Appeeling Fruit, in Dauberville, PA, slices and packages locally grown apples and other fruit for retail and foodservice. The company was started over 20 years ago to supply fresh cored apples to local bakeries for their pie making operations. In 1998 the technology to extend the shelf life of sliced apples was developed and Appeeling Fruit saw an opportunity to capitalize on a growing demand for healthier, more convenient snack alternatives for kids. The company began using a patented blend of vitamins and minerals to stop surface browning and packaged their sliced apples in individual, family sized, and food service packages. Their new processing and packaging achieved a shelf life of 21 days from the apple’s cut date when kept refrigerated. This breakthrough opened new markets for Appeeling Fruit and their sliced apples can now be found in a wide range of grocery stores and are offered by many school lunch programs.
In 2009, Appeeling Fruit moved into a new facility that more than doubled the available floor space to 23,000 square feet and allowed the company to expand their workforce to about 160 people. The plant operates nearly 24/7. Two eight-hour shifts each day handle the processing and packaging of approximately 40,000 pounds of apples per day followed by five to six hours of facility sanitation each night. This rigorous schedule doesn’t leave much room for downtime or inefficient operations.
Unfortunately, the packaging could not keep up with the increased demand. Unlike many competitors who use clam shell packaging for multipacks, Appeeling Fruit uses a more environmentally friendly bag-in-bag approach. Eight 2-ounce bags are placed into a larger bag, which is sealed closed with a continuous band sealer. The band sealer however, had become the weak link in their operation. As demand grew, its speed limited the company’s output and the seal quality was not meeting retailers’ expectations.
Compounding the problem, the band sealer often brought down the entire packaging line because heating elements and bands would wear and require replacement. Bands were requiring replacement every ten days and changing the bands could take up to 30 minutes because more than a dozen bolts and parts had to be removed to get to the bands.
Ryan Gebely, director of sales & marketing at Appeeling Fruit knew they had a decision to make. “We knew that you get what you pay for. We could have picked up another cheap band sealer to supplement our existing machine, but then we’d have two mediocre machines that aren’t giving us quality seals and are breaking down. Or, do we spend the money and get one quality machine that’s not going to bring our line down and we can use for the next ten years?”
To help make this decision, Appeeling Fruit turned to Matt Bucklen at BaggingGuys for assistance. BaggingGuys, based in York, PA, specializes in providing equipment for filling and sealing pre-made bags and other flexible packages.
Bucklen invited Gebely and the Appeeling Fruit team to the BaggingGuys’ facility to test their bags and product on the new Doboy B-550 band sealer from Bosch Packaging to see if it would meet their needs. The Doboy B-550 not only was able to dependably seal bags at the speed and with the seal quality Appeeling Fruit needed, but it could carry the bags without a conveyor and had an option for an integrated coder - two additional benefits that made their decision to invest in a high-quality band sealer easy.
Because of the B-550’s full length urethane carrier belt, it was able to grip the bags and run them through the sealer without a conveyor to support the bags. Previously, Appeeling Fruit had needed a ten-foot conveyor to transport the bags through their old band sealer. Although they had recently moved to a new facility, their growth had left them cramped for space. Getting a band sealer that could hold and transport the bag without the long conveyor would allow them to arrange their packout room for more efficient operation. In fact, they even tested the Doboy sealer with their biggest club size bag, which weighed more than what the Doboy is specified to hold. It handled it, allowing Appeeling Fruit to consider it as a back-up sealer for another process.
Another additional benefit was the option to integrate a Markem date coder into the Doboy B-550. Appeeling Fruit’s existing band sealer could not support an integrated coder so they had to manually date stamp each bag after it had exited the band sealer. This required additional personnel and further crowded the already tight packaging room. The Doboy B-550 automated this operation for Appeeling Fruit without any additional floor space.
Since installing it, the production manager, David Schreiber, has been thrilled with the performance. “We have very little downtime with the Doboy. In fact, I have not had to replace a band yet. But even when I do, I know it’s simple. It is just a matter of releasing the tension on the bands, removing and replacing the band, and then it self-aligns. No bolts or parts to remove. We’re back up and running in minutes.”
Appeeling Fruit sees the market for fresh sliced apples continuing to grow. “The market is not saturated yet,” says Gebely. “We have seen exponential growth in sliced apples over the last two years and expect another two to three years before this growth slows.” The increased efficiency of the installed band sealer is lending Appeeling Fruit a helping hand, allowing them to experience sweet success while they continue to meet this growing demand.