Centered in Washington’s fertile Yakima Valley is FruitSmart Inc., a leading all-natural fruit processor. Based in Grandview, Washington, FruitSmart takes the agricultural bounty the region has to offer and turns it into a wide variety of premium quality fruit juices, purees, concentrates, fibers, seeds, seed oils and powders, specializing in a not from concentrate (NFC) product line.
“Grandview is in south central Washington, which is actually a semi-arid climate in comparison to the western portion of the state,” explains Jim Gauley, co-owner and chief financial officer of FruitSmart. “The Cascade Mountains act as a moisture barrier, so the valley is fueled by irrigation water from the snowpack, but the rich volcanic soil and mild weather make for prime growing conditions.”
The Yakima Valley is a major territory for hop growers and is also home to about 700 wineries, but apples are the major cash crop. “Washington produces about 60 percent of the country’s apples,” notes Gauley. “Concord grapes, peaches, blueberries, apricots and cherries are also big in our region.”
With this bounty right in its backyard, FruitSmart has excelled in the fruit-processing industry. “FruitSmart has the capacity to process 650 tons of fruit a day – that’s some 100,000 tons annually,” says Gauley.
The fruits of previous labors
The company has ramped up production and welcomed rapid growth since moving into a new facility in Grandview in 2010, but FruitSmart’s roots trace all the way back to 1982. “FruitSmartis the result of a merger between my company and my partner’s company, BRB Seeds,” explains Gauley.
Gauley’s partner, Jim Early, now co-owner and CEO of FruitSmart, ran BRB Seeds and brought the knowledge of dried fruit seed and fiber production to the table, which is a specialty service that FruitSmart still offers today. “My company sold fruit and juice concentrates and in 2005, Early and I joined forces,” says Gauley. “We hired Terry Chambers as president, Dave Watkins as director of sales and marketing and many other talented and experienced fruit industry people to support our rapid growth. This team really manages the day-to-day operations of FruitSmart.”
Five years after the merger, FruitSmart moved into its current 128,000-square-foot facility in Grandview. “Most of our growth has occurred since 2010 when we bought the new facility,” says Gauley. This new facility is situated on 11.5 acres and includes offices, production areas and dry/refrigerated/freezer storage. FruitSmart’s facility is also easily accessible by both truck and rail.
With the capacity to pump out 650 tons of fruit a day, FruitSmart has grown by 50 to 60 percent per year over the last several years. “Apple processing has been a major factor in our growth because for the first time in about 30 years, the U.S. is now a low cost producer of apple concentrate,” explains Gauley. “We can finally be competitive in this market.”
Keeping up with this kind of accelerated growth would be impossible without a trusted team, says Gauley. “We currently have 114 people on staff and we’re extremely fortunate to have such a great team,” he says. “We have managed this period successfully but now we’re trying to slow down a bit, and reign things in to a more manageable 10 to 15 percent annual growth.”
Good to the last drop
FruitSmart produces a lengthy list of high-quality, all-natural fruit juices, purees, concentrates, essences, fibers, seeds and seed powders. “Our line of dry products is very specific and unique to FruitSmart; there are few processors doing the same thing,” says Gauley. “What stands out about FruitSmart is when we bring a piece of fruit in to our plant, nothing goes to waste. For example, we make apple fiber from the by-product of NFC apple production. Apple fiber [or apple flour] is used in nutrition bars and in the baking industry.”
While some might consider it waste, these fibers are rich in natural fruit anthocyanins, fiber and other healthy compounds. FruitSmart’s fruit seed powders are created from the press cakes formed during the seed oil cold pressing process. These press cakes are then milled into fine powders high in antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Another niche area FruitSmart shines in is NFC juices. “Our state-of-the-art processing facility includes the latest in cold-pressed processing equipment,” says Gauley. “Our cold-pressed apple juice is available year-round.”
“On the cold-pressed side it’s mainly apples and we’re doing 400 to 450 tons of NFC fruit per day,” says Gauley. “Our NFC products cater to the premium beverage industry.”
FruitSmart’s diverse line is all produced in the same plant, which Gauley says is really four plants in one with the NFC line, concentrate line, dry and blending lines. “The NFC side is a niche but we do offer juice concentrates and purees,” he adds. “This requires some high-tech membrane filtration and concentrator equipment. We can run two fruits at the same time, so cherry or grape season does not impact our NFC apple production.”
FruitSmart® also offers custom processing management and custom blending options. The company’s team can manage toll-processing requirements from processor selection and consulting to full juice stock management programs. FruitSmart also helps customers develop and process customized blends of fruit ingredients.
Hard cider takeover
With apple production going strong and an overall great year for agriculture in Washington, Gauley says hard cider is a burgeoning category of the beverage sector; one FruitSmart is well positioned to supply. “From small craft breweries to major labels, the hard cider industry is growing at double and even triple digit percentages year over year,” he says.
“Soft cider too,” he adds. “We started in the soft cider market in 2010 but now we’re supplying and processing for many hard cider brands.”
Coming down the line, Gauley says the hard cider boom will continue to be a strong interest for FruitSmart, as well as high-pressure pasteurized products and organics. “Our facility is organic-certified and we process a lot of organic apples,” he adds. “This sector is also rapidly growing.”
With multiple hot markets and the infrastructure in place to meet the demand, there’s no stopping FruitSmart Inc. as the company brings the best of the Yakima Valley to customers across the country.