Anne Marie Mohan

January 29, 2014

9 Min Read
Mt. Olive packs and prints pickles and peppers

While Mount Olive, NC-based Mt. Olive Pickle Co., Inc.'s pickle and pepper production and packaging process may produce a tongue twister, the company is quite articulate when it comes to describing the benefits that have accrued from its recent installations of new and more automated packaging equipment. Over the last several years, Mt. Olive has upgraded key equipment on its packaging lines and has installed a new line to keep up with demand. "We're growing at a very fast rate," says Steve Whitman, Mt. Olive's production manager. "A lot of our equipment was getting old and needed to be updated so that we could stay competitive."

For consumer packaged goods companies such as Mt. Olive, staying competitive is increasingly dependent on the appearance of its case-packed product. "Warehouse clubs and folks like Wal-Mart are pushing food producers' goods into bulk displays," Whitman explains. For this reason, much of Mt. Olive's newest equipment was purchased to enhance the look of its corrugated shippers. "We want our product to look good at the end of that aisle, rather than sitting in a box," Whitman adds.

Among the new installations, new tray formers, hot-melt case erectors and partition inserters from Wayne Automation (www.wayneautomation.com) have allowed the pickle packer to move from corrugated cases to preprinted, shrink-wrapped trays and half-slotted cases (HSCs). These alternative packaging formats enable the product to be seen on-shelf and reinforce brand identity in bulk displays. In addition, new industrial ink-jet case coders from RSI Print Systems (www.rsipro.com) cleanly and clearly code the trays and HSCs with pertinent distribution information (see sidebar on p. 52 for more information).

Beyond improving aesthetics, these systems, along with a new semi-automated bulk-glass depalletizer, new cap-inspection systems and a new packaging line, also provide cost, productivity and quality benefits.

Presently located at the corner of Cucumber & Vine, Mt. Olive was originally founded in the mid-1920s by Lebanese immigrant Shickrey Baddour for the purpose of brining cucumbers for sale to other pickling firms. "When this initial plan didn't exactly work out," reads the company's website, "the young company found itself in sort of a...well, you know."

By January 1926, a new plan was put into place through the efforts of 21 local business people, who formally established the Mt. Olive Pickle Co., Inc. to pack and sell pickles. For $1,000, the group purchased one acre of land on which to house its company. Today, that land is part of the 110 acres that make up Mt. Olive's current manufacturing site, which includes approximately 970,000 sq ft of production, office and warehouse space.

According to the company's website, Mt. Olive's products can be found in states from Florida to Maine, in the Midwest, and in some western states, including Texas, Colorado, California and Hawaii. Mt. Olive is the number-one brand in the Southeast, where its share of pickle sales in some markets approaches 70 percent and, with distribution in 44 states, Mt. Olive's shelf-stable pickle products are the second-best-selling brand in the country.

Each year, the company packs in excess of 90 million jars of processed and fresh-packed pickles, peppers and relishes using the more than 120 million lb of cucumbers and peppers it receives from independent growers. More than a third of its fresh cucumbers come from North Carolina, while the balance comes from growers in Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, Michigan and Mexico. Additional brined cucumber and pepper products are purchased from India and Greece.

From sweet to sour and everything in between, Mt. Olive's 250 stockkeeping units include sweet pickles; bread and butter chips; dill, kosher dill and sour pickles; sweet, sweet India, hot dog and dill relishes and salad cubes; pickled peppers and okra; and a range of no-sugar-added pickle varieties. Among some of its more unique offerings are Vitamin Enhanced Bread & Butter Chips, Vitamin Enhanced Kosher Hamburger Dill Chips, Texas Pete Flavored Kosher Petite Snack Crunchers, Lime Flavored Dill Strips, Lime Flavored Dill Stuffers and Hot Pickled Okra. The company's products are packed in glass jars ranging in size from 8 oz to 1 gal, depending upon variety; squeeze bottles are used for some of its relish products.

Mt. Olive plant engineer Jimmy Carr says that for at least 10 years, the company had been investigating the idea of modifying its lines and its secondary packaging in order to use shrink-wrapped trays for its finished product, rather than corrugated cases. "A lot of our warehouse customers were requesting that we make the change for shelf display," he says. During that time, Mt. Olive had been purchasing its glass jars in partitioned, corrugated reshippers that, once unpacked, were used at the end of the line to hold finished product. This meant that incoming jars had to be manually removed from cases and placed on the line—a labor-intensive and time-consuming process.

In November 2003, Mt. Olive installed a TR-50 tray former from Wayne Automation to make trays on-demand during the transition. Early last year, the company added one CE-2100 hot-melt case erector for its HSCs, an SF-400 VHS II partition inserter and a TR-30 tray former, all from Wayne. When it came time to equip the rest of its lines with this type of equipment, the order went to Wayne without hesitation. "I chose Wayne because their machines are high-quality," says Carr. "Wayne is known in the industry as one of the best. They offer very rugged machines."

Carr adds that another factor was the machines' ability to create packaging without significant waste. In fact, Wayne's equipment is backed by a performance guarantee of 99-percent uptime efficiencies and less than 1/8 of 1 percent material loss, according to Harry Dudley, Wayne's vp of sales.

In the fall of 2004, additional hot-melt case erectors, tray formers and partition inserters, along with several hundred feet of conveyor, were installed on Mt. Olive's lines. For those lines running gallons, a custom-designed configuration, consisting of one case erector, one tray former and one partition inserter each, was created. This setup enables those lines to make the 13 x 13-in. HSCs needed for gallon containers, as well as up to a dozen side-slot tray sizes ranging from 10 x 7 1/2 to 17 1/2 x 14 in. for all other jar sizes, and insert partitions in both.

Relates Dudley, "In order to save floor space, we electronically linked the conveyor systems of the case erector, the tray former and the partition inserter together so that the three machines could be placed one after another in a line. The tray former is placed in the middle, and the frame has been raised high enough so that the cases from the case erector can be conveyed under the tray former directly to the partition inserter when cases are being produced instead of trays."

According to Wayne, the partition inserters at Mt. Olive are each engineered to produce three types of partitions, which "is not typical of other inserters," notes Dudley. The styles include 1X1 (or X-style) B-flute corrugated partitions for insertion into the 5 3/4-in.-deep HSCs, and air-cell and multicell styles made of fiberboard for the trays. The preprinted trays are provided by several suppliers.

According to Dudley, the machines installed at Mt. Olive represent standard Wayne designs that have been tailored to meet the pickle packer's needs, such as the elevated frames of the tray formers and modified case-blank magazines that accommodate the company's specific case sizes. Wayne's equipment is microprocessor-driven with solid-state sensors that monitor machine operation and keep track of cases, trays or partitions throughout the process. Jam logic enables the equipment to stop operation before paper jams occur to eliminate the wasted materials that may pile up before they finally jam the machine to the point where it stops running. "Such jamming can also cause undue stress on the machine and its parts, not to mention all the lost materials," explains Dudley.

He adds that Wayne equipment also has a unique magazine-pick design that enables the machines to handle bowed cases, tray blanks or partitions in environments where humidity may effect the materials or in cases of poorly scored or mis-glued or over-glued cases.

Also, in contrast with other partition inserters that rely on gravity for the partitions to "drop open," Wayne's machines take hold of the preassembled, collapsed partitions and maintain control of them throughout the opening and inserting process to ensure more precise insertion and less jamming and skewed placements. Mt. Olive uses model SF-400 VHS II dual-head inserters, which can run at up to 36 cases/min and are capable of inserting a partition in each of two cases simultaneously.

For consumer packaged goods companies such as Mt. Olive, staying competitive is increasingly dependent on the appearance of its case-packed product.

Regarding partition-inserter machine changeover, Carr says that the time it takes to ready the machine for a new insert style depends upon the type previously running. "If you stay within a certain range, the time for changeover is manageable," he says. "The most severe changeover, from the most radical size to another, which is also a totally different insert, takes better than an hour, but we try to work around that by the way we plan our production schedule."

Dudley says that Wayne has engineered its case erectors and tray formers for easy changeover, through the use, respectively, of handwheel cranks and digital counters, and a universal mandrel system.

Since the Wayne equipment at Mt. Olive has only just been recently installed, Carr admits that the advantages of the new machines cannot completely be calculated yet, but he adds that the company's main goal of producing a more attractive package has been met. "The new tray packaging provides exposure on the shelf," he says. "The Mt. Olive label is now prominently displayed."

Among the other benefits Carr anticipates from the new equipment is less labor-intensive glass-jar depalletizing, with one depalletizer installed and other machine acquisitions expected; a reduction in the cost of its glass jars, due to bulk packaging; and savings resulting from less secondary packaging materials, along with less waste of corrugated—making it possible for Mt. Olive to pack many, many pecks of pickles and peppers more profitably.

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