During 2016, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, WI—a manufacturer of specialty malts and natural ingredients for beer, spirits, food and beverages—celebrated its 140th anniversary. Along the way, Briess has experienced significant growth.
The Briess story began in 1876 in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, when Ignatius Briess, a grain exchanger by trade, began malting local barley. By 1894, his son, Rudolf Briess, was ready to expand the business globally. Rudolf began exporting malt for brewing—and also began developing ingredients for bakers, including Maltoferm malt extracts.
In the 1930s, Eric Briess, Rudolf’s son, brought the business to a new level after relocating to the U.S. after the war in Europe disrupted the family’s malting operation in Czechoslovakia. In the U.S., he continued the family business by sourcing domestically produced malt and supplying customers whose sources of malt had been cut off as a result of the war.
Fast-forward to the 1980s, and the U.S. craft beer industry was starting to see its first phase of significant growth. To meet increased demand for malt, Briess added a milling operation and began marketing 50-pound bags of preground malt.
The 1980s also saw Briess return to the production of its Maltoferm malt extracts for baked goods and other food products. By producing malt extract from its own malt, Briess became the first vertically integrated malting company in North America.
Growth continued in the 1990s, when Roger Briess, great-grandson of company founder Ignatius, built a processing plant to produce heat-treated grains, leading to the creation of Insta Grains in 1993. The company also invested in equipment for roasting, dry-blending and milling. The Insta Grains ingredient line includes whole kernels, flours, particles, flakes and custom ingredients, healthy grain ingredients that have been minimally processed to have a reduced cook time, saving time required for soaking or precooking grains for the production of baked goods, crackers, various snacks and other foods.
“Historically, Briess has focused on the brewing industry,” says Craig Briess, board member and great-great grandson of company founder Ignatius. “When my father, Roger Briess, took over the company in 1975, he refocused attention on the food segment. Today, a substantial portion of our business derives from this segment, and we continue to grow our capabilities and reach in this market. The scope of our business has broadened over the years. This is due in part to changing consumer needs, but also new technologies that have developed. Briess must be flexible enough to help our customers meet these consumer needs in a timely and quality manner.”
Expansion into sweeteners came in 2002, when Briess began producing high-quality malt extracts and natural sweeteners in a newly commissioned, state-of-the-art plant in Chilton. Today, Briess is a supplier of several sweetener ingredients, including malted milk powder, malt extracts, tapioca syrups and solids, and white sorghum extracts. The most-recent addition to this lineup is InnoSweet, a natural, non-GMO sprouted whole-wheat powder (labeled as “sprouted whole wheat”) that provides whole-grain nutrition and sweetness.
InnoSweet is a great fit for snack producers and bakeries looking to reduce the “added sugars” that are now listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. “Over the last year, we’ve seen this trend coming, and we’ve put more focus into making it available for the industry,” says Shawn Kohlmeier, product line manager.
“InnoSweet is ready to eat and can go into products that don’t require a validated kill step. It behaves kind of like a flour, kind of like a sweetener,” says Bob Hansen, technical services manager.
“This is an innovative, first-of-its-kind to market whole grain,” adds Craig.
InnoSweet qualified for the 2016 B.E.S.T. in Baking Program, a sustainability initiative sponsored by Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery and the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE).
Briess also offers a range of other food and beverage ingredients, including tapioca maltodextrins, cocoa extenders, roasted grains and flours, a natural dough improver, among others.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to demonstrate to industries outside of brewing the value of the natural colors and flavors that can be created from the malting process,” says Bob.
“As people try to develop cleaner labels and want to return to natural ways of processing, there’s been interest in malt as an enzyme source,” continues Bob. “Additionally, as people look to differentiate their products, they’ve looked to different types of malts from different grains beyond barley, so we regularly malt different types of grain, including wheat and rye, and have even done spelt and buckwheat. By varying the process, we can create a whole host of colors and flavors. Those are very much directed by our customers.”
For instance, this can yield malt ingredients that have a nutty flavor, or to accentuate the flavors of cocoa. Applications for malt ingredients, including extracts, span a wide range of baked goods, including breads, bagels, cookies and pizza crusts.
As a family-run operation, Briess has long taken a different approach to its business. “Briess family members have had varying roles in the business over the years, but the one common element is the centrality of maintaining client focus and commitment to providing the best-quality product,” says Craig.
Today, Briess is a leading vertically integrated grain processing company. The company works closely with a network of barley growers in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, with barley processing plants in Wyoming and Wisconsin. In 2015, Briess doubled its malting capacity at its Wisconsin plant.
Briess operates three malting facilities in Wisconsin. “The smallest malting house is in Chilton,” says Bernadette Wasdovitch, marketing communications manager. “Because it’s small, we have the flexibility to make small batches of different styles of specialty malt. We have a second operation in Waterloo. That one is about four times as big as the Chilton facility. Our third malting facility is in Manitowoc, and that’s about twice as big as the one in Waterloo.”
Briess prides itself in staying ahead of the trend curve. The company has been in the organic, natural and gluten-free markets since the 1990s. As a result, the company was poised for expansion. “Briess was in these markets at the front end of growing consumer demand,” says Ryan O’Toole, president and COO. “But innovation has also helped fuel growth—innovation through our extract process, the process of making syrups and sweeteners, and our malting technologies. And Briess is positioning itself for continued growth, through investment in people—our intellectual resources—and capital investment.”
Despite the significant growth through the years, Craig is also quick to point out that Briess, in many ways, has remained consistent. “We are committed to remaining a family company, and acting with the highest regard to ethics and integrity in our dealings – internally and externally,” he says. “Briess has always been committed to providing excellence in quality and service. The Briess family atmosphere allows for an environment wherein employees are engaged and truly care about the products they create. They know that they are members of this family.” He notes that this creates very low turnover, and in turn, provides customers consistency in their dealings with the company.
“There’s a sense of ownership within the employees. We have employees on the team who have been engaged with Briess for 40-plus years,” says Ryan.
“We value and rely on our people, as they bring an incredible amount of creativity, expertise, and ability,” says Craig.
Briess is currently developing a number of exciting new solutions, notes Craig. “From a company perspective, we are proud that we have the capability to grow with our customers in all senses; we can provide exciting and innovative solutions to a wide range of customer needs,” he says. “The future for Briess is also consistency—the same quality, commitment, and values that have made Briess the company that it is today.”
Of course, this story continues. “Stay tuned for our 150th anniversary,” notes Ryan. “That will be something spectacular.”