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Milne Fruit Products Inc.: Delivering Concentrated Excellence
The facility that would become Milne Fruit Products Inc. (MFP) began in 1956 as Prosser Packers, and it functioned as an ingredient plant for Kraft Foods. In 1975 Kraft decided to divest the property, and Ray Milne, the plant manager at the time, partnered with other local investors to buy the business, continuing it as a processor and supplier for various food industry sectors with an operational philosophy of integrity and consistency.
The facility grew significantly over the years, backed by Milne’s commitment to developing new products driven by customers’ needs and the company’s dedication to quality assurance of both raw material and finished product. In 1985 Milne was purchased by Ocean Spray, which operated it as a wholly owned subsidiary producing juice concentrate and puree. In 2004 a local family committed to delivering quality products and service purchased Milne Fruit Products.
Today MFP uses state-of-the-art equipment to process fruit-based products and ingredients, all of them enriched with outstanding service. The company operates under the leadership of Michael Sorenson, president and general manager, who brings his firsthand experience to operations, which still emphasize efficiency and excellence.
“I started as inside sales and later moved to procurement,” recalls Sorenson. He eventually worked his way up to corporate leadership, and continues to support the company in its reputation for professional dealings and quality products. “That’s what Milne is known for,” he explains. “We offer some of the best service in the business, supplying ingredients to the food and beverage industry. A lot of that business is juice and puree concentrates. We focus on high-colored fruits like concord grape, blueberries and raspberries.”
The company creates its fruit juices, concentrates, purees and custom blends from 25 fruit varieties, using rigorous quality controls to deliver healthy, 100-percent natural food components for a diverse consumer marketplace.
A Labor of Fruit
Recently MFP has expanded its portfolio to include products in addition to fruit juices. MicroDried, one of the newest product launches by MFP, is a dried-fruit (and potentially vegetable) product line produced in Nampa, Idaho. “MicroDried products are processed by microwave-drying whole fruits,” says Sorenson. “It does not shrivel, and there are no additives, preservatives, or sugar added. We are producing blueberries and blackberries, offering high-moisture and low-moisture solutions. Under that product line we produce whole pieces at various moisture levels [low and high], powders and fragments for bakery, confectionary, snacks and nutritional bars.”
The MFP team is constantly focused on introducing new products. As an industrial ingredient supplier, MFP works with most nationally recognized brands, dealing in everything from concentrates to dried fruit for juices, snack bars and baked goods. The team has built an impressive online catalog, reaching out in the digital age to new markets and potential clients. “We’re continuing to investigate and expand our offering into other natural product lines,” says Sorenson. “We have several items in the works in research and development. Right now we’re looking at doing more with vegetables.”
Taking Care of Business
While MFP is committed to investing in additional fruit sources and the expansion of storage capacity in order to assure customer supply and satisfaction, the economy has presented recent challenges. With many businesses treading water, the team is working harder than ever to introduce innovative products that will appeal to a greater demographic.
“Launching and marketing new products is difficult,” admits Sorenson. “We’ve hired some staff to head up the new dry product line and we’ve expanded our broker network to represent these products. We’re advertising for the first time in 2013 and we’re focusing on trade journals that specifically reach bakery companies, as well as courting individuals in product development.
“We’ve contacted approximately 200 companies in eight months,” Sorenson elaborates further, and he reveals that customers are receiving the new products well and these revamped marketing strategies are starting to pay off. Additionally, the business has made significant capital investments in renovations that keep the production side of the business moving along efficiently.
Relationships are important in the business, and to continually meet the expectations of many long-term customers the MFP team maintains key alliances with suppliers that supply the variety and grade of raw product required. This is especially important in the buildup to a big product launch, such as the one MFP recently had for its fruit extract powders (such as MilneConcord), which are proprietary formulations for the dietary supplement industry that offer the health benefits of Concord grapes blended with other healthy fruits.
“Our suppliers are very important,” says Sorenson. “We rely on hundreds of different growers. For Concord grapes, we have 120 farmers under contract. We frequently work with the same suppliers, and we source from a large geographical area.” Raw material is a major expense for the company, and these supplier relationships represent an important investment for production.
MFP’s reinvestments are paying off, and Sorenson sees major improvements in the economy that are allowing the business to flourish. “Within the next few years we’re planning to expand our ingredient business into new industries where we have not been in the past,” elaborates Sorenson. “As the business grows, we also see our employees advancing their careers, and that’s important to us.”
The company continues to set a shining example in its sector, and has garnered recognition for success in both business and social responsibility. In 2012 MFP was recognized by the leading provider of reusable containers in the country, Industrial Container Services (ICS), for its commitment to using packaging that advances sustainability and reduces the impact on the environment (MFP purchasing choices avoided 988 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2011).
Quality products and responsible business practices continue to attract new clients to MFP, and the company’s reach will even further grow as Sorenson and his team find new markets and new solutions for the food and beverage industry. Milne Fruit Products Inc. continues to provide consistent quality and innovative products to many large partners across the country. •