If you’re suffering from a “snack attack,” there’s a good chance that the crispy food item you crave can be attributed to a business on Grinnell Road in Kankakee.
JR Short Snack Products, housed in a cluster of buildings at 1580 Grinnell Road, is the largest producer of extruded snack pellets in the United States. On its website, the company notes that its “extruded snacks, in their expanded forms, can be found in the world’s largest supermarkets and restaurants.”
Originally named JR Short Milling Company, the company dates back to 1910, when it bought corn from local farmers and processed it into cornmeal that was sold to bakeries. It continued to grow in the corn milling business and began to diversify into the snack food market in 1985. In 2008, the corn milling portion of the business was sold to Bunge, Limited, a agribusiness and food production company headquartered in St. Louis. The Bunge Corn Flour Mill shares the Grinnell Road site with JR Short Snack Products.
This site, located along the New York Central railroad tracks east of Illinois Highway 50, has been occupied by a food processing plant since 1948. The Borden Company, known primarily for its dairy products, bought the property in 1946 and began work on what would be a $ 4 million soybean processing plant.
Delayed by post-war materials and labor shortages, the Borden soybean plant only opened in mid-October 1948. When fully operational, the plant was able to process 6,000 bushels of soybeans per day. The beans were processed into soybean oil and soybean meal. The oil was sold to other manufacturers for use in food products like margarine and industrial products like paint and plastics. Soybean meal was sold as feed for livestock and poultry.
In the early 1960s, JR Short Milling acquired the Borden site on Grinnell Road and expanded its corn milling activities. About 20 years later, the company began to explore the rapidly growing snack food market. In 1985, they were making a product that would become the company’s sole activity: extruded snack granules.
The pellets are known as “intermediates” – they are sold to food producers who will develop them into their final form (eg, “puffed” cereals or crispy cheese snacks) by frying, pressing or other processes.
An extrusion process is used at Short’s production facilities to produce the granules, which are available in a wide variety of shapes, colors and flavors. The process begins with a finely ground material (usually corn, rice or potato flour), to which water is added to form a thick paste. Different coloring or flavoring ingredients are included as needed.
As the toothpaste squeezes out of its tube, the paste is forced through a shaped opening called a matrix. Different dies can be used to form specific shapes, such as straws, rings, twists and chips. After passing through the die, the extruded material is cut to the desired length and dried. The finished pellets are shipped to companies where they will be used to produce the final food product.
In an October 2020 article in the Daily Journal, Craig Petray, CEO of JR Short, said, “I’m just so proud that a small business in Kankakee is doing business with the biggest snack food companies in the world. We not only produce for them, but we help develop their products. We should be very proud as a city to do this. “
JR Short Snack Products has significantly expanded its facilities in recent years to meet demand. In 2014, when Petray joined the company, it had 40 employees; today, the workforce has more than tripled. To increase production capacity, the company built an 18,000 square foot addition to its Grinnell Road facility in 2017. Three years later, more manufacturing space was needed, but there was no room to expand at the Grinnell Road site. The company bought a building on Festival Drive on the southwest side of Kankakee and added a production line to it. Overall, JR Short Snack Products occupies 72,500 square feet of production, research and office buildings.
The company became the latest in a group of local industries including Radeke Brewery, Bear Brand Hosiery Co. and Schaefer Piano Co. to be honored by the Kankakee Model Railroad Club with a commemorative HO scale model train car . The club have announced that they will be offering for sale a covered hopper car bearing the name JR Short Milling Co.
Proceeds from the sale of the cars are used to support the club’s Kankakee Railroad Museum in the old Illinois Central Railroad Station on East Avenue. The JR Short car is available at the Museum as a kit for $ 30, or fully assembled for $ 35. The railway museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.