Ralston Purina Company (1930 - ): Work with Soy

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, California

Ralston Purina was the fifth largest soybean crusher in the US in 1980 and the largest producer of soy protein isolates.

The Ralston Purina Company was founded in 1893 in St. Louis, Missouri, as an animal feed company by William H. Danforth (1870-1955).

In 1930 Ralston Purina began soybean processing in a plant at ??? , State?? By the early 1940s the company was the largest single consumer of soybean meal in America. Sold in "Purina Chows" under the famous corporate trademark, the red and white checkerboard, the meal was used mostly as poultry and livestock feeds (Dies 1942).

By 1947 Ralston was operating at least four soybean crushing plants, located in Lafayette, Indiana; Iowa Falls, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri; and St. Louis, Missouri. The four plants contained 23 expeller presses, had a combined capacity of 560 tons of soybeans a day, and a storage capacity of 3.91 million bushels of soybeans. The main product of each plant was Purina Chows feeds. By 1950 Ralston had an expeller plant in Circleville, Ohio. By 1960 new hexane solvent plants had been added in Bloomington, Illinois; Decatur, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; New Madrid, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Two plants had been sold, giving the company a total of nine in 1960 (Soybean Blue Book). The feeds were now called "Protein Chows" mixed feeds, for which Ralston had staked out a broad franchise, as had Central Soya and Allied Mills.

In 1958 Ralston started its first plant making soy protein isolates, in Louisville, Kentucky; only industrial-grade isolates, used mostly for paper coatings, were produced. The production of food-grade isolates was started in 1960.

By 1969 Ralston had become the world's largest producer of formulated livestock and poultry feeds with plants in over 40 states and 30 foreign countries. That year its only edible soy products were soy protein isolates and spun soy protein fibers; a chip like product was made from Ralston's textured Edi-pro. These foods were sold only to the food industry, not directly to consumers.

In 1978 Ralston expressed its deepened interest in soy protein foods by sponsoring the Keystone Conference on soy protein and human nutrition, a milestone event that brought together the top researchers in the field and resulted in the publication by Academic Press of an excellent book containing the proceedings (Wilcke et al. 1979). Starting at about this time Ralston became America's undisputed leader in the field of food-grade soy protein isolates; their research led to the development of a full line of isolates with very bland flavors and improved functional properties. These were widely advertised starting in 1979. Ralston also developed an improved textured soy protein isolate and pioneered in the development of soy isolate/dairy blends. In 1979 they had a branch in Europe: Purina Protein Europa SA in Brussels.

By 1980 Ralston produced roughly 100 million lb?? of soy protein isolates, more than all other US producers combined. The only other manufacturers were Grain Processing Corp. and Dawson Mills. They were marketing 11 types of soy protein isolates with various characteristics plus spun soy protein fibers, isolate granules (extruded isolate; Supro 50), and three types of soy/dairy blends. They also made industrial protein paper coatings and industrial lecithin. They had soybean crushing plants in seven locations.