CHAPMAN — Preferred Popcorn of Chapman was recently named Nebraska Manufacturer of the Year for small-sized manufacturers. The honor came from the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry at its annual manufacturing summit.

Valmont Industries of Valley was named Nebraska Manufacturer of the Year for large manufacturers. The award recognizes Nebraska manufacturers that implement innovative ways to conduct business through the use of products, processes, technologies and strategies.

“Preferred Popcorn and Valmont Industries showcase exactly how the Nebraska values of hard work and ingenuity make our state an accelerator for advanced manufacturing,” said Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “Our manufacturing edge is one of the leading contributors to state GDP growth.”

Preferred Popcorn celebrated its 20th anniversary in August 2018.

At its start, Preferred Popcorn consisted of a handful of farmers who started their own company to market the popcorn. More than 20 years later, it has grown to an international company that does business in more than 70 countries.

Trade is at the heart of Preferred Popcorn’s growth and success.

At the time of its 20th anniversary, Gov. Pete Ricketts had just returned from a trade mission to Mexico where he and his trade delegation focused on promoting agriculture. Mexico is Nebraska’s second-largest agricultural export market and it is a big market for Preferred Popcorn.

And more than a year after Preferred Popcorn celebrated its 20th anniversary, during a trade mission to Germany last month, the company signed a trade agreement with Haase Foods of Germany.

Haase Foods is an established German service contractor and wholesaler that supplies to all of Europe equipment, raw materials and packaging materials to movie theaters, amusement parks, sports arenas as well as to the gastronomical sector.

Haase Foods has an extensive product line with more than 3,000 items ranging from classics that includes both popcorn and gourmet popcorn.

Nebraska is the largest producer of popcorn in the United States with over 353 million pounds of annual production.

The European Union is one of Nebraska’s top trading destinations with $508.7 million in ag trade value last year. Of that, soybeans and beef had a combined value of $367 million.

Prior to Preferred Popcorn’s 20th anniversary, it announced a major $6 million expansion that added 22,500 square feet to its Chapman plant and more than doubled its operational capacity. It added 10 employees and growing opportunities for area farmers who contract to grow popcorn for the company.

Norm Krug, CEO and founder of Preferred Popcorn, said the new facility will help Preferred Popcorn clean and process its popcorn for domestic and international markets.

Preferred Popcorn is owned by Krug and three other area farmers, along with Aurora Co-op.

At the time the company started in 1998, Krug said, some naysayers said starting a popcorn company wouldn’t work.

“But it has worked very well because of the great partnership we have created with individual farmers and Aurora Co-op,” he said at the time of the company’s 20th anniversary celebration.

Companies such as Preferred Popcorn have helped Nebraska become the No. 1 state for popcorn production. Preferred Popcorn products now reach a potential market of two-thirds of the world’s population.

Krug said the growth of Preferred Popcorn has been a “great blessing with what God can do with just average guys.”

“When we started this company in 1998, commodity prices were low and we were looking for a place to add value to the crops we raise right here in Nebraska,” he said. “We have been successful in doing that. To do that, we had to think beyond Nebraska and now to 70 countries around the globe.”

Preferred Popcorn is a farmer-owned popcorn producer, processor and supplier, with growers now in seven states and 40 employees in Nebraska. Since its founding, the company has gained an international reputation for its quality products, including several varieties of popcorn for large and small clients, and strong customer service.

“Innovation is almost a continuous process, from measuring the moisture of the popcorn, automated systems for turning fans on and off, to efficient packaging,” Krug said. “We have a plant that can unload a semi, process and clean the product, and send it out the door to customers in 45 minutes to an hour, all run by exceptionally skilled operators.”

Nebraska is home to 1,990 manufacturers employing more than 100,000 workers. One in 10 jobs is in manufacturing. The industry contributed approximately $13 billion annually to Nebraska’s Gross State Product. Average annual wages in manufacturing exceeded $62,500 in 2017, the most recent year data is available.

The Nebraska Chamber is the largest, statewide business association that has served as the Nebraska’s business community since 1912.

To learn more about Preferred Popcorn, visit their website at www.preferredpopcorn.com

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