Sunkist Growers Inc. recently broke out of its traditional citrus markets with a new protein shot product that is prominently featured in Sky Mall catalogs instead of produce aisles. The not-for-profit marketing cooperative, which is owned by and operated for the California and Arizona citrus growers that make up its membership, was able to break into this new market with the help of outside innovation from BioBev LLC.
"In terms of its innovation and product development, BioBev is always looking at ways they can differentiate themselves in the marketplace," Dave Bolton, director of global licensing at Sunkist, explains. "When it pitched the idea to us, we were very excited."
Sunkist's global licensing model extends beyond traditional uses of contract packagers by inviting external companies to develop ideas and execution strategies first. These companies create business opportunities by developing a need for their services rather than waiting for brand owners to come to them.
This also is a strategy that has enabled Sunkist to greatly expand their business beyond fresh produce. "We have more than 600 products worldwide," Bolton remarks. "Yes, we're a huge name in citrus. We're also a huge brand for a number of different products."
To ensure that the product development process goes well, Sunkist has instituted formal procedures.
"We have specific guidelines that all of our licensees need to adhere to," Bolton explains. "Our No. 1 priority really is to protect the brand. Sunkist is a brand that's been established for well over 20 years and it's a living brand. We want to make sure that any product that is available in the marketplace from a licensing standpoint reflects the quality and respect that Sunkist stands for in citrus and in the world."
Sunkist also was heavily involved in the approval process for protein shot package development. "We want to ensure that not only is the product good but also that the package design is appropriate for the Sunkist brand," Bolton adds. "The package also must adhere to all of the state and federal regulations for food and safety, and we continually and regularly audit all of our manufacturing facilities to ensure product safety and quality assurance."
Co-manufacturing and packing
Protein shot manufacturing and packaging is done by Protica Inc., Whitehall, PA. The company is owned by Jim Duffy, who also is part owner of BioBev.
Filling is done on an existing packaging line that was modified by Protica's in-house engineering team for filling stand-up pouches and attaching the beverage tap, supplied by Intl. Dispensing Corp. (IDC).
"We're accustomed to making accommodations to our filling lines for unique types of packaging," says Duffy. "Our company's original package is a relatively large test tube looking container that has a hemispherical bottle. It doesn't stand up on its own, so we had to create pucks for the vials and we had to home grow our entire filling line for that particular package.
Terry Metzger is lead engineer at Protica and has a long history with the equipment at the facility.
"Our engineering group, especially with Terry's help, is used to solving these types of challenges where you have the package that's not your typical Boston round traveling down the conveyor," Duffy adds. "We have a department of 12 engineers and mechanics, who do everything from welding, machining and so on. We took our existing filling machine and modified it, creating a jig that allows us to positively hold pouches under a 24-head filling machine."
"The interesting thing about Terry is that, for more than 20 years, he's been working in the building that we own," Duffy explains. "We met Terry, learned about the dairy plant that he used to work at and that he was still doing some work there for the previous owners. He was their senior engineer, and he has a deep amount of experience in everything from PLC controls to hydraulics. So we bought the dairy plant, which is about 250,000-sq-ft of production and warehouse space on 13 acres."
This knowledge was called upon to modify the filler for the protein shot project. Rockwell Automation Allen-Bradley controls are used to operate the filler's time-flow process, which uses consistent pressure and time to measure how much product goes into pouches. Additionally, each bag is filled on an independent scale. "If the filler has not shut off and the pouch exceeds the anticipated weight of 120 oz, the scale will send a pulse to a clamp that shuts off that specific spigot," Duffy says. "All 12 spigots are created to work independently, and this is all fabricated by Terry and his team."
Pouches are manually loaded under the filler heads. The previously mentioned, specially manufactured jig installs a flange into the top layer of each pouch, which is hot filled at approximately 185 deg.
After the pouches are filled, operators manually start the tap insertion process. "A manual motion triggers the filler's action," Duffy explains. "In one fell swoop, the taps are applied to all the flanges." Pouches are manually moved from the filling station to a cooling bath.
A set of air knives dry the pouches as they exit the bath. The dried pouches are lot-, best-by- and Julian-coded by a Videojet Technologies Inc. Excel printer using solvent ink. Pouches are case-packed to order-one or two per shipper. Orders are processed through Intuit Inc. QuickBooks Enterprise for SkyMall. (Protica does use different electronic data interchange processes for compatibility with other customers' systems.)
A Loveshaw case sealer is used to close filled cases, and a Digital Design Ink Evolution printer is used to mark cases.
Dispensing goes ambient
"It will take time for customers to adopt the concept of buying liquid protein in this large bulk format, and really understand the value, benefit and versatility of this packaging," Duffy remarks.
This benefit comes from patented, proprietary dispensing technology used for the 1-gal pouches. The tap is IDC's The Answer, which enables the large-format pouches, produced by Fres-co System USA Inc., to be stored at room temperatures even after dispensing is commenced.
"You can safely store it anywhere-in your car, office, backpack, fridge-without concern," says Greg Abbott, founder and chairman of IDC. "At the end, you can squeeze out every last drop, eliminating waste, and when you finally dispose of the pouch, you know you are burdening the environment with considerably less packaging material for the same amount of liquid."
Duffy agrees: "In-depth life-cycle analyses indicate that large-format packaging with The Answer dramatically reduces the amount of energy, greenhouse gas emissions and landfill waste compared to single-serve packaging. It is an economical and environmentally responsible option for consumers to get the protein supplements they need for their active lifestyles.
"I think it's realistic to expect that we'll run maybe 75,000 bags per month by our third quarter," Duffy adds, "and with our current configuration, we have the capacity to do about 60,000 pouches per day."
More information is available:
BioBev LLC, 614/793-8293. www.BioBev.com
Protica Inc., 610/832-2000. www.protica.com
Digital Design Inc., 800/967-7746. www.evolutioninkjet.com
Fres-co System USA Inc., 215/721-4600. www.fresco.com
Intl Dispensing Corp., 630/325-7933. www.idcdispensing.com
Intuit Inc., 877/683-3280. www.intuit.com
Loveshaw, 800/572-3434. www.loveshaw.com
Rockwell Automation, 414/382-2000. www.rockwellautomation.com
Videojet Technologies Inc., 800/843-3610. www.videojet.com