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Cargill is ramping up its egg production as more Americans are eating breakfast and choosing protein-rich meals when they do.

The Minnetonka-based agribusiness is investing $20 million to expand its Big Lake, Minn., plant where it makes an array of egg products — from precooked patties to frittatas to liquid eggs — that it sells as ingredients or ready-to-serve entrees to restaurants and cafeterias.

When the expansion is complete in January, twice as many eggs, about 170 million, will be purchased from area farms and processed at the facility. Cargill will add about 12 new jobs at the plant to help with the increased volume.

People are eating out less for lunch and dinner, but more for breakfast, motivating food companies to invest more heavily in the first meal of the day. In recent years, lunch and dinner visits to quick-service restaurants, including fast-food joints, has been flat, while breakfast visits have increased, according to a study by the NPD Group, which tracks food consumption. The morning meal's growing popularity was highlighted by McDonald's successful launch of its all-day breakfast menu in 2015.

Many consumers, especially young adults, gravitate toward breakfast foods that are convenient and keep them full for longer periods. Protein-rich breakfast items that can be carried on-the-go, such as breakfast sandwiches, yogurt and cereal bars, have experienced significant sales growth as a result.

The Big Lake expansion follows investments of $12 million at its egg processing plant in Mason City, Iowa, and $27 million at one in Lake Odessa, Mich. Cargill also owns and operates an egg processing plant in Monticello. The company opened the Big Lake facility in 2001.

Foods rich in protein tend to cost more, but Cargill's protein business, based in Wichita, Kan., continues to grow as more countries around the world gain wealth. "Economies are improving. More people are moving into the middle class," said Jared Johnson, general manager for the Big Lake plant, in a statement. "These factors are driving significantly increased demand for animal protein around the world."

Cargill has invested nearly $900 million to grow its North American protein business in the last two years. Construction on the Big Lake expansion begins next month.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767