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Rainier takes packingline technology to the max

Rainier Fruit Co., one of Washington's premier apple grower-packer-shippers, has raised the bar in anticipation of its new packingline, known as The Max Line. The state-of-the-art line is expected to become operational around Oct. 10 according to Suzanne Wolter, the company's director of marketing.

While the technology is not proprietary, Pre-Size Manager Shea Carroll described the technology to The Produce News this way: "We worked for almost two years to design a line that is more than an evolutionary step toward faster, gentler and increasingly efficient packing. Ours is a re-imagining of what the perfectRainierSuzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., said the company is set to unveil its revolutionary Max Line at this year's Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention. The Max Line combines the best features of commit-to-pack lines and presize lines into one operation, thereby reducing pack times and increasing operational efficiencies. (Photo courtesy of Rainier Fruit Co.) process should be."

Marvin Record, vice president/director of operations for Rainier Fruit Co., and other members of the company's sales team will be available at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit convention (booth No. 530) to unveil the Max Line.

Ms. Wolter said that traditional apple packing can be done two ways. Fruit is commit-to-packed directly from the orchard bin into a box and sold, or fruit is presized into sized, graded and inventoried bulk bins to be custom packed into the box later when orders are received.

"By combining the benefits of commit-to-pack with the strengths of a presize, the perfect process has been created," she explained. "The Max Line will give us the flexibility to run fruit directly off the pre-size line into a box on the same day, cutting the bin-to-box time a full 24 hours. During peak season, speed to box can make the difference between fulfilling the customer's order or losing it to another supplier."

According to Ms. Wolter, the greatest challenge with commit-to-pack is that fruit goes into packages that have no orders against them, leaving a sales desk working to sell packages that customers may or may not want. "Conversely, presize requires an extra day to run orchard bins of fruit and get the fruit into a box," she said. "Instead of having to choose whether to dedicate specific fruit to either the CTP or presize lines, the Max Line will do both at once, creating a super-presize. Similar to a commit-to-pack line, fruit will be packed for orders as soon as it reaches the line. But like a presize, it will also inventory bins to turn special requests that cannot be run right away on a CTP line."

Ms. Wolter said that Rainier is the only apple supplier from the Pacific Northwest to utilize this kind of technology. "And it will be the largest of its kind in the country," she said. "However, it's not about being the largest. Our goal is to be the best. We strive to provide the highest quality customer satisfaction, and the Max Line is the powerhouse in the toolbox."

To bring the Max Line's technology into the cloud-computing era, Rainier has worked with the people who built their equipment to aggregate all the computer control and data systems into one central hub. "It is normal in a warehouse to have several points in the packing process where information about the fruit is input into various systems," Ms. Wolter said. "Problems arise when mistakes are made in one or more of those places, and inventories can't be evaluated in a consistent way because of bad data. The single source data stream control enforces their ability to get the right fruit on every order."

The company is no stranger to innovation and forward-thinking business practices. For more than 60 years, the Zirkle family has grown a modest family orchard into one of the larger and more modern farming and fruit sales companies in Washington state.

Rainier is also the premier grower of the Honeycrisp variety in North America and introduced two variety exclusives, the Lady Alice and Junami. The company has positioned itself as a national supplier of premium organic products.

"[We have] established a reputation as the finest producer of Northwest cherries," Ms. Wolter said.