NACHES, Wash. — Allan Bros. Inc., a small tree fruit company with more than century-old roots, is building a new $40 million apple packing facility managers say they need to remain competitive.
Construction of the 300,000-square-foot storage and packing facility began last March. It will be operational by the end of October, said Miles Kohl, company CEO.
“We are designing it to meet the needs of our five-year outlook and as additional volume opportunities present themselves,” Kohl said.
Allan Bros. packs about 3.5 million, 40-pound boxes of apples annually and will have capacity to pack 5 million to 6 million boxes with the new line, Kohl said.
The company also packs about 1.5 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries each season on a separate line.
The new line enables Allan Bros. to meet its packaging and marketing goals and handle its expanding orchard acreage and the increasing acreage of its Enza apple growers, Kohl said.
Allan Bros. markets most of its fruit through Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, and its Enza brand apples through The Oppenheimer Group in Seattle. Enza apples include Jazz, Envy and Pacific Rose.
At the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in December, Michael Butler, CEO of the Seattle investment bank Cascadia Capital LLC, told growers more consolidation of smaller Washington tree fruit companies is likely within the next six to 24 months because new, expensive packing lines are running too far below capacity.
Asked about that, Kohl said the industry is poised for more consolidation due to ownership transitions, labor shortages and other factors. He said Allan Bros. is undertaking the largest investment in its history to position itself to better survive any potential consolidation.
The new apple line is being installed by Van Doren Sales with New Zealand Compac Spectrim defect sorters and graders. It features a 10-lane Compac pre-size portion with room to eventually expand to 15 lanes. The 7-lane commit-to-pack side can be expanded to 13 lanes, said Patrick O’Brine, Van Doren salesman. Van Doren is headquartered in East Wenatchee and has an office in Union Gap.
“It’s a hybrid pre-size with three water bin fillers each capable of filling six different products, particular grade and size combinations,” O’Brine said.
All the fruit goes through the pre-size first. Only the fruit to be packed right away goes to the commit-to-pack line, he said. The rest of the fruit, sorted and sized, is stored until needed for packing.
Pre-sizing has been used a long time but this is only the third line in the Rainier marketing group in which pre-sized fruit can go directly to packing, he said.
The pre-size is capable of 100 bins per hour, the new industry norm, with a cruising average of 3,000 to 4,000 pieces of fruit per minute, O’Brine said. That speed is more than double that of the company’s old 1970s commit-to-pack and 10-year-old pre-size line, Kohl said. The latter will be kept but not the old commit-to-pack, he said.
“The new line gives us the ability to reduce our ratio of labor hours to output significantly,” Kohl said.
Food safety is enhanced with stainless steel and electric replacing hydraulic components so there’s no chance of hydraulic fluid contaminating apples, he said.