The FGS Carton Plant Tour

Our Carton Plant in Ontario, California was originally built 38 years ago and focused on making boxes for Sunkist. Today we meet the box needs for Sunkist and many other big players in the open market with one of the most high-tech, automated, and efficient corrugated cardboard carton plants in America. Our team works tirelessly to ensure top-notch customer service with an unrivaled level of dependability. Our high quality standards, responsive and flexible support, along with the most efficient manufacturing processes around, underline our outstanding 38+ year reputation in the packaging industry.

In 2015, $30 million was put forth for an expansion to the plant which added new equipment, 8,900 square feet of space, and 2,500 square feet dedicated to staff resources including a design room, and a training room. Mark Lindgren, CEO of FGS, said many of the staff working there had been with the company for more than 20 years, and their expertise was the deciding factor for an expansion instead of a relocation.

“We want to leverage the existing human resource,” he said. “They really have proven over many, many years that they’re a great workforce that we can count on that will be able to learn the new technologies that we’re moving into the new plant. Rather than growing from the ground up, we’d rather re-invest into that group of people. The area has always worked well for us. The city has worked well with us over the years so it’s been a good place and for all of those reasons, we’d rather reinvest in this area and in our existing staff than pick it up and start somewhere else.”

Steve Moore, general manager of the FGS Carton Plant, came to the company in March of 2015 and went over the business plans for the expansion. Moore agrees that the staff was the main reason why the company chose to expand rather than relocate.

“It’s a unique place,” Steve said. “It’s a great opportunity. The people here are unique, and they take pride in what they do.”

For more information or to contact us visit our Carton page.

Understanding Evapotranspiration


As a grower, you’ve got a lot on your mind. You rely on your equipment to produce the best crops available in the marketplace. You depend on your staff at harvest time, knowing that they have been well trained and can get the job done on schedule and ahead of deadline. You also place faith in your intuition when it comes to problem solving on the fly. Some of your most common foes often stem from disease outbreaks, fertility issues or a change in the weather. Fortunately, one of your best defenses against problems in the field is knowing how to properly irrigate.  Your plants are relying on you to give them the water that they need so that they can grow quickly and efficiently. For this reason, it is good to understand some of the pressures that a plant faces during the course of a day. This information can help you to build the best strategy for how and when to time your irrigation decisions.

As a plant grows, it takes up water through its roots. Approximately .1% of the water taken in by a plant is used to produce plant tissue. The remaining 99.9% is lost through evapotranspiration. Transpiration is the loss of water through a plant’s stomata (or pores). When a plant is producing food through the act of photosynthesis, transpiration rates are at their highest. It comes as no surprise that when water becomes unavailable to a plant due to inefficient irrigation, photosynthesis and growth slow down and the plant’s stomata begin to close to prevent desiccation. With enough water stress, a plant can literally dehydrate itself through water loss as it attempts to continue to grow and produce food. Think about your own needs on a hot, sunny day. Without regular fluid intake our bodies begin to suffer, salts build up in our kidneys and in severe cases hospitalization is necessary to treat heat-related illness. Plants are no different. For this reason, it is imperative to have a well-maintained irrigation system to prevent crop failure. An efficiently irrigated crop is worth more financially to the grower because it maintains the best flavor profile, has a significantly higher harvest weight than an under-irrigated crop and has a longer shelf life, even after transport.

When is the best time to irrigate and how do you determine the frequency? Fortunately, there are experts available to help answer these questions. The truth is that there is no one size fits all when it comes to building an irrigation system. Depending on your unique microclimate and soil type, you may need to irrigate in a way that is different from your neighbor in order to maintain optimal plant growth. It is also important to understand that irrigation needs change throughout the seasons and vary by crop type. The experts at Fruit Growers Supply have been serving California growers since 1907. Fruit Growers Supply irrigation specialists are available six days a week and are ready to help you build the best irrigation system for achieving your personal production goals.

Contact us to learn how we can help you with irrigation efficiency.



One of the most efficient plants in the world


A plant expansion of this size and scope was no small undertaking. So why install the EVOL nearly a year before the expansion began? “The decision to obtain the EVOL prior to the full-blown expansion was more for the immediate positive impact — speed and setups — it would have on our business than anything else,” says Steve Moore, the carton plant’s GM.

“We have had open market business that needed to be farmed out but we now have the ability of running rotary business in-house. When you’re talking about citrus and produce markets, you must have the ability to run the rotary business and we certainly do.”

The EVOL replaced a “Langston” three-color flexo folder-gluer, which had a top run speed of 270 pieces per minute, or approximately 220,000 boxes per day.


“The EVOL has achieved faster setups and is much more versatile in carton styles. We are able to reduce our overtime as well as our dependency on inventories. The EVOL has proven to be at the top in every category of performance and reliability and it has already done what we all hoped it would do; it’s allowed us to evolve to the next stage of operational excellence for our customers.”

To feed the ever-hungry EVOL, FGS invested in the latest in robotic technology from Ducker/ Ringwood. The pre-feeder features a Kawasaki 6-axis 300kg robot and is capable of speeds up to 24,000 sheets per hour. On the output end of the EVOL is a Ducker/Ringwood PAL 2009 robotic palletizer with a Kawasaki 4-axis 250 kg robot fully capable of processing FGS’ customers stacking requirements. A Mosca bundler and ACS conveyors continually move product out the door. “We’re very happy with the way Ducker/Ringwood’s robots and palletizer has allowed us to manage our production.”

“We’re fortunate to have a very stable member base, and our future success will be based on that business as well as growing our relationships in the open market, which we expect to be about two billion square feet a year,” Moore says. I believe this will be one of the most state-of-the-art plants in all the world and the numbers, driven by MHI’s EVOL support that.”

Learn more

When a box is not just a box


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.

Environmental considerations

Misty Forest Trail

Environmental considerations constantly changing environmental regulation is something all farmers have to contend with.

“But everything you experience in production agriculture, you see it first and you see it in spades in timber,” says Mark Lindgren, CEO of Fruit Growers. “Our forests still represent the American frontier, and people are very protective of the forests and watersheds and all the things forests contribute to.”

Forests provide wildlife habitat and recreation, provide erosion control and even help cool water in streams, which is vital for the fish, he notes.

To help manage the resource in a complex regulatory environment, Fruit Growers employs a staff of 25 forestry-trained employees who oversee timber sales, logging and reforestation.

About 69 million board feet of timber, was sold in 2005. The co-op foresters manage the timberland on a sustained-yield basis, planting seven trees for every one they cut. As a result, actual wood fiber reserves have been increasing by about 3 to 5 percent each year.

And there may be even more benefits for members on the horizon. Carbon trading, in which landowners receive trade-able “carbon credits” that have a monetary value based on the amount of carbon their trees remove from the atmosphere, could provide another return.

“Studies have shown that older trees are far less beneficial in this regard than young trees,” Lindgren, notes. “So, by taking out older trees and replacing them with younger trees, air quality benefits, Lindgren says.”

Sunkist & The Wooden Box


Through the first half of the 20th century the piece of furniture found most often in a newlywed’s home or a college student’s dorm wasn’t really a piece of furniture. It was a wooden box. Turned on its side it held books, knickknacks, canned goods and spices. Covered with cloth it was topped with lamps, flowers and photographs . . . These wooden boxes, now pieces of history were some of the United States first recyclables. Before they found their way into the nation’s homes, they were used to ship the nations produce. One of the most prominent producers of these wooden boxes, were surprisingly a group of California citrus growers.

And so the story begins with the origin of the California citrus history to the formation of one of the most successful cooperative marketing associations – The California Fruit Growers Exchange, known simply today as Sunkist.

In 1907, the year the famous trademark Sunkist name was coined, the citrus growers were faced with a lumber shortage of boxes. Prices soared from 12 to 23 cents per box! The box shortage combined with inflated prices, prompted the Exchange to seek alternatives for an adequate supply of boxes. The Exchange formed a separate company to purchase supplies for its growers, and primarily for boxes. On October 5, 1907 the Fruit Growers Supply Company was incorporated.

Fruit Growers first task was to secure boxes for the growers at a reasonable price, which they did. It is from there this work explores Fruit Growers’ Northern California logging and sawmill operations, along with changes in the citrus industry that led to the conversion from wood to cardboard in 1955.


Hilt located two miles south of the Oregon border in Siskiyou County, was Fruit Growers smallest sawmill operation, but operated the longest, for 62 years closing in 1973.

It was Hilt how Fruit Growers entered into the lumber business and not necessarily by choice. The Northern California Lumber Co. owned a mill at Hilt. The Company had financial problems and Fruit Growers loaned them money in return for a supply of boxes. In 1910 the Northern California Lumber was on the verge of bankruptcy and forced Fruit Growers to foreclosed upon the Company.

Once Fruit Growers took over, it also made it the owner of a company town, a unique one too, though it has disappeared like its sawmills. In addition, Fruit Growers was presented with the challenge of logging the rugged Siskiyou Mountains surrounding Hilt.

Distinct of all of its operations was Susanville, in Lassen County , the only mill designed by Fruit Growers. A severe lumber shortage created by World War I and the successful advertising campaign of the Sunkist name required to Fruit Growers to expand its lumber interest. Exchange growers needed 14.8 million boxes compared 6.6 million boxes when Fruit Growers was established.


In 1919 Fruit Growers purchased the Collins Tract in western Lassen County that contained a billion board feet of timber, and thus the Lassen Operation was established. In 1922 Fruit Growers was high bidder of the Pine Creek Unit Timber Sale for an additional billion board feet of timber.

The Lassen Operation unfolds from bonds to box covers, railroad logging camps to logging trucks, to the planned conversion of mill to a paper pulp plant in the 1950s.

In 1940 the citrus industry continued to expand and the Exchange now required 40 million boxes annually. That factor combined with critical demands on the lumber market with World War II forced Fruit Growers to seek additional timber. They bought Red River Lumber Company’s 81,000 acre Burney Tract and its town of Westwood . But changes were on the horizon with growers experimenting with cardboard boxes. Fruit Growers sought an alternative container Craveneer in 1954. That experiment proved futile and in 1955 the citrus industry converted to cardboard and the wooden box retired.



By Tim Purdy –

Shaping timber and citrus industries


Southern California based Fruit Growers Supply Company plays a key role in shaping two industries, as the farmers’ cooperative got into the lumber business in the early 1900s to produce cheaper shipping boxes for its citrus-grower members.

The 110 year-old company whose corporate office is based in Valencia, Calif., plays a key role in making shipping containers more affordable and readily available to citrus growers while also blazing new trails in the lumber industry.

A farmer-owned cooperative whose members market their fruit under the Sunkist label, Fruit Growers Supply Company still owns timberland throughout the West after operating as many as three mills in the early part of the last century to make its own wooden shipping boxes.

The company was the first to bring rails up into the woods, was among the first to use off-road logging trucks and was present as the timber industry modernized from mules and hand saws to chainsaws and feller bunchers.


“With the transcontinental railroad, the wooden boxes were a good way to ship,” Kelly Conner, Northern Operations GM told an audience at the Sierra Cascade Logging Conference. “The orange crates fit perfectly in the rail car.”

Citrus fruit was shipped in barrels until the mid-1800s, when demand grew with railroad shipping and the boxes became popular with companies that put their labels on the sides, he said. “Citrus was the first agricultural crop to be advertised,” Conner said.

By the turn of the century, only a few companies were making boxes and prices for them had escalated, so growers got together to find a way to make their own for less money. Each box cost 23 cents in 1906, but growers paid 11 cents per box after they started manufacturing their own.


The production of boxes ballooned from 6.5 million to 10 million a year within a short time, and by 1921, 19 million boxes were shipped, Conner said.

By the 1950s, packing houses were starting to switch from wood boxes to cardboard, which was lighter and cheaper, so FGS started to phase out its timber harvesting operation. The company closed the last of its mills, in Hilt, in the mid-1970s.

“We have our own carton plant, and we do sell logs to mills to make the paper that we use in our carton plant,” Conner said. “Fruit Growers own the timberland and produce the logs to run the facility to make cartons cheaper,” Conner said.


Article by Tim Hearden

Citrus Fruit & Forests – the Story of California’s Fruit Growers Supply Company

The Fruit Growers Supply Company traces its origin to the late 1700s when Spain’s Franciscan fathers began establishing missions in California. In 1804, the fathers at Mission San Gabriel, near present-day Pasadena, planted a small grove of orange trees. In 1831, fur trapper William Wolfskill came to California from Taos, New Mexico, in search of beaver. When his trapping venture failed, he settled near the center of today’s Los Angeles and planted a few orange trees using seed from the mission.


By the beginning of the twentieth century, citrus fruit growing had become one of California’s major industries.

By 1857, Wolfskill was California’s largest commercial grower of oranges. In 1877, his son, Joseph, sent the first rail shipment of oranges to the east. With eastern markets opened by transcontinental rail and the introduction of improved varieties of oranges, the state’s citrus industry burgeoned. Between 1880 and 1893, the area planted to citrus grew from 3,000 to more than 40,000 acres.

A faulty distribution and marketing system, however, brought the growers to near ruin. Agents controlled the process of picking, packing, and shipping. Some markets became glutted with fruit while others had none. When the agents began shipping on a consignment basis, the growers had no guarantee of a sale when their fruit left the orchard.

To combat the situation, a group of orange growers formed a cooperative called the Southern California Fruit Exchange in 1893. The exchange’s concept relied on district exchanges. Within each district, local associations would pack the fruit. Fruit picking would be prorated among the grower-members to give each an equal chance at delivery, and sales orders would be prorated among the associations.


Wooden boxes, each filled with seventy pounds of oranges, are loaded onto a rail car for shipment.

The exchange expanded first by allowing lemon growers to join, and then in 1905, allowing growers from the southern San Joaquin Valley in. After the second group joined, the organization became known as the California Fruit Growers Exchange. Its 5,000 grower-members represented forty-five percent of the state’s citrus industry.

The exchange’s growers shipped their fruit to market in wooden boxes made with box shook. Box shook was the term used for the sawn material used to make the boxes. It was produced from fine-grained ponderosa pine and sugar pine lumber. At box factories in California’s pine region, suppliers cut thin slats and thicker box ends from kiln-dried lumber. The suppliers bundled the shook and shipped it to the growers’ packinghouses where workers assembled and nailed the shook into boxes. The sturdy containers protected the fruit from damage during shipping.

A year after the formation of the California Fruit Growers Exchange, its members faced a crisis. Wood products fell into short supply and prices soared as San Francisco began rebuilding following the city’s devastating earthquake and fire of April 1906. The exchange’s growers needed almost seven million boxes a year, and a cartel controlled ninety percent of California’s box shook industry. After the earthquake, the price of shook nearly doubled, rising from 121 ⁄2 cents to 23 cents per box.


In October 1907, the exchange’s board of directors took action to protect their growers. They formed the Fruit Growers Supply Company as a separate corporation. As stated by the board, a principle objective of the new firm was to secure “supplies for packing fruit and especially box shook at a minimum cost.” While continuing to buy box shook from outside suppliers at market price, the new company, under the direction of Phillip C. Daniels, contracted with four producers to supply shook at 131 ⁄2 cents per box. Fruit Growers, as the firm became know in the industry, provided secured loans to three of the producers. They included the Northern California Lumber Company with facilities at Hilt, near the Oregon border.

In 1910, the Hilt firm defaulted on its loans. Fruit Growers took control of its assets, which included sawmills, a box factory, a logging railroad, and 24,000 acres of timberland. Fruit Growers rebuilt the manufacturing facilities and added new employee housing, a company store, and a hospital. By 1912, the Hilt operation was producing enough high quality pine lumber and shook for nearly nine million boxes per year.

During World War I, forest products again fell into short supply. The price of shook from outside suppliers rose to 33 cents per box. With California’s orange groves covering nearly 150,000 acres, the exchange’s need for almost fifteen million boxes per year far exceeded the capacity at Hilt and placed additional pressure on outside supplies. In 1919, Fruit Growers acquired 41,000 acres of timberland in northeastern California and selected a site for new facilities at nearby Susanville. By the time the new sawmill and box factory began operations in 1921, the exchange represented 10,500 growers who produced three-quarters of the citrus fruit in the United States.


By 1941, the exchange’s growers required forty-three million boxes per year. World War II brought supply shortages once again. The shortage was compounded when the Red River Lumber Company, a major supplier to Fruit Growers, closed its box factory at Westwood, California. Nonetheless, Fruit Growers increased the harvest on its lands, added shifts at the Susanville facilities to produce more boxes, and began searching for new long-term supplies. They found a property of interest near Burney, California—a Red River tract of 83,000 acres. Red River, however, made the property’s acquisition contingent on the purchase of the company’s assets at Westwood. They included a large, old sawmill, a veneer plant, and a supporting company town. Fruit Growers did not want another town or sawmill only 30 miles from its facilities at Susanville.

The negotiations dragged on for a year. When Red River added 9,400 acres of timberland near Westwood and cutting rights to more timber to the deal, the companies came to terms. The transaction was completed in February 1945. Fruit Growers promptly reopened the Westwood box factory. Its eleven million boxes per year added to the production at Hilt and Susanville, and provided the exchange’s growers with eighty-two percent of their needs.

By then, Fruit Growers had become typical of the few large, vertically integrated forest products firms like the Diamond Match Company and the McCloud River Lumber Company then operating in California’s pine region. Though logging trucks were coming on the scene in the 1940s, company locomotives still pulled trainloads of logs to the mills. Company loggers lived in remote logging camps and enjoyed lavish cookhouse meals. Mill workers lived in comfortable housing, bought their supplies at company stores, and sought treatment at company hospitals.


Train loads of ponderosa pine logs wait to be unloaded at Susanville’s log pond. About one-half of the lumber from logs such as these was used to produce shook for boxes.

Since its founding, the company had lived by the principles expressed in 1918 by M. H. Grover, Hilt’s resident manager:

“We are great believers in the idea that a man must be contented to be an efficient worker.”

After citing the amenities provided COURTESY OF MARGARET A. PURDY employees at Hilt, he stated,

“We are convinced that our efforts to make our living and working conditions more attractive have been paid back to the company many times in increased efficiency and commitment.”

The 1950s, however, brought dramatic change. In 1951, some of the exchange’s growers began shipping fruit in cardboard cartons. Though considered by some to be a passing fad, Fruit Growers nonetheless began contracting for a supply of the cartons. A year later, the California Fruit Growers Exchange changed its name to Sunkist Growers, Inc. The new name actually dated to 1908, when “Sunkist” became a trademark for placement on the boxes of the cooperative’s best grades of fruit.


Despite inroads by cardboard cartons, Fruit Growers converted the Westwood veneer plant to the production of Craveener in 1954. This product used white fir veneer overlain with kraft paper to produce boxes more cheaply than those made with box shook. Concurrently, Fruit Growers awarded the McCloud River Lumber Company a thirty-year cutting right on the once coveted timberlands near Burney, where Fruit Growers planned to build a Craveener plant. McCloud agreed to deliver white fir logs to the new facility.

By 1954, however, cardboard containers comprised forty-three percent of the growers’ shipping containers, reducing the demand for box shook. The use of cardboard cartons, which had only half the capacity of wooden boxes, helped mechanize packinghouse operations. Self-serve retailers preferred the lighter weight containers. The Susanville box factory closed in 1954, and the next year, the production of box shook and Craveener at Westwood was discontinued. Plans for a Craveener facility near Burney were abandoned. In November 1955, Sunkist announced that all future shipments would be in cardboard cartons.

No longer required to be a primary manufacturer, Fruit Growers began liquidating its mills, logging equipment, and supporting facilities at Westwood and Susanville. In 1961, the company established a carton manufacturing plant near Los Angeles that still provides containers to Sunkist’s growers. The box factory at Hilt continued producing boxes used in fruit picking and storage until 1961. The Hilt sawmill closed in 1973.


Cardboard cartons replaced wooden boxes as the shipping container of choice in 1955.

Even though the company closed its manufacturing facilities, Fruit Growers chose to retain its timberlands. The company’s timber resources had long been conservatively managed. In 1937, General Manager A. E. Barnes had succinctly expressed the company’s land ethic:

“The policy of this company must be to conserve its timber to extend so far as possible for the protection of its members.”

Although the protection he referred to then was about assuring a supply of box shook, the Fruit Growers Supply Company believed that the continued management of its timberlands under this ethic would provide financial benefits to Sunkist’s growers well into the future.

Today, Fruit Growers owns 280,000 acres of timberland in California. Included are the lands first acquired at Hilt, the later acquisitions at Susanville and Burney, and properties purchased from International Paper Company in 1982. In 1998, the company began acquiring lands in the Douglas-fir region in Oregon and Washington that now total 60,000 acres. The sustainable annual harvest is marketed to lumber and plywood firms. Each year, the timberlands’ earnings are distributed to Sunkist’s growers.

When the Fruit Growers Supply Company entered the scene in the early twentieth century, lumber companies such as Diamond Match, McCloud River, and Red River dominated California’s pine region. These firms no longer exist. But the firm that dates to colonial-era mission fathers, an itinerant fur trapper, and an earthquake remains.



REFERENCES Cronise, Titus Fey. The Natural Wealth of California. San Francisco, Calif.: H. H. Bancroft & Company, 1868.
Hutchinson, W.H. The California Investment: A History of the Diamond Match Company in California. Chico, Calif.: The Diamond Match Company, 1957.
Merlo, Catherine. Heritage of Gold: The First 100 Years of Sunkist Growers, Inc. Sherman Oaks, Calif.: Sunkist Growers Inc., 2004.
Purdy, Tim I. Fruit Growers Supply Company: Hilt—Susanville—Westwood— Burney. Susanville, Calif.: Lahonton Images, 2004.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. California Historical Commodity Data. California Field Office. Sacramento, Calif., 2006.
Utley, Robert M. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997

Published by: Ted Wilson at
He wishes to acknowledge the use of material from Tim I. Purdy’s book, The Fruit Growers Supply Company