Ever since Allan Brothers Inc. was founded in the 1920s, the company has kept a close eye on the future.
Today, the Naches, Wash.-based apple and cherry producer — one of the largest fruit growing/packaging companies in the Northwest — is even better prepared for what lies ahead.
Allan Bros. has been adding to its orchard acreage over the past few years while simultaneously shifting its focus to newer apple varieties, such as Envy, Jazz and Honeycrisp.
To keep up with demand, the company unveiled a new 300,000-square-foot packing line in December and installed robotic palletizers in March.
The mammoth facility off U.S. Highway 12 is large enough to accommodate a third sorter and third packing line (the company currently runs two each), while some of the warehouse walls can be removed to meet future expansion needs.
There’s no denying that business is full speed ahead right now, CEO Miles Kohl said.
“We’re extremely pleased with the functionality the new line gives us, both now and in the future,” he said. “The new facility includes the best technology and system design that we could glean from experts around the world. Our goal is to produce the best and safest products we possibly can, and now we are set up to do that even better than before.”
Customer satisfaction is another chief concern at Allan Bros. One way the company has been able to satisfy a range of clients around the world is by packing its fruit using two different methods: commit-to-pack and pre-size.
Commit-to-pack takes all of the apples from an orchard and finds a package for every piece of fruit. The pre-size method segregates apples by grade and size before storing them in bins that are used when a certain variety is needed on the packing line.
“We have been able to mesh both methods together, so we can be flexible depending on our customers’ needs,” Kohl said. “The new line is a hybrid that can handle both packing methods at the same time, so that will also improve our efficiency.”
He added that customers have come to rely on Allan Bros. to get their order right every time.
“We’re very customer-driven,” he said. “We have to keep up with volume, but we also know we need to send our products out on time and in the right box.”
The new packing line allows workers to complete 70 to 100 bins of apples per hour, compared to 20 to 40 bins before. What’s more, the company has been able to make the transition without hiring additional manpower.
Prior to the robotic palletizers being installed, Kohl said they would also make the operation even leaner. Before the new machinery was installed, about 40 employees were needed to hand-palletize the fruit. That number was expected to decrease to around five.
“It’s quite a cost savings,” Kohl said. “But it’s also a necessity. We’ve been growing so much lately that we need to keep investing in ways that will make us even more efficient in the future.”
Quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction have always been hallmarks at Allan Bros., which is considered a “high-end” apple producer. Since Allan Bros. is among the upper tier of apple grower-producers, Kohl said the company has been slowly moving away from commodity brands like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Braeburn.
They also have been expanding more into organics, with roughly 10 percent of its acreage now dedicated to organic practices.
“We’re not trying to compete with everyone else,” Kohl said. “Our goal is to grow the best fruit you can buy. New varieties can be risky, but when you’re asking people to pay more for an apple, they are expecting a consistently good experience every time. That is very important to us, and it will continue to shape our decisions going forward.”