American Purpac: Providing state-of-the-art juice solutions

February 1, 2004
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American Purpac: Providing state-of-the-art juice solutions

When consumers taste a beverage, they expect it to be the same no matter where they buy it, and that requires consistent ingredients used across an entire bottling network. That’s no easy task for juice-based products, which are made from highly perishable and often inconsistent ingredients. But American Purpac Technologies LLC, Beloit, Wis., allows juice drinks to be produced efficiently and consistently by creating aseptically processed, bulk blended premixes for high-acid beverages.
The company based its business on the soft drink model in which a bottler combines syrup from a parent company with water and sweetener, and bottles products for distribution. American Purpac is essentially creating juice concentrates by blending perishable juice and other ingredients to create a premix for beverage companies’ contract packers.
With a background in beverages, ingredients and finance, American Purpac’s management team has taken its system idea from concept to state-of-the-art processing in a mere two years.
“As with any new idea, this is somewhat off the beaten path,” says David Madden, president at American Purpac. “We see ourselves providing a solution. We’re condensing a lot of the redundant, inefficient steps in blending and consolidating them into a single facility.”
“It’s about having one person doing all the blending as opposed to each co-packer doing it,” Bruce Roberts, chief marketing officer, explains further. “We want to get that consistency of product across the country and across all the co-packers.”
The company’s plant in Beloit measures 65,000 square feet, half of which is new, state-of-the-art Class 1000 space for aseptic processing. Nearly everything in the plant has been designed around quality control and seamless record-keeping.
“This is a closed-system,” says Roberts. “More and more companies are trying to get away from open systems where you have bioterrorism and other types of issues. The plant itself is compliant with the bioterrorism act of 2002, so we can trace product within four hours.”
There are two and a half miles of stainless steel pipes running through American Purpac’s plant, and 289 “ozzies”, or computerized valves that track operations.
“The computer is reading every valve, every flow meter,” says Scott Eckman, chief executive officer. “The whole facility is monitored constantly.”
From the moment juice enters the plant, a detailed record is put into the plant’s computer system. Trucks pull into an enclosed tanker bay, which is sealed and has an air evacuation system to pull exhaust out of the room. Truck drivers download product information and samples of the product, which are transmitted to the QA/QC department to be tested for qualities such as color, brix and pH levels. Only after the quality control department gives the go-ahead can the juice be pumped to one of the plant’s four 8,000-gallon ambient holding tanks or two 8,000-gallon temperature-controlled tanks.
American Purpac is certified as a cleaning station, which means the tankers can be cleaned at the plant and sent to their next destination rather than traveling 40 or 50 miles to an independent cleaning station.
Several parts of the plant are climate-controlled, with sweeteners stored in a 90° F environment, frozen products held in a –21° F freezer and chilled ingredients held in a 9,000-square-foot, 26° F cooler.
Juice and other ingredients are mixed in the plant’s blending lab and sent to one of five 3,000-gallon blend tanks, two of which serve an aseptic bulk filler, two serve an aseptic small bag filler, and one serves the plant’s hot-fill PET and juice cup lines. The company currently fills aseptic premix packages from 2 liters to 340 gallons.
Aseptic processing differs from traditional juice pasteurization in that product is heated to a much higher temperature — 195° F — for
a matter of seconds as opposed to a lower temperature for as long as 30 or 45 minutes.
The process creates juices that not only are pasteurized, but they are shelf-stable without the addition of preservatives and other ingredients.
“People are saying, ‘let’s go out there and take some of the products that we’ve always had frozen and filled with preservatives and artificial flavors, and get back to a really natural product’,” says Eckman. “You can do that with aseptics. We’ve been able to present to the industry the quality, safety and cost savings that this technology brings.”
The entire production process is monitored from a control room, and the plant features a full-service QA/QC lab that inspects both raw materials and finished goods. The plant also has a clean-in-place (CIP) system that is capable of cleaning some lines, even as the others are still running.
In addition to premixed blends, the company does some of its own finished product packaging, including 4-, 6- and 8-ounce single-strength juice cups for institutional accounts, and 12- to 64-ounce hot-fill PET bottles for short-run product development projects.
“Customers who are between a pilot lab product development stage and full commercial production typically run into a bottleneck. They have to go to market with what they can produce in the lab and hope it mimics commercial production, or they have to go to a line that runs 500 to 800 bottles per minute and that might be more product than they need,” explains Madden.
Running at 100 bottles per minute, American Purpac’s hot-fill bottle line can be used to validate product concepts, producing enough product for a test market in the hopes that the customer will come back for the full product ramp-up.
American Purpac’s plant has an onsite warehouse that is used to store raw materials and some finished product. The company holds all finished goods for five to seven days before shipping as a quality control measure, but it has a 40,000-square-foot offsite warehouse where excess packaging and other finished goods are stored.
American Purpac has created a unique business, and the company already is preparing for expansion. It hopes to set up a West Coast plant in the near future, using the Beloit operation as blueprint. The plan is to have operations close to the main fruit-growing regions of the country.

“This plant, our first plant, is a model for future plants,” says John Saladino, chief financial officer. “We will take our footprint from this facility and move it to the West Coast. This business model is basic and will go across the nation.”

Loyal to Beloit
American Purpac can serve 26 percent of the total U.S. population within 10 hours of its plant in Beloit, Wis., but that’s not the only reason it chose the city on the border of Wisconsin and Illinois for its headquarters. The company’s financial partner, Ken Hendricks, is particularly loyal to the area. He started his own building supply business in Beloit 20 years ago, and since then has been dedicated to bringing more jobs and growth to the area.
“He has had an ongoing commitment to the community and to Beloit,” says David Madden, president at American Purpac. “His whole drive these days is to bring employment to the Beloit/Janesville area. Without his vision and support, we wouldn’t be here.”

 

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