Carb alert: This $50 million plant in Cleburne can pump out 4,000 tons of pasta a month

Raw semolina arrives by train to La Moderna’s $50 million production facility and within a few hours, it’s ready to ship to grocery stores from the Rocky Mountains to the east coast.

What happens in between is a totally automated process from the machines that shape the semolina into pasta and the four-level oven that cooks it to the robots that stack the boxes onto pallets and the laser-guided forklift that autonomously sends the pallets to the warehouse.

La Moderna, Mexico’s largest pasta company, celebrated the grand opening of the 150,000-square-foot facility Tuesday with Gov. Greg Abbott and Mexican dignitaries like Luis Videgaray Caso, Mexican secretary of foreign affairs.

The plant started testing operations in December and is just now ramping up production with 36 different types of pasta.

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“It’s simply remarkable what you’re able to do in this facility,” Abbott said. “You are a quintessential example of the way that Texas opens its doors to people from across the world. We are so proud that you have chosen to come here to Cleburne, come to Texas, grow your company here and expand and sell your product across the entire United States of America.”

La Moderna has about 100 employees but you won’t see them doing repetitive tasks on the line. The advanced automation means it’s more about having a workforce that can keep the machines and assembly line rolling, said Luis Miguel Monroy, chairman of the board for La Moderna.

“Those are better paying jobs,” Monroy said.

The plant is located on Sparks Drive less than a half mile from the Chisholm Trail Parkway, which was a big factor for La Moderna to locate its first U.S. facility in Cleburne.

“The transportation is fabulous right here, highways, railroad and airports,” Monroy said. “It’s not a coincidence that across the street there’s a Walmart distribution center.”

In that case, trucks delivering to Walmart literally just cross Sparks Drive to deliver pallets of pasta to the warehouse. Having a facility in Texas will add efficiency and allow La Moderna to expand its sales throughout the country.

“When we bring it from Mexico, we have to clear customs and sometimes that takes time,” Monroy said. “Now we don’t need to clear customs.”

The semolina will still come from farms in Mexico and will be shipped by rail to Cleburne.

La Moderna has two assembly lines going now, one for long products, such as spaghetti or linguine, and another for short products, such as elbow pasta, fideo and shell pasta.

Those two lines can produce 7.4 million pounds of pasta per month.

The plant has room to add two more assembly lines, which Monroy expects to happen in the next five years.

“When we can produce at 100 percent capacity here, we can way outproduce our sales in the U.S.,” said Jay Ellestad, manager of supply chain and purchasing for La Moderna.