The carton manufacturing plant in Ontario is perhaps the crown jewel in the Fruit Growers system. “State-of-the-art” is an over-worked adjective in the agriculture industry, but when it comes to the Ontario container plant, it is dead-on accurate.
It is simply the best, most efficient plant of its kind, although we continue to tweak it to make it even more efficient. In a typical year, the plant produces 80 million citrus containers. In addition to producing all of the cartons its members need, Fruit Growers also produces containers to industrial users and anyone in the open market.
To the uneducated eye, a fruit carton may appear to be a simple container. But looks can be deceiving. Each size and style of citrus carton is carefully engineered in Fruit Growers’ own design lab to provide maximum protection, breathe-ability and moisture absorbing characteristics at the lowest possible weight. The slightest flaw, such as air vents cut just a little too sharply, can lead to damaged fruit.
The requirements of the ever-changing retail environment into which Sunkist (Fruit Growers’ sister co-op) markets fruit means that new types and designs are constantly needed. In 2005 alone, Fruit Growers was called on to design and produce 40 new cartons and other containers. This trend accelerates as the industry becomes more diversified both on the production side — where clementines and other tangerine-type varieties gained popularity — and in the retail sector, where warehouse-type outlets are gaining a bigger share of the market. The warehouse store operations also require that the supplier, in effect, manage the produce sections.
At any one time, Fruit Growers may be asked to supply 200-300 different packaging items. On an hour’s notice, a packing house can typically pick up any of those items.
“In the past, containers only needed to get the product to the retail outlet. Containers were not part of the display. Today there is more demand for containers — such as clam-shell trays and various sizes of bags with promotional coupons printed on them — that go directly into the hands of the consumer.”
Sunkist marketers often come up with a design concept, which Fruit Growers engineers then go to work on to turn into reality. They experiment with different weights and how a carton will ship, striving to maximize the integration of the carton with pallet and trucking configurations, innovation here is constant; they work hard to ensure that the containers they provide are the ones that the rest of the industry will try to emulate.