Martha Siemer Stice, Director and Shareholder, Siemer Milling Company:
“Siemer Milling Co. is the tenth-largest flour miller in the U.S., and it mills about 2.6% of the flour in the country. The long history of the company is full of innovative moves by the employees and leaders of the company. Siemer Milling was the first company in the U.S. to produce heat-treated, low micro flour and co-products. We get excited about finding ways to solve unique problems with grain-based solutions. Our growth as a company has come through building relationships with customers and suppliers. I see our future growth happening similarly.”
There are thousands of companies in the flour milling industry but few of them have a history of nearly 150 years. Illinois based Siemer Milling is one of the respected flour companies with its great past and strong culture. Founded in 1882, under the name Hope Mills, Uptmor & Siemer, Proprietors, Siemer Milling has been supplying wheat flour to bakeries and mix plants. Giant food brands like McDonald’s, Nestle and KFC among their customers. The family and employee-owned company is the tenth-largest flour miller in the U.S. with its daily capacity of 16,000 metric tons.
We talked about the long journey of the Siemer Milling with Martha Siemer Stice, director and one of the members of the company's founding family. She tells how the company has developed over the decades and become a trusted flour supplier. Underlining the company’s technology-driven character, “We have a strong relationship with the Bühler Corporation and have frequently worked with them to be the first( at least in the U.S.), to install their latest advancement in equipment that meets our particular needs as soft wheat flour producers.” she says.
Here is the Martha Siemer Stice comments on Siemer Milling’s mission, state of U.S. milling industry and flour consumption trends in the country.
Siemer Milling is a leading milling company in the U.S. It has been a flour supplier since 1882. Could you please provide us with some brief background information on that great history?
Siemer Milling Co began as Hope Mills, Uptmor & Siemer, Proprietors. My great great great grandfather, Clemens Uptmor, built his second mill with his son-in-law Joseph Siemer, and his son Clemens Jr. This new mill used the latest technology- roller mills- and ran on steam power. That mill could produce 300 cwt of flour a day. True to our core value of continuous improvement, many updates and changes were made to the business throughout its history. The mill’s capacity doubled in the 1890s; a feed mill was added in the 1930s; and in 1950, the mill was converted to electricity. The Bühler corporation was responsible for an extensive conversion to a pneumatic system in 1961. Bühler also installed a new mill in the late ’70s. The improvements and growth have only sped up since the ’80s, including additional plants and a flour heat treating facility.
Throughout all this time, Siemers have remained actively involved in the management of the company. Joseph and his son, Clemens J., bought out the Uptmor interest in the business in 1906 and the name changed to Siemer Milling Co. Clem J. led the company for several decades. His sons Quintin and Clemens R. Siemer spent their careers leading Siemer Milling Co., from the ’40s to the ’80s. My dad, Rick Siemer, has been President of the company since the early ’80s, and my brother Henry continues the tradition with almost 10 years of his career so far with SMC. I have been a director of the company for thirteen years. Several other family members have been employees along the way. We have been family owned from the beginning and we added an Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 2006. Now we say with pride that we are family and employee-owned.
What can you say about the position of your company in the U.S. milling industry?
We are the tenth largest flour miller in the U.S., and we mill about 2.6% of the flour in the country.
How many mills do you have all over the U.S. and where are they located? How many people do you employ?
We have three mill sites. The first in Teutopolis, IL, along with the 1 million pound capacity. mill, we also have our flour heat treatment facility. The second plant was built in 1995 in Hopkinsville, KY, it houses four mills now and produces 1.6 million lbs a day. The most recently built facility opened in 2015 and is in West Harrison, IN. It also has the capacity to produce 1 million lbs. a day.
SMC employs 180 people.
Can you give us some information about your milling capacity and the technologies you use?
The three plants have a total combined capacity of 36,000 cwt a day. That is about 16,000 metric tons. While milling is still essentially done with the same base technology of roller mills, we have implemented numerous new technologies to increase yield and decrease energy consumption. We have a strong relationship with the Bühler Corporation and have frequently worked with them to be the first( at least in the U.S.), to install their latest advancement in equipment that meets our particular needs as soft wheat flour producers.
Which kind of products do you produce? What are your best-known brands?
We mill soft wheat flour. We sell flour wholesale to bakers and blenders and it goes into a variety of products like cookies, cake mixes, biscuits, and crackers. Some of the most recognizable brands that contain our flour are: McDonald’s (biscuits), Nestle (toll house cookie dough), KFC (gravy), Duncan Hines cakes mixes, and Krusteaz pancake mixes. We also have an extender division selling non-food-grade flour to the construction industry as an adhesive ingredient for plywood.
Do you export your grain-based solutions? If yes, where do you export your products?
We have a few international customers for our heat-treated Siemer Specialty Ingredients. Our product gets shipped to the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa.
Do you have any plans to expand your business outside the U.S?
We have no current plans to expand outside of the U.S., but we are always open to opportunities that make good business sense.
Siemer Milling is dedicated to innovations. What can you say about the innovations and solutions that you have brought to the milling industry?
The long history of the company is honestly full of innovative moves by the employees and leaders of the company. One example going back a few years, SMC was able to create a process to produce a high functioning cake flour for the Duncan Hines brand in 1984 when its owner was suddenly in dire need of a new flour supplier due to a PR crisis. We still supply the flour for that brand despite several owner changes over the years.
Siemer Milling Co. was the first company in the U.S. to produce heat-treated, low micro flour and co-products. We worked hard for many years to demonstrate to customers the various functional differences of our heat-treated products. We get excited about finding ways to solve unique problems with grain-based solutions. For example, we created a product to act as a carrier for an enzyme in animal feed, and another product to act as sound insulation. Another example of an innovation is our entry into the extender market in the construction industry.
American consumers have high-quality taste standards. How do you satisfy the consumers' needs?
We are committed to understanding and appreciating our customers to provide them with what they want. We are resolved to provide the best customer service we can. Our millers excel at taking our available wheat and grinding it so as to meet each customer’s specifications.
Could you tell us about changing flour consumption patterns and trends in the U.S.?
Flour consumption in the U.S. is down a few pounds from its most recent high point in 2007. Fad diets touting the exclusion of simple carbohydrates and white flour have been a part of American culture for a couple of decades, but we continue to see a demand for the products to which we supply flour- crackers, cookies, pretzels, cakes, and biscuits. The numbers for flour consumption we see don’t reflect the oversized media attention these diets garner. In the recent past, there has been a push for higher whole grain flour consumption by health professionals, but we haven’t seen a large increase in whole grain consumption.
Flour based foods tend to be a part of comfort dishes. Flour is also a good value, high nutrient food, so in times of trouble, like the awful Coronavirus covid-19 pandemic, we are proud to be producing a food product that provides a good source of calories, has a relatively long shelf life, and is very affordable.
What are the major challenges for the American flour milling industry today?
Government regulations have been steadily increasing over the past few years. Being in compliance with these regulations has not been terribly challenging, but finding the best ways to document that compliance and dealing with the increased paperwork is stressful. Customers are striving to stay ahead of the mandated regulations and we have seen customer audits increase. We are happy to open our doors to our customers. And we often receive exceptional superlatives, but an auditor doesn’t earn a paycheck from giving out compliments.
Not unique to flour milling, but transportation costs and regulations are increasing causing more complications to logistics. And the lengthening of payment terms by some customers is another business challenge.
What are your future targets in your operating market?
Our growth as a company has come through building relationships with customers and suppliers. I see our future growth happening similarly.
What are your expectations from the machinery and technology supplier for the milling industry? In which areas do you need innovative solutions?
I think we are looking for shared values at the core. We expect a commitment to continuous improvement and consistent customer service. We want to be treated how we treat others.
We look for suppliers that are continuously working to innovate, improve learning, and adopt the best developments of technology to the milling industry. We are looking for excellent service and support from experienced and knowledgeable technicians. Of course, staying on the cutting edge of computer and internet technology in the milling process is of great importance.
Going back to consumer trends, the increased concern over the raw state of flour has us and I think others looking for an innovative solution around lowering the microbial count without changing the functionality of the flour.