Detroit dried milk manufacturer sees serious growth after expansion

VernDale Products made a big bet on itself last year, sinking several million into a new food production facility on the city’s west side. The family business is now reaping the benefits with more production, modernized processes, and lots of new hires.

"We had figured on hiring nine total people for our new place," says Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products. "We have already hired 14 people. We had to staff up for a whole new operation."

The 57-year-old company and its team of 58 employees makes roller dried milk powder, which is primarily used by premium chocolate manufacturers. The firm got its start in the footprint of what is now the Renaissance Center before moving to the west side at 8445 Lyndon. Last year VernDale Products built out a new facility at 18940 Weaver St., north of Joy Road between the Southfield Freeway and Evergreen Road.

The new facility added 60 percent to VernDale Products' production capabilities; however, that extra ability to make more roller dried milk powder went more to reassuring the firm's customers that it could keep up with their needs.

"It was more a case of us needing redundant production." Johnson says.

The ancillary benefit to the expansion is what it did for VernDale Products that management wasn't expecting. The expansion enabled it to modernize the firm's backend processes, such as updating plant procedures, guidelines and logistics.

"The company has become more mature," Johnson says. "We have addressed a lot of issues we needed to address."

That came at a price. VernDale Products dropped $20 million into the new production facility, an investment that also came with the help of a $436,000 business development incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and tax abatement from the city of Detroit. The original budget was $12 million, but Johnson and his team decided to make the best long-term decisions with an idea of positioning the company for future growth, including a projected 5-10 percent jump in revenue next year.

"We had to decide to take shortcuts or do it right," Johnson says. "We did it right but at a greater expense."

Source: Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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