Courtesy of Mark Swenson
Mark Swenson, the new general manager of Shepherd’s Grain, says his primary job is increasing flour sales at the niche company.
Swenson began in his new position Oct. 23.
Shepherd’s Grain is owned by Northwest wheat farmers and focuses on no-till farming practices and uses the cost of production to set its prices.
“I think my biggest priority is to move flour,” Swenson told the Capital Press. “The company in the last several years has been fairly level with the amount of flour we’ve sold. The concept and culture of sustainability is not going away. I think the opportunity is great to go out hard, hit the road and sell flour.”
Art Schultheis, chairman of the Shepherd’s Grain board of directors and a Colton, Wash., wheat farmer, agreed that sales were flat, which is the reason for the leadership change.
“We think he will bring a wealth of experience, not only in the management side, but the contacts he has throughout the industry,” Schultheis said of Swenson.
Swenson previously was corporate director of purchasing initiatives and western regional vice president for Bon Appetit Management Co., where he worked for 27 years.
He also served on the board of directors for the voluntary certification program Food Alliance for more than 12 years. The alliance bases certification on sustainable agricultural practices. All Shepherd’s Grain farmers are certified, he said.
“It is one of the toughest certifications to attain,” he said.
Swenson was familiar with Shepherd’s Grain, as Bon Appetit focused on supporting local, family farms and sustainability. Bon Appetit was one of the wheat company’s first customers, he said.
“It made so much sense for us to support that program in every way,” he said.
When Shepherd’s Grain co-founder Karl Kupers asked him to recommend someone for the job, Swenson expressed interest.
Swenson plans to provide more direct communication with the company’s farmer-owners.
“I was in charge of about $100 million worth of business at Bon Appetit in my region, and you can’t do that without being transparent,” he said.
Schultheis said Shepherd’s Grain aims to bring in more farmers, but first must ensure its existing owner-growers are maximizing their production. When the demand exceeds farmers’ ability to produce, it will expand membership, he said.
Thirty-five family farmers make up Shepherd’s Grain’s grower base, primarily in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.