Pouch filling operation sets new standard in quality, efficiency

By Lisa McTigue Pierce in Flexible Packaging on January 02, 2018

Attention to detail differentiates contract packager Cascata Packaging LLC in the flexible packaging service market for viscous liquids like baby food and sports nutrition products. The company’s transparency, integrity and customer-friendly philosophy is helping food companies meet new consumer consumption scenarios with spouted and tear-top pouches.

During a private tour of the Salt Lake City headquarters and plant, the company’s modest elegance and precision processes were clearly evident. From the conference room with a wall of windows facing Packaging Room 1 to the careful staging of materials, the facility instills confidence.

“We see ourselves as an extension of our customers’ business,” says Asher Cameron, Cascata Packaging’s chief sales and marketing officer. “Our operation becomes part of their story where they can position that their premium products are produced in a premium facility.”

The company started in 2015 to serve an unmet need in the contract packaging market for flexibles. It’s a service greatly needed by brand owners making the switch to flexible packaging production platforms—as so many have been doing in the last eight to 10 years. Companies are often able to get new products to market more quickly by partnering with a contract manufacturer/packager—and without investing several hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on machinery and processing systems, and waiting months and months for delivery and installation of that equipment.

It’s that speed-to-market advantage that Cameron says customers value most.

But on-shelf differentiation and enhanced user experience matters, too, and spouted pouches continue to deliver both. The revolution started in the mid-2000s with applesauce and quickly moved into baby food, disrupting both categories. This packaging disruption continues today with smaller brands and with what Cameron calls the Amazon-ification of food—the growth of ecommerce for groceries. Cascata Packaging is tapping into both those trends, as well as a third: consumers looking for healthy/organic foods that are also convenient and shelf-stable (non-refrigerated).

Cascata is Italian for waterfall (think of “cascading” water). The company’s logo, cleverly designed, looks like both a spouted pouch and a waterfall. The contract manufacturer and packager’s flexible packaging product lines include spouted pouches, tear-top pouches, juice pouches with straws and vertical stick packs.

 

Visible quality

Still seeing a lack of adequate capacity today for flexible packaging production, Cascata Packaging has strategic plans for continued growth with added capabilities. The plant currently handles various pouch formats from spouted pouches to tear-tops, and juice pouches with straws to vertical stick packs.

Cascata Packaging runs two shifts, six days per week with about 85 employees. About 30,000 square feet of the 75,000 square foot facility is used for manufacturing, with about 35,000 square feet of finished goods inventory. Products are quarantined for a period of time before shipping for quality control reasons.

“All of the company’s executives have extensive experience in FDA [Food and Drug Administration] manufacturing operations,” Cameron says. “We appreciate the value of quality and embed it in all we do.”

But customers don’t have to just take them at their word. They can see it for themselves. Cascata Packaging’s open-door facility is designed so customers can see the entire production process without having to gown up. Windows in the walls throughout the plant let clients see into every corner of their operation when on-site. And high-definition cameras throughout the facility let customers remotely monitor the entire operation when their product is in production.

Throughout the facility, customers and visitors can view the entire manufacturing and packaging operations via windows without having to enter the rooms, keeping the atmosphere- and quality-controlled environment intact.

 

So what is different about Cascata Packaging’s operation that helps ensure the highest quality possible? Cameron identifies three ways:

1. The Salt Lake City plant was laid out from the ground up for optimal product flow, building efficiency in from the start.

2. Strict process design and control reduces variability and ensures product consistency. This is one way the company “systemizes” what they do, according to Cameron.

3. By capturing and measuring operational data to verify product was run correctly, they have “proof” of quality. This process monitoring/control—through the use of temperature and load sensors—goes far beyond recipes loaded into a packaging machine.

As a full-service business that is a USDA Organic, OU Kosher and SQF Level II certified facility, Cascata Packaging buys ingredients, formulates products and does the packaging. The quality management system also meets NSF Intl. standards. Quality starts with ingredients, including water, which is filtered three times (going through carbon, reverse osmosis and UV light filters) before being used in a recipe.

All production is done in batches. Batching/holding tanks—all stainless steel—are jacketed. This is one of several ways Cascata controls product temperature from batching through the entire process. Product moves through the facility in stainless steel pipes, keeping it in a contiguous closed system and unexposed to air from formulation until just moments before being packaged.

 

Inside the packaging operation

Packaging Room 1 holds four multi-head production lines for spouted pouch, tear-top, juice pouch and vertical stick pack pouches, all of which can operate simultaneously. And there is still ample space in the facility for expansion. The company is in discussion with several partners to start outfitting Packaging Room 2.

One operator manages each machine. All the equipment is high-speed form-fill-seal systems from Europe that were selected for their efficiency as well as speed. Company CEO/founder Bryan Wright explains, “Our strategy was to optimize the facility in terms of its pouch-per-square-foot ratio. That enabled us to invest in sophisticated, front-end batching/blending equipment and state-of-the-art pasteurization capability, as well as back-end post-fill temperature treatments to preserve the taste, texture, color and nutrient composition of our customers’ formulations.”

Filled pouches exit the packaging room on conveyors that lead directly into huge air-blown cooling towers. Cooling is necessary to maintain product quality with precise process control metrics. This prevents the product from continuing to “cook” after pasteurization, especially in unequal measures. Pouches in a case in the middle of a pallet, for example, will hold a high temperature for quite some time after packaging.

Despite the tight process control measures, the company also does extensive quality checks, with both on-line automated and manual inspection, and off-line sampling. Post-fill pasteurization ensures the temperature of the product fully sterilizes the inside of the packaging, in both pouch and cap areas. Volumes run from 3 milliliters to 150 ml of product and the company currently produces more than 25 formulations. During changeovers and between production runs, an automated clean-in-place (CIP) system takes out any potential for human error in sanitation.

Cascata Packaging’s production operation complies with Good Manufacturing Practices under 21 CFR parts 110 and 111, and can accommodate organic, gluten-free, kosher and halal label claims.

 

Location advantages

The facility—a short, 10-minute ride from the Salt Lake City airport—is also strategically located near major freeways, rail and freight lines, giving it an edge for sourcing and distribution, especially for the U.S. West Coast and Midwest. The city hosts distribution centers from several other major companies and is a base for a slew of network marketing companies, making the area rich with skilled employees.

And Cascata Packaging knows the value of quality people, too. At the end of October, Wright recognized the accomplishments of his team in a self-described “rare” LinkedIn post, congratulating them for earning the Mountain West Capital Network (MWCN) Emerging Elite Award, which recognizes new and upcoming companies for their growth, innovation and market impact—for the second year in a row.

Wright wrote: “In a few short years, we have built a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility unrivaled in the Western United States, attracting the largest companies in the world to utilize our capabilities. We have tripled our manufacturing capacity in the past year, certified as a SQF Level II operation, and we will have quadrupled the number of employees over the past year by early 2018. We have a lot yet to do, but everyone at Team Cascata deserves some recognition. Well done!”

Indeed.

As a nice touch for when customers visit during production of their product, Cascata Packaging can change the color of the LED lights in the ceilings and around its machinery based on the customer’s brand colors. It also has special suites where customers can work and collaborate when they are on site.

 

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