Frozen snacks, appetizers and hors d'oeuvres are available from the supermarket freezer case in so many varieties that the choices are endless—from mini tacos to bite-sized quiches to Thai satay with peanut sauce. But Greg and Jeanette Bukuras have created tasty recipes for frozen heat-and-serve appetizers, such as Chinese Crab Rangoon, that are a leap beyond the traditional. After conducting market research, they discovered that since it's such a popular item in Chinese restaurants, Crab Rangoon might be a hit as a cartoned frozen food item.
Bringing years of experience and contacts in the seafood business, the Bukurases went to work on establishing their venture in frozen and other fine foods, such as bacon-wrapped seafood and filet mignon, and in August of 1996, started The Original Rangoon Company in Norwell, MA. Sold under the Caterer's Choice label, their products come in various quantities, from 8- to 24-oz and up to 30-pc package counts. The Bukurases determined that a paperboard folding carton was the best way to package the products, because folding cartons offer excellent graphics and a professional look. The cartons had to be sealed properly in order to ensure consumer confidence and meet the sealing requirements of retail outlets. But the upstart budget was limited, Greg Bukuras says, and the company started out manually gluing its cartons with glue guns.
But as volumes continued to grow, and distribution expanded nationally to supermarkets and clubstores, it became obvious that the cartoning process was a labor-intensive operation. The glue could be messy, and there were some safety issues, so automation was quickly becoming necessary. All the more reason to upgrade with cartoning equipment from Econocorp (www.econocorp.com), says Bukuras. First he found a used Econoseal Twinseal semi-automatic carton sealer and approached Econocorp to see about putting it into service. "I found Econocorp to be friendly, informative and willing to help," he states. "After we took the machine to our plant, Econocorp prepared the machine to glue-seal our cartons reliably, quickly and economically."
We can change carton sizes in about ten minutes... We're definitely pleased with their performance.
The company's initial frozen crab rangoon product has become such a hit with consumers, that the company now packs it as well as a net full of other frozen appetizers, including scallops wrapped in bacon, crispy shrimp won tons, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon and more out of two locations in Boston and St. Louis. Growing over the years, the company has met with much success, Greg Bukuras says.
Demonstrating that it could produce a quality seal on the crab rangoon cartons every time, the Econoseal Twinseal system soon increased productivity and reduced labor. Greg Bukuras adds that it's difficult to provide specifics here because the business continues to evolve. "We have been growing so much every year, that we haven't really been able to compare one period to the next to look at [specific] savings, because we have [continued to] increase our workforce.
"But everyone at Econocorp has given us that little extra effort," he notes. "When we first started in business, we consulted with a customer that had a Twinseal system it wasn't using. We were impressed that we could get that machine instead of having to purchase a brand new one, as our finances were extremely tight. This helped us get the kind of machine we needed at a price we could afford. We have never forgotten this, and appreciated Econocorp's integrity. The Twinseal machine works great."
The company's present offerings have blossomed to include an array of frozen seafood and several meat appetizers. Priced in supermarkets from $5.99 to $15.99, the Caterer's Choice line of products can be oven-heated, broiled or heated in the microwave.
As demand has continued to climb, the company knew it had to automate even further, so it asked Econocorp to again assist in selecting more cartoning equipment. The Original Rangoon Company now owns four Econoseal sealing machines, including three semi-automatic Twinseal carton sealers and an Econoseal E-System 2000 fully automatic, horizontal cartoner.
The cartoning machines accept four different container configurations that accommodate at least eight different products. Many of the tasty, frozen appetizers are first loaded into aluminum foil trays before being packed into the glossy end-seal cartons. The vibrantly printed, natural kraft and bleached-white folding cartons are provided by Pioneer Packaging (www.pioneerpackaginginc.com).
With a rated top speed of 30 cartons/min, the Twinseal sealers automatically apply hot-melt adhesive to two of the carton flaps and close the flaps, resulting in a finished package, ready for case packing. Greg Bukuras says his sealers achieve the 30-cpm speed on a regular basis. With few moving parts, the semi-automatic sealer operates when a loaded carton is placed into the machine with its inner flaps closed. A machine operator presses the dual-button start, and the machine automatically applies glue to the underside of carton flaps. The carton is then elevated into a vertical squaring/compression chamber and the completed, sealed carton is then ejected. The system accepts carton sizes from 3/4x3/4x3 in. to 12x4x12 in.
Chosen for its economies, reliability, low maintenance and high throughput, the intermittent-motion E-System 2000 automatic horizontal cartoner is outfitted with PLC controls and hot-melt application and can reach speeds up to cartons 25/min, depending on carton style and other factors. Featuring a sanitary construction, the system can accept carton sizes from 1x3/4x2 1/2 in. to 12x4x12 in. as standard. "Both machines are extremely customer-driven," adds Greg Bukuras.
After we took the machine to our plant, it was prepared to glue-seal our cartons reliably, quickly and economically.
On the E-System 2000, an end-loading carton blank is removed from a supply magazine via vacuum and the blank is erected at a single product-loading station. After the frozen products are cartoned, the filled packages are then transported to the closing position for sealing with hot-melt glue. The filled, sealed carton is then ejected from the machine, ready for case packing.
Minimal changeover time was also important, Bukuras points out. Changeovers are a matter of adjusting the carton-blank magazines to accommodate a different carton configuration. Besides the magazines, there are a copule of hand-wheel crank-shaft adjustments, a few mechanical adjustments and some tweaking of the folding cylinders. The machines, he says, are versatile in that they accept so many different carton sizes.
"We can change carton sizes in about ten minutes," he sums up. "We simply change the magazines that hold the cartons as well as adjust the width to accommodate the boxes. We're definitely pleased with their performance."
In fact, Bukuras adds that The Original Rangoon Company expects to automate further very soon. "We wil be purchasing another of these cartoning machines and won't even have to shop around. It's convenient having Econocorp right in our own backyard."