Riveridge Packing announced an exciting expansion in 2010, when it packed the first carton of apples at its state-of-the-art new facility in rural Sparta. Formerly known as Alpine Apple Haus, and founded by a group of local apple growers in 1984, mostly what remains of the original packing facility are storage rooms. “Acquiring the Alpine plant was a significant and strategic part of our growth,” says Don Armock, managing partner. “Designing and operating our own packing plant has allowed us to “walk our talk” as far as adopting technology and strict quality control standards.”
When Riveridge acquired the site, the company determined to build a packing plant unlike any in Michigan. Riveridge has included high-tech packing equipment including:
- 4-lane grader for presorting
- 2-lane grader for the packing line
- “Gentle-fill” bagging to minimize bruising
- Color sorting equipment with digital and infrared cameras programmed to learn and refine their distinctions over time.
- Infrared sorting for internal defects and preferred consumer attributes such as brix.
Other features in the new facility allow Riveridge to maintain complete control over the atmosphere, keeping produce from exposure to the elements. Riveridge also spent considerable energy developing new washing and waxing processes, resulting in arguably the best and most consistent gloss on Michigan apples. The plant is entirely pack-to-order.
As Don looks to the future, he intends to keep Riveridge Packing at the forefront of quality, technology and service not only in Michigan, but the entire Eastern U.S. A key emphasis is being the employer-of-choice, to attract the best employees in the area. To that end, Riveridge Packing was designed to be worker-friendly through efficiency, ergonomics, air quality and even the lunchroom design! Riveridge recently implemented new box-making machines and a monorail system to save worker steps. The plant also ferries cartons of apples through an underground conveyor to a loading pad where they are palletized in a unique system that minimizes worker lifting stress. “We are learning from the best in the business in Washington State, the Eastern U.S. and quite literally around the world,” Don says. “We want to be efficient, profitable and simply all-around best at what we do.”