Packaging material plays crucial role in moving fruit
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- The record 129.2-million-box 2012 Washington apple crop has meant more business for apple tray and box companies.
Keyes Fibre Corp., which produces about 60 percent of the nation's molded fiber apple trays that protect apples inside boxes, is up in total production because of the large crop, said Ross Riedinger, vice president of sales and marketing.
He would not say by how much but said it would have been more had it not been for freezes last spring reducing apple crops in the Midwest and East Coast.
Keyes Fibre makes trays for apples, avocados and eggs and packaging for wine bottles at its plant just north of Wenatchee. Its sister company, Wrap Pack Inc., Yakima, makes tissues for wrapping pears. Both companies are owned by Keyes Packaging Group Inc.
The plant north of Wenatchee runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, stockpiling finished apple trays outside. Piles increase in the summer when demand is light and decrease in the fall and winter as demand increases, Riedinger said. He would not reveal annual volume.
At the south end of Wenatchee, Dolco Packaging, the polystyrene packaging division of Tekni-Plex Inc., King of Prussia, Pa., makes foam trays for apples and other products. It makes a small percentage of the nation's apple trays, said Larry Pearson, Dolco Wenatchee plant manager.
Foam trays give easily bruised Honeycrisp apples and large apples a little better protection, Pearson said. A primary customer is Auvil Fruit Co., Orondo, Wash., he said.
"Sometimes in storage and shipping there's condensation from the apples," he said. "One of the features we have that our competitors don't is drainage trays."
A small hole in the bottom of each apple cup allows condensation to drain to an absorbent pad at the bottom of the box, he said. The feature can be beneficial for exports, where apples may be in boxes longer, he said.
Dolco's apple tray production is up probably 50 percent this year due to the larger apple crop and increased popularity of Dolco's unique trays but volume is small compared to others in the business, Pearson said.
Dolco makes more than 60 different products and 100 sizes and colors of polystyrene packaging for eggs, mushrooms, poultry and other commodities in five plants nationwide, he said.
Box companies did not return calls for comment but reportedly are having more difficulty than tray companies in keeping up with increased demand from the larger apple crop.