An Old Friendship
By SARAH THEODORE
Clement Pappas and Apple & Eve foster a decades-old production partnership
Clement Pappas Co. and Apple & Eve have been production partners nearly as long as Apple & Eve has been in business and Clement Pappas has been bottling juices. Through a co-packing arrangement, Clement Pappas, based in Seabrook, N.J., bottles nearly all of Apple & Eve’s multi-serve bottled juice products, as well as private label juices for most supermarkets in the country.
The company’s beginnings date back to 1942, when Clement Pappas, a Greek immigrant to the United States, began canning seasonal fruits and vegetables. During the mid-1970s, it saw an opportunity in the juice segment and entered the category that is the business’s mainstay today. A few years after it began juice production, Apple & Eve came calling, and a relationship that’s lasted 26 years was forged.
Apple & Eve does its own product development work, but Dean Pappas, chief executive officer at Clement Pappas, says his company is responsible for ensuring the products it bottles are up to Apple & Eve’s standards.
“We have the kind of relationship where we really share,” he says. “One thing I will say about Apple & Eve is that they certainly adhere to proper labeling and high-quality production standards.”
Today, Clement Pappas has four plants, three of which were just added during the past seven years. In addition to the facility at its headquarters in Seabrook, the company has a plant in western North Carolina, one in Springdale, Ark., and a facility in Ontario, Calif.
“As our customers have become national, they wanted us to supply them nationally,” Pappas says. “We wanted to be close to their distribution centers and service them better so that’s why we’ve invested in facilities elsewhere.”
The New Jersey facility is located in a part of the state that once was well known for fruit and vegetable processing. A number of companies had plants in the area, partly due to its proximity to major metropolitan markets. Pappas says the company is able to reach nearly 70 million consumers within a 350-mile radius of the plant on an overnight basis.
“[Retail] chains from the Baltimore/Washington area, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New England and upstate New York can all backhaul [product],” Pappas says. “A lot of them have stores in the area, and they’ll deliver to their stores and backhaul product from us. I’d say that 70 percent of what goes out of here is probably backhauled.”
Clement Pappas doesn’t just bottle juice; it also is a “first processor” of cranberries. This means it contracts with growers in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Canada to buy fruit and process the cranberries into juice and cranberry sauce. Processing facilities are located close to cranberry-growing locations where they are cleaned and frozen and then shipped to Seabrook.
Coincidentally, the company was a cranberry processor and co-packer for Northland Cranberries prior to its acquisition by Apple & Eve. It purchased its North Carolina production facility from Northland, and began bottling many of its juices. It currently bottles all of Northland’s multi-serve products as well.
Seabrook’s 600,000-square-foot, four-story plant houses three production lines — two for bottling juice and one for sauce. It has a capacity of about 100,000 cases per day. With three shifts daily, running an average of six days a week, the plant employs almost 300 people.
Scheduling production at the plant can be complex, as Clement Pappas serves hundreds of customers and produces about 2,700 SKUs. “We’re running to order,” Pappas says. “As our orders come in, they’re scheduled and we try to turn our inventory about 24 times a year. We’re giving customers 10 days of lead time.”
One of the lines at the plant is dedicated to 64-ounce bottles, and the second line, which is changed over more frequently, runs 48-ounce, 64-ounce, 1-gallon and 96-ounce sizes. The Seabrook plant bottles only multiserve products, but Clement Pappas bottles single-serve products in North Carolina and California.
“When we bought North Carolina, they had a more complete single-serve set up. In California, we built that in — that’s a plant we built from scratch and developed the flexibility of having single-serve as well as multi-serve [bottling],” Pappas says.
Products bottled in Seabrook run throughout the week in a pattern that starts with apple juice, then cranberry blends, citrus and finally grape products. The facility receives both juice concentrates and single-strength juices in 55-gallon drums, tanker trucks, or rail cars for high-use bulk products such as grape juice, citrus and apple.
The juice is stored in several 20,000 to 30,000-gallon refrigerated storage tanks, but Pappas says it doesn’t stay in storage long, moving quickly through the plant to preserve color and flavor.
Products are batched, or blended with other juices and mixed with value-added ingredients such as calcium and vitamins, at ambient temperature. The batching process is entirely automated to eliminate the possibility of mistakes.
The quality control department is responsible for ensuring that all ingredients meet specifications, and it examines everything as it comes into the plant and tests samples after the batching process for Brix, acid levels, color and other factors before releasing the product to the filler. A final step before pasteurization includes passing the juice through a series of filters, including a diatomaceous earth filter.
The blended product is pasteurized in a plate-in-frame heat exchanger. Juice is heated to approximately 210° F, and then cooled to about 181° F for filling.
All of the products at the plant are filled in PET bottles, with the exception of a 1-gallon HDPE jug. During the past year and half, the plant has converted to rectangular PET bottles, with the dedicated 64-ounce line leading the transition. The bottles are more convenient for consumers because they are easy to handle and they can be stored in the refrigerator door. They also benefit retailers and distributors because they require 20 percent less space than a round bottle.
“It took a huge capital expense to do [the transition] but we did it right,” Pappas says. “In some cases we enhanced our ability and improved the lines when we did it. We increased our line speeds and automated [operations].
To accommodate the new bottles, changes were made all the way through the production process, from conveying and bottling handling to labeling.
The bottling process begins when pallets of empty bottles enter the receiving area of the plant and are depalletized onto the filling line. A pressureless combiner uses a combination of gravity, pitch and belts that move in an offbeat pattern to single-file and orient the bottles.
The bottles travel to the filler where they are filled with juice at a rate of 260 to 280 bottles per minute for the 64-ounce size. Juice is filled at approximately 180° F and then capped. The temperature is then gradually reduced — over a period of about 25 minutes — in a cooling tunnel until it reaches 90° to 100° F. It is then labeled and packed in cardboard cases. The plant uses both six- and eight-pack closed-top cases, and six-pack open-top cases.
The cases are palletized, stretchwrapped and outfitted with license plate tags for inventory control purposes. Finished pallets are stored in one of two warehouses adjacent to the production building, and can be shipped within 48 hours of bottling.
The past three months have seen major engineering projects at the Seabrook plant, including the conversion to the rectangular bottles. “We’re constantly trying to take costs out,” Pappas says. “When I look back at what our costs were three years ago or five years ago, it’s astounding how much we’ve improved our productivity and reduced labor.”
One thing that likely doesn’t need improvement is Clement Pappas’s partnership with Apple & Eve. “We’ve had a very good working relationship with Apple & Eve,” he says. “We’ve helped them grow, and they’ve helped us grow.” BI