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Kemin History

Our Founders

R.W. and Mary Nelson were a curious young couple who had just welcomed their fifth child when R.W. tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit to launch a new company focused on bringing innovative solutions to the agricultural industry. As R.W. began mixing ingredients for animal feed in a Maytag® washer at his father’s sheep barn, Mary set up shop in the family home, where she tended the administrative side of the operation.  

Although the timing of this endeavor may seem overwhelming to most, it fulfilled R.W. and Mary’s shared passion for serving others. Both were compelled to make a difference and transform the quality of life for people around the world. In 1988, Kemin established a regional headquarters with sales and manufacturing facilities in Singapore. Six years later they opened a sales office in Zhuhai, China and in 2002 they opened a manufacturing facility in Zhuhai, China.

Now, decades later, the Nelsons have impacted billions of people globally by producing more than 500 specialty ingredients that span six continents and employing thousands of team members serving more than 120 countries.

Nelson Family

R.W. Nelson serves as Chairman of the Board. Even after stepping down as CEO, he has played an integral role in steering the company’s vision and its continued success, leading in-depth sales training with team members around the globe.   

Mary Nelson serves as Corporate Vice President and Chair of the Kemin Charitable Contributions Committee. Her leadership has guided the company’s corporate philanthropic giving and culture of servant leadership.  

The Next Generation of Leaders

Today, R.W. and Mary Nelsons’ eldest son, Christopher E. Nelson, Ph.D., continues to be compelled to advance the founders’ vision as President and CEO of Kemin. Since he took on the role in 1994, Kemin has more than quadrupled in size and ventured into new industries, technologies, and regions around the globe. 

The Nelsons’ eldest daughter, Elizabeth “Libby” Nelson, joined Kemin as Vice President and General Counsel in 2001. Her leadership has been instrumental in protecting Kemin’s intellectual property and overseeing the company’s regulatory affairs, audit and environmental health and safety programs worldwide. 

David Nelson, son of R.W. and Mary Nelson, has served on the Board of Advisors since 2014. A real estate developer, he operates a property management company in southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. 

In 2017, the third generation of Nelson family members began taking on roles within Kemin. Kimberly Nelson, daughter of Dr. Chris Nelson, joined Kemin as a business development manager for the company’s venture into chemicals for garment processing, then served as President of Garmon Chemicals in San Marino, Italy. She now serves as President of Kemin Nutrisurance. 

Lucas Nelson, son of David Nelson, joined Kemin as an attorney in 2017. He was most recently promoted to the role of Group President for Bud and Mary's, a multi-state, vertically integrated cannabis company, owned by Dr. Chris Nelson. 

Dan Ryan, son of R.W. and Mary Nelson’s youngest daughter, Molly, is a Product Manager responsible for food safety in Kemin Food Technologies - Asia.

History of Innovation

Kemin’s first products answered customers’ requests for specific ingredients. Since then, our scientific breakthroughs have been compelled by curiosity to address needs in human and animal health, food safety, and protection of the global food supply chain. As the reach of Kemin ingredients has expanded into nutraceuticals, pet food, food technologies, crop technologies, textiles, aquaculture, animal vaccines and bio-solutions, so has our commitment to transforming the quality of life.

During the 1980s, the company took on a more structured approach to research and development. Led by Christopher E. Nelson, Ph.D., President and CEO, Kemin scientists were challenged to become more curious and study molecules and understand their modes of action inside living organisms.

This new approach spurred the company’s expansion into new markets in Asia. Leveraging the chemistry used to manufacture mold inhibitors and antimicrobials for animal feed, scientists discovered shelf-life and freshness benefits for human food. This also led to expertise in antioxidants to transcended markets to become a key solution for the global pet food industry.

Creation of Diverse Business Units

In 1995, Kemin innovated lutein, a carotenoid molecule from marigolds that the company had been selling into the animal feed industry for years, to improve human health. With the new, distinct innovations for other industries and products, it led to the establishment of Kemin’s first business unit, Human Nutrition and Health.  

Kemin adopted the division-focused model for further expansion into pet food and rendering technologies, food technologies, and crop technologies. 

In 2017, Kemin invested more than USD $30 million in its new worldwide headquarters building in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.A., located near the wool barn in which the company manufactured its first products in 1961. Then in 2021, Kemin broke ground on a USD $4.5 million expansion of its headquarters campus and added solar panels to power its headquarters office.  

As a global company dedicated to its roots in the Des Moines community, Kemin employs more than 600 Des Moines-based team members. The family owned and operated company is actively involved in organizations that support science and education, affordable housing and food security, sustainability, and the creation of vibrant communities. 


Global Expansion Highlights

  • 1970 – Opened first regional headquarters in Herentals, Belgium. The sales and manufacturing facility allowed Kemin to efficiently work with customers across Europe. 

  • 1988 – Established second regional headquarters with sales and manufacturing facilities in Singapore. 

  • 1994 – Established sales office site in Zhuhai, China. 

  • 1998 – Opened sales and manufacturing facilities in Chennai, India.

  • 2000 – Moved the Chennai manufacturing facilities to Gummidipundi, India. 

  • 2002 – Established a manufacturing site in Zhuhai, China. 

  • 2004 – Purchased sales and manufacturing facility in Indaiatuba, Brazil. Opened sales and manufacturing facility in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

  • 2009 – Opened the second European manufacturing site in Veronella, Italy. 

  • 2010 – Purchased encapsulation company and facility in Cavriago, Italy. 

  • 2014 – Created a new regional headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

  • 2017 – Opened a state-of-the-art sales and manufacturing facility in Lipetsk, Russia and acquired a beta-glucan manufacturing facility in Plymouth, Michigan, U.S.A.

  • 2018 – Acquired Garmon Chemicals, launching Kemin’s Textile Auxiliaries business, in the Republic of San Marino and launched a new business unit, Kemin AquaScience™, to serve the aquaculture industry. 

  • 2019 – Debuted a new company logo and global vision to guide the company to 2042 and beyond. 

  • 2021 – Broke ground for a $4.5 million USD expansion of its headquarters, became majority shareholder of animal vaccine manufacturer, MEVAC, based in Cairo, Egypt, to further expand its portfolio in the global animal vaccine market and announced its global commitment to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

  • 2023 – Opened a manufacturing facility in Verona, Missouri, to produce its Proteus® line of clean-label functional proteins for the human food industry.  

  • 2024 – Debuted its new global tagline “Compelled by Curiosity.” Opened South America’s largest pet food manufacturing plant. 

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