Dietrich Orchards is the family-owned and -operated packing plant for two branches of the Dietrich family tree that have been growing apples for generations. The Dietrich-owned Ridgeview Orchards and Leo Dietrich & Sons, produce millions of pounds of apples annually. To exercise the best quality control over their fruit, the family formed Dietrich Orchards to store and pack the apples. Dietrich Orchards is managed by Eric Hessler. He grew up in the West Michigan area surrounded by the apple industry. Hessler enjoys working closely with the Dietrichs because they stay so involved in every facet of the business – including the final product. “The Dietrichs are an exceptional family to work for,” he says. “They’re directly involved in day-to-day activities to make sure everything is running smoothly.”
As Ridgeview and Leo Dietrich & Sons have expanded over the years, they’ve also grown and improved the packing facility to accommodate larger numbers. As the families’ orchards have expanded, a series of upgrades and expansions at the packing plants have kept pace. Currently, the Dietrich Orchards plant can pack 220 bins per shift, turning the unsorted field bins of apples into retail-ready bags, trays and cartons of unblemished, high-quality fruit. And they have plans in place to more than double the size of the packing plant. Much of the increase in daily production is the efficiencies brought by implementing a new sizer, doubling capacity to 48 bagging lanes. The sizer also increases efficiency by more accurately measuring bag weight. “Customers hold us accountable. So when we promise a certain weight in each bag, they check to make sure,” says Hessler. “Customers can send back a whole delivery if one bag’s weight is less than what’s printed on the bag.” Another recent advancement is a full computerized traceability system that allows the packing plant to identify exactly where any apple came from, on either orchard, down to the specific block of trees. If there are ever any issues with the shipped apples, Hessler can track down the trees where problems originated in a matter of minutes as opposed to sorting through paper records for multiple orchards.
The Dietrich families also extend their commitment to sustainability from the orchards to the packing plant. By converting leaves and unused apples to compost, nothing goes to waste. They also use returnable plastic containers and recycle about 50 tons of cardboard annually.
As the facility grows, Hessler and the Dietrichs make it a point to support each retailer in their customer base. The facility provides custom packaging to meet the needs of their clients. “Each customer gets their own pack their own way,” says Hessler. “There’s a perfect way to do it, and that’s what we strive for each day.”