In the community

Potato giant invests big in Ontario’s economy, cited by Ontario chamber

ONTARIO – This year’s Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce Agriculturalist of the Year has deep Treasure Valley roots.

With Simplot Food Group’s multiyear deal in 2022, acquiring a Kraft Heinz Co. food-processing plant in Ontario, the Boise company became the exclusive manufacturer of the Ore-Ida brand of potato products, which includes french fries and tater tots.

A family-owned company since 1929, the business’ headquarters is in Boise, and it also operates a large potato processing facility in Caldwell.

John Breidenbach, the chamber’s chief executive, said the board chose to honor Simplot because of the company’s investment in Malheur County.

Justin Smith, the manager of the Ontario food processing plant, said the facility employs about 600 people, many of whom live in the area.

One of the largest privately owned companies in the world, Simplot was founded in 1929 by J.R. Simplot, who, according to Smith.

During the early years of World War II, Simplot became the country’s largest shipper of onions and potatoes to the military.  In the late 1940s, the company became the first to commercialize french fries and became the exclusive supplier to McDonald’s restaurants. That relationship continues to this day, according to the company’s website.

J.R. Simplot retired as company president in 1973 and from the company’s board in 1994; he died in 2008. His oldest son, Scott Simplot, is chairman and chief executive of the company.

Once a small operation, the company grew into a global juggernaut with 17 food plants worldwide and a presence in six countries, but is still family-owned, Smith said.

The company’s other divisions include land and livestock, and agribusiness, which produces mainly fertilizer, and a plant sciences. Simplot has about 14,000 employees worldwide, Smith said.

He said Simplot has invested millions of dollars into the Ontario facility. That includes upgrading a fryer and adding a new one and two new freeze tunnels at the plant.

Smith started with Simplot as a temporary worker in Pocatello for the summer while he was a student at Idaho State University nearly 20 years ago. It began when he came across a flier at the campus business building: “come work hard for the summer and run a shovel.
 

That was between his sophomore and junior years of college. Smith said ultimately the company paid for the rest through its education assistance program as he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the university.

He said he worked at the Pocatello location until he graduated and then put in for a job in cost accounting at the company’s food processing plant in Aberdeen, Idaho. Since then, he said he has always worked in operations.

Smith is a second-generation Simplot employee. His dad, before he decided to go to medical school, worked at the company’s fertilizer plant in Pocatello.

He said in the 1950s his grandmother was a bookkeeper at the Ore-Ida plant in Ontario, so he said he felt it was like coming back full circle.

Smith, who commutes back and forth between Boise and Ontario, said as the plant director, he loves small communities and said he encourages anyone looking for a job to apply at Simplot.com. He said the company is usually looking to hire general laborers, forklift drivers and machine operators, among other positions.

“Simplot is a family company,” he said, and truly cherishes family and loves to invest in small communities.”

“It is wonderful working for a company that invests in communities and families wherever we do business.”

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