Hinrichs Trading Company
The Hinrichs’ family journey began in processing in the early 1900s. Max Hinrichs Sr. engaged in grass seed processing, then came his son, Max Hinrichs Jr., in 1925; his dream was grass seed to wheat seed, and then came Max’s sons, Bob and Don Hinrichs.
From 1956 to 1999 the Hinrichs engaged in the processing of wheat seed, peas and lentils. Hinrichs Trading Company (HTC) has prospered from 1990 to today, and the crop of chickpeas has hit the road running.
Phil Hinrichs, current president of HTC, runs the company alongside his brother, Max, director of export sales. Joining the management team are Phil’s sons, Phillip Jr. and Kyle, regional manager of operations and new operations and food safety manager for HTC, respectively.
“They are managers with boots on the ground, more than just a unique approach to business,” Phil says. “Bob still comes to work every day despite recently celebrating his 82nd birthday. At harvest all managers are on the ground. I buy every bean from every farmer direct. We feel that owners like to work with owners.”
Like his father, Phil truly believes in relationships. “It starts out with a relationship with our grower base,” he continues. “The farmers contract with us and we are a full circle company, meaning we produce the seed, the varieties and we have the growers grow the varieties of our choice. We process the beans and get them prepared for the sale.”
The company sells approximately 70 percent of product within the United States. Phil notes that the remaining 30 percent of product is exported.
A Growing Client Base
HTC’s clients include canners, flour producers, roasters, hummus makers and packagers around the United States and the world. The business strives to lead the domestic market in chickpeas, a goal that appears to be in sight, considering the company’s growing market share and customer relationships. “We pride ourselves in the ability to be long-term suppliers, meaning one- to five-year contracts,” Phil explains. “We also pride ourselves on just-in-time service to our customers, big and small.”
Customers have come to expect a high level of quality and service from HTC. The team has an attitude of gratitude toward clients and strives to provide the best possible partnership. “Our food safety is something we manage daily to make sure we can meet the requirements of our customers,” Phil notes. “We work with the Fortune 500 type companies that have high expectations. Deep down, though, we are still a grounded family with high values.”
Hopped up on Hummus
“Every day is a new venture in our company,” Phil continues. “We are always trying to figure out a better way to clean our beans and ship our beans. We happened to catch a real good ride on this Mediterranean diet and new challenges come at a cost.”
In recent years, Americans have been purchasing more chickpea products than ever. With the rise of hummus as a food market trend, HTC has been working hard to meet demand. “Our biggest challenge in recent years has been in the hummus business,” Phil explains. “The demand is overnight. As an example, let’s say a client was using two loads a week. The next week, they take a railcar, which increases their purchase to four-plus loads. We have to keep moving quickly.”
To remedy the imbalance, HTC has taken to strategic staging across the United States. This helps reduce the risk of lost time or product due to weather, accidents or other uncontrollable factors. Hummus, and in turn chickpeas, have had an explosive market. In 2010, HTC saw growth in chickpeas for hummus at 15 percent. In 2011, the market grew another 27 percent. In 2012 that growth shot up by 56 percent; 2013 saw further growth.
The team has also found success in other boutique markets. “These are the applications that our company fits well in because we will work with a client until they get their legs under them,” says Phil. “If we need to take it to the next level, it is within our capabilities.”
HTC represents a high percentage of the chickpeas grown in the United States. The team sources from growers in seven states. Washington and Idaho comprise approximately 80 percent of United States’ production. “Our partners in other states allow us to be diversified and to grow different varieties from organic to commercial,” Phil explains. “We always need to be able to supply the market so that Mother Nature doesn’t get us all at once and we don’t have anything to deliver to our buyer.”
The company’s plants operate around the clock to handle the supply and demand. While the team’s recent growth has been a benefit of its own, Phil is happy to report that his business is able to contribute to growth in the industry as a whole, providing new opportunities for HTC, as well as other processors.
“We reinvest a certain amount to research,” he explains. “New developments and applications allow us to build new partnerships and expand our market. We are seeing new dollars being spent on new products. People are buying crackers, dip, soups, flour and roasted or canned chickpeas. It’s amazing how you take a piece of pie called the chickpea and you break it up 12 ways to find a much larger market.”
Phil credits much of his company’s continued success to a strong and highly talented team; the business has 10 people in management roles. Altogether, the business employs more than 45 people and counting.
“We hired an additional six people in 2013 and are looking to add seven more in 2014,” Phil says. “It is exciting to be a company that is hiring. We are having fun despite the challenges of growth. We get to correct our challenges quickly because of the supply and demand and because we have great people on our team.”
It is evident that Phil, Max and the HTC team enjoy work on a daily basis. “I would say every day we come to work and our whole focus is the service to our customers,” Phil continues. “We work with the grower’s side and we work to deliver the chickpea to our end-user customer. It’s all about quality and service and it’s not easy to do. We act as a team and we reward our employees for their service.”
Phil and Max have put together a streamlined process, which allows the business to handle growth as it comes. Lately growth has been coming from all directions. Fortunately, a skilled and flexible management team keeps the gears turning. HTC has developed strong relationships with suppliers and clients alike, a factor that has eased the growing pains in a challenging industry.
Looking ahead, Phil and Max see continued growth on the horizon. The HTC team will continue to contribute to the development of the market by applying resources to find new uses for products, customers and clients for chickpeas and chickpea products. Regardless of growth, values maintain an important place among all of the business technicalities. Hinrichs Trading Company is, and will continue to operate as, a family business, bringing integrity into every transaction with clients and strategic partners.