Montana grains an international hit

Montana State Roundup

Published April 1, 1992  | April 1992 issue

Montana-grown grains, seven to be exact, are the stars of a Montana hot cereal that has captured international attention.

For 75 years Cream of the West, commonly known as the cowboy's porridge, has been the staple of many a Montanan's diet. But about two years ago, the Billings company added a seven-grain hot cereal to its original whole wheat product line and introduced a new packaging design.

"We've probably seen a 500 percent growth in sales in the last two years," says Terry Weaver, Cream of the West's marketing and sales manager. The company currently ships its products to 35 states, where the cereal can be found in about 400 specialty shops.

The popularity of the cereal spread to France when Cream of the West was selected by a French import-export company for a food show last September. Out of 200 U.S. products submitted 40 were chosen, and Cream of the West was the only product to represent a seven-state western area—and the only hot cereal in the show. That exhibit prompted French orders for more than 300 cases.

As a result of the cereal's French presence, letters poured into the company from people who tried the cereal during the Winter Olympic Games, Weaver says.

More recently, an article in Bon Appetit magazine brought more than 500 calls in a two-week period. And inquiries have filed in from as far away as Malaysia, Japan and Singapore.

Despite all the attention, the small company employs only 4 full-time staff and at peak packaging times still has fewer than 20 employees. But the cereal's success has meant increased grain orders from the two Montana mills, in Billings and Conrad, that process all the Montana-grown grain for Cream of the West.

And by making that Montana-grown and processed wheat into a finished product before it leaves the state, Cream of the West is considered a good example of a value-added agricultural business. "We're so far away from the main markets that the key to Montana's success is value-added products," Weaver says.

Kathy Cobb