After the facility opened, the company did well for itself, but eventually Iams threw a curveball: The egg products ADF was producing were good, but now the company wanted a chicken protein. Darr delivered with a 50-pound block of mechanically separated chicken he bought off a friend. Iams loved it and requested more, which sent Darr scrambling yet again: Because he had bought the sample off a friend, he didn’t actually have the machine, called a “beehive,” to produce the product. He turned to Gary Metzger, who was then at Mercantile Bank, for a $50,000 loan. “That frozen block of chicken I bought from someone else turned into about 45 million pounds of ground chicken,” Darr said. Every year after that was a profitable one for ADF.
Darr still had some human food customers from Henningsen and decided to open International Dehydrated Foods in Monett in 1982. At first the company struggled; Darr decided to partner with a French company called Diana but bought back the partnership in 2000. Eventually the business expanded and as it did, Darr, Hellweg and Darr’s other son-in-law, Tom Slaight, began eyeing retirement. When Darr and Hellweg first put ADF/IDF on the market in 2018, they were really just testing to see how the two would perform. At the time, German-based Symrise, who had bought Diana years prior, made an offer. “We knew they were the most likely out of all offers to keep our people,” Darr says. The two companies inked out a $900 million contact, and the rest, as they say, is history.