibilties In Potatoes
Author: callum_out

When we opened our office in Heyburn (ID, to cover the Lamb-Weston contract), there were a whole string of
those across the street from us. The plant in Twin was shipping only in mechanicals and you'd wonder about the
success of the cars in your pictures, more ah history.


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