Clement Pappas officially arrived in Henderson County in 2001, with the purchase of the former Northland Cranberries facility located in the Mountain Home Industrial Park. While the 220,000 square foot facility is largely hidden from highway traffic the average consumer likely encounters their product each and every time they visit the local supermarket. Since the company’s founding in 1942, Clement Pappas has established itself as the one of premier private label bottling companies in the world, bottling product for name brand labels as well as numerous private label brands found in many of the nation’s and most well known largest retailers.
During a recent visit to the company’s Mountain Home facility, Partnership staff met with the facility’s new plant manager Pete Szelwach. Szelwach has extensive experience in the juice and bottling industry. After serving several years at Tropicana/Pepsi in Florida, he is certainly no stranger to the juice industry. During our visit Szelwach explained that while Clement Pappas isn’t widely known to the everyday consumer our end products garner a lot of notoriety. “People are often surprised to learn that Clement Pappas is one of the nation’s largest bottling operations. The company operates five plants. In addition to this facility in western North Carolina the company operates plants in Seabrook, New Jersey, Springdale, Ark., Baltimore, Md., and a facility in Ontario, California. As our customers have become national, they have had a desire for us to supply them nationally. Our locations allow us to efficiently serve their distribution centers.”
During a tour of the facility, Szelwach walked through the production process. “Products bottled in the Mountain Home facility run throughout the week and include apple juice, cranberry blends, grape products and a variety of other juices and juice drinks.” The facility receives both juice concentrates and single-strength juices in large container trucks specifically designed for high-use bulk products. The juice is stored in several large refrigerated storage tanks prior to being moved through the blending and bottling process. “The time between the products’ delivery and the final bottling process is quick, typically less than a week. This rapid process helps the plant deliver a product that is of extremely high quality.” After being placed in storage tanks the raw juice materials are blended according to each customer’s specified recipes. The batching process is automated, reducing the likelihood of mistakes. The blended product is pasteurized and heated to approximately 210° F, and then cooled to about 181° F for filling.”
According to Szelwach, one the most significant changes in the juice and bottling industry is the sheer number of bottling and labeling options available to our customers. Over the past several years many of the company’s customers have transitioned to rectangular bottles. “The bottles are more convenient for consumers because they are easy to handle and can be stored in the refrigerator door. They also benefit retailers and distributors because they require 20 percent less space than a round bottle.” To accommodate the new bottles, changes were made all the way through the production process, from conveying and bottling handling to labeling.
During the facility tour Szelwach explained that the process begins when pallets of empty bottles enter the receiving area. Employees depalletize and place the empties onto the filling line. A combiner uses a combination of gravity, pitch and belts that move the bottles into single-file. The bottles travel to the filler where they are filled with juice. In order to ensure the product is safe and free of containments the juice is filled at an elevated temperature while simultaneously being capped. “The temperature is then gradually reduced — over a period of about 25 minutes — in a cooling tunnel.” The product is then labeled and packed in cardboard cases. The cases are palletized, stretch wrapped and outfitted with tags for inventory control purposes. Finished pallets are stored in warehouse space adjacent to the production building, and can be shipped within 48 hours of bottling.
At the conclusion of the tour Szelwach explained that the Clement Pappas brand is known for its quality control measures and commitment to efficiency. Throughout the process plant employees continually test and monitor the product. “If it does not meet our stringent quality assurance measures then we immediately correct the mistakes.” The facility’s 160 employees operate on a three shift rotation. “The company is always eager to find quality employees with high regard for quality and integrity,” Szelwach said. “As the incoming plant manager it is my goal to raise awareness of our brand and truly become an employer of choice; a company the community recognizes and somewhere potential employees want to work.”