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J.R. Simplot: The Company That Potato Built

April 8, 2013

The potato famine in Ireland caused a lot of people to migrate to the U.S. For J.R. Simplot the potato has a happier place in the company’s history. It’s the product that basically made what the firm is today, one of the largest privately held companies in the world.

The company was started by J.R. Simplot in 1929. He began his own business near the farming community of Delco, Idaho. Earlier in 1923 he quit school to get started and he was only 14 years old. He got into many businesses first raising hogs then getting into planting potatoes. During the early part of WW II his business became the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the country. It was also selling millions of pounds of dehydrated onions and potatoes to the military and making a huge profit.  In 1955  J.R. Simplot Company was legally incorporated.

The company’s striking it rich with potatoes continued when one of its scientists, chemist Ray L. Dunlap invented the frozen french fries. It made billions off of this invention. By the early 1970s J.R. Simplot Company was the primary supplier of french fries to McDonald’s.  In 2005 the firm was supplying half of all the french fries for McDonald’s.

J.R. Simplot Company has since engaged in vertical integration having businesses in seed production, farming, fertilizer manufacturing, frozen-food processing, and food brands and distribution.

Among the food processing facilities the company has are three potato processing plants in Idaho, two in Washington, and one in North Dakota. It also has a vegetable packaging plant in Arkansas. In terms of seed production Simplot has a subsidiary, Jacklin®Seed which is a world leader in turf-grass seed research, production, and marketing and has seed distribution in 70 countries.

The company is also in the mining business. Outside of main businesses the company looms large in the State of Idaho where it sponsors the Simplot Stadium and Simplot Sports Complex in Boise.

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