Kemin — A Story of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

When R.W. and Mary Nelson founded Kemin in 1961, they had five children, $10,000 in a savings account, two product lines to sell, an office in their family room and a manufacturing plant in an old wool barn.

From these humble beginnings, Kemin has grown to serve the needs of customers in the global feed and food industries as well as the health, nutrition and beauty markets.     

R.W. and Mary’s initial goal was to develop innovative agricultural products and market them throughout the Midwestern United States. These early products, including mold inhibitors and flavors, quickly grew to encompass a full line of ingredients for animal feed sold nationwide.

Expanding Beyond the United States

It wasn’t long before the need for Kemin products grew beyond the United States. By the late 1960s, Kemin was exporting products to distributors in the United Kingdom, Holland and Spain. Within five years, growing demand for Kemin products justified a European sales and production site, so in 1970 we established our first regional headquarters in Herentals, Belgium.

As Kemin continued to expand into new regions, R.W. realized the importance of establishing a local presence in each region by forming a regional headquarters and hiring local people who understood local customs and cultures.

In 1988, the second regional headquarters was established in Singapore and in 1994 Kemin opened manufacturing and sales operations in Zhuhai, China. Two years later, Kemin established operations in Chennai, India. Manufacturing later moved to Gummidipundi, an hour outside of Chennai, where there was room to expand.  In 2004, Kemin purchased a manufacturing facility and administration building in Indaiatuba, Brazil to manage the company’s operations in South America.

A New Approach to R&D

The 1980s also saw a new focus on research and development when now President and CEO Dr. Chris Nelson — R.W. and Mary’s son — joined Kemin as Research & Development Director in Europe. Having just completed his Ph.D., Chris joined Kemin in 1980 and introduced a structured approach to research and development. He returned to Des Moines in 1983 to lead R&D efforts in North America and oversee the building of a new innovation center.

Chris’ ability to study molecules and understand how they worked inside living organisms led Kemin in a new direction. He challenged scientists to understand the mode of action for all products, spurring new products and processes within and beyond the animal feed industry.

Entering New Markets

During the 1980s, Kemin expanded beyond the animal feed industry into the human food industry. The same chemistry used to manufacture mold inhibitors and antimicrobials for animal feed was effective at inhibiting mold and bacteria in human food. By 1992, Kemin was also selling antioxidants to the pet food industry.

Kemin’s first division — human nutrition and health — demerged in 1995 when Kemin introduced FloraGLO Lutein. The focus of a dedicated team marketing and selling Kemin and FloraGLO to vitamin and dietary supplement manufacturers led Kemin to become the market-leader in lutein.

This successful model was adopted for other markets and Kemin demerged its second division, focused on developing patented molecules for the pharmaceutical industry, in 1997. Shortly thereafter, a new division serving the pet food industry was formed in 2000 and then another division serving the food industry in 2004.  In 2011, Kemin expanded yet again into the veterinary and personal care industries, forming two new divisions.

Today, these seven divisions are bound together by the company’s vision to improve the quality of life by touching half the people of the world every day with Kemin products and services. The company’s current market penetration – 1.4 billion people per day – is a testament to trusting professionals to carry forth the company’s vision and embrace its values.

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