There are very few silver linings during this pandemic.  One good thing, especially for Battle Creek, is that more people are buying and eating cereal.   Post Consumer Brands (PCB) has been adding new brands, bringing back some old brands, and working around the clock to keep them all on the shelves.

Ty Hakman, manager of the Post Cereal plant in Battle Creek was a guest on the Cereal City’s 95.3 WBCK with Tim Collins.  He talked about the history of the plant, the new brands, the grape-nuts shortage, and more.

Ty Hakman-Kindred Photo & Design
Ty Hakman-Kindred Photo & Design

Hakman has lived in Battle Creek for the last 9 years and has been at the Post Facility for the past six.  He’s married with seven children and serves on the Board of Directors at the South Michigan Food Bank.

“Because of the pandemic, we didn’t get to celebrate nearly as much as we would have liked to, but we marked 125 years in business here in 2020,” said Hakman.  “We recently merged with Malt-O-Meal brands and they celebrated 100 years last year, so the heritage of cereal, not only in Battle Creek but within Post Consumer Brands, is long-stretched.”

Hakman said the Battle Creek plant is a stakeholder in almost every aspect of cereal.  “We sit on over 65 acres with a nearly 2 million-square-foot facility, and we put out, this year alone, over 280 million pounds of product.  It's not a small plant and the innovation and the involvement and the pride that this plant has because of that heritage and the years here is just phenomenal.”

He said they have more than 600 employees in Battle Creek, many working ‘round the clock, seven days a week.   Hakman agrees that the cereal industry has grown during the pandemic.

“It has, and it's kind of an unusual rollercoaster for the cereal industry because the demand has gone through the roof for almost all of us. People aren't rushing out the door like they used to, because obviously, they don't have as many places to go so they go back to the things that they know.   Most of the cereal that we produce here, not only at the plant but in PCB, most people have grown up with. So they've gone back to something that gives them comfort, and something that they recognize. And, with a lot of people being home all day, they find themselves snacking more.”

Hakman said PCB has just rolled out three new products and one of them is a snack size Honeycomb, which is almost three times the size of a regular honeycomb as well as some Fruity Pebble Crisps and Cocoa Pebble Crisps.

The Post marketing people sent local Scipt Shopper Douglas Baker out to pick up some stuff for the WBCK staff, and he dropped off milk, bowls, spoons, and four boxes of Post cereals that are made at the Battle Creek plant:  Honey Bunches of Oats, Fruity Pebbles, Honeycomb, and Great Grains.

“He picked out every product that we make here and he could have picked out a few more,” said Hakman.  “We make a variety of products here from those four, to a variety of peanut butter cereal to the Grape Nuts, and many of the Raisin Bran products that you'll see on the shelf as well.”

So how well is the Battle Creek plant set up to handle making several different products, and switching from one to another?

Hakman said the Battle Creek operation, like many others, is designed for different types of what they call technology. “So Raisin Bran and Bran Flakes are a technology.  Fruity Pebbles is a technology, because of the way they're processed.  That's one of the reasons why we have so many buildings.  We have over 40 buildings here on site. Four of those are specifically designed or tooled for specific types of technology, and so on.  This plant alone can do everything except two of the technologies in the industry right now.”

With that type of versatility, does that mean the Battle Creek Plant is secure for the future?

Hakman said, “I don't think anybody can predict the future, but I can tell you that with the talent, the resources, and the employees we have here, we’re well-leveraged to be producing cereal for another hundred 25 years.  I've been in quite a few different plants and worked in different facilities.  This one's unique in the sense of the level of dedication and commitment that our employees have.  We have third and fourth-generation employees here.  One of our employees’ grandfather worked in the horse barn for C.W. Post when he was working on the site.  So the history and the culture is very deep in this plant. I'd put these employees up against just about anybody.”

What about the Grape Nuts supply chain shortage that has been reported recently?

“The grape nuts process is an extremely unique process in how it's made,” said Hakman. ”Throughout the pandemic, we've been challenged in a lot of different ways from a supply chain standpoint, as well as the increased demand for our products.  I can tell you we're back in the right position and consumers should be able to see the shelves filled back up with grape nuts here very, very soon, probably early spring for full capacity.”

So what exactly was missing for the plant to make Grape Nuts?   We’re not going to know that, since the secret recipe for Grape Nuts is a closely-guarded trade secret.  “There's nobody else that does what we do, especially around grape nuts.”

While many companies are consolidating their brands to just a few, Post Consumer Brands seems to be going in the opposite direction.

“Over the past few months, as well as in the future, we're going to be rolling out quite a few different products. There’s a coffee creamer from International Delight and a protein powder from Dymatize that are both that's Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles.   We're making a Dunkin Donuts caramel macchiato, and a Dunkin mocha latte cereal. We're working with other brands that people truly recognize and relate to and are comforted by.  You know you're going to get the same level of quality, but now you've got Post in there as well.”

And Post is bringing back Waffle Crisp cereal.  They’re going to make it in Minnesota and market it through Walmart. Hakman said, “We make decisions on products coming and going regularly, but I'll tell you what: the consumer on this one spoke loud and clear that they wanted Waffle Crisp back”.

Are they hiring at Post in Battle Creek?

“We've been hiring even through the pandemic. You can go onto our website and apply online. We're always looking for good help.”

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