North Dakota State Mill demand shifts to retail

Jenny Schlecht
Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The North Dakota State Mill has seen a big shift in where its products go since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Initially, a few weeks ago, we had a big surge in overall demand from most of our customers, especially on the durum products and on our retail products,” says Vance Taylor, president and CEO of the mill.

The mill, in normal times, does 67% of its business in bulk cars and trucks. Another 30% of business is in sales of 5-100 pound bags, while 3% of business comes from the mill’s retail website.

Sales to restaurants and large bakeries that cater to restaurants usually account for the largest portion of the mill’s business.

“That’s backed off a bit, but the durum business and the retail business still remain very strong,” Taylor says. “Overall, we’ve gone from running about six days a week to about 4½ to 5 days now.

The retail website business has seen a significant jump since stay-at-home orders went into place in many states.

“Because of the big surge in our retail business, we feel like we’re keeping up with demand pretty well,” he says.

In addition to keeping up with retail business, the mill also has donated 5,000 5-pound bags of flour to the Great Plains Food Bank, along with donations to tribes and reservations in North Dakota. More flour will be donated as needed.

In addition to cutting the days it is operating, the mill also has put in place safety measures for its employees. The mill on April 19 announced an employee had tested positive for COVID-19. The mill closed for a few days to allow for disinfecting. Most employees have returned to work, other than the person who tested positive and about 10 employees who were working with the person.

Taylor says the doors to the mill and office are locked, with only essential people allowed in and out of the building. Employees are being screened for temperatures and health conditions.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our employees,” he says. “We’re mandating masks, we’re mandating gloves, we’re doing a lot more deep cleaning and wipe down of common areas, just doing everything we can to try to keep our employees safe.”

Vance Taylor, president and CEO of the North Dakota Mill and Elevator, stands in the alley way of an unloading facility for trucks and trains that was part of the first phase of rail expansion at the north Grand Forks facility.