The corn fields of Iowa are renowned for their high yields and exceptional quality. The state leads the U.S. in corn production with more than 13 million acres harvested in 2013 according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (nass.usda.gov). To put that into perspective, that is an area greater than the entire country of Switzerland. Therefore, one would expect to see the latest tractors, combines and other farming equipment in order to efficiently farm on this scale. However, on the Decker Family farm in Rockwell City, Iowa you will also find the latest packaging equipment for its Farmers Best brand of premium white popcorn. In addition to the farm’s John Deere tractors, the Deckers have invested in a small-scale packaging line for their fast growing popcorn business. This has allowed Farmers Best to package its product where it is grown, on the family farm.
Premium product with elementary roots
What began five years ago as an elementary school project that Tom Decker, who runs the Decker Family farm, completed with his daughter has evolved into a family business that currently supplies loose and microwavable popcorn to a growing number of grocery stores in the Midwest. Sold under the “Farmers Best” brand, sales to consumers nationwide through its website, has also taken off. Decker attributes his brand’s success to the premium, non-genetically modified white corn variety he plants and to the growing trend among consumers to want to know where their food is sourced.
“Our white corn variety results in a kernel with a very thin to non-existent hull, which makes it pop easier with less hull to get stuck in your teeth,” notes Decker. “Our customers also like knowing where the corn is grown, processed and packaged. We use local, high quality ingredients and control the entire manufacturing process from planting to packaging. That resonates with more and more consumers today.”
When Decker first started the business, he outsourced the packaging of his microwave product line. However, when the contract packager he was using went out of business, Decker had to quickly assemble his own packaging line. The contract packager recommended that Decker get in touch with Bosch Packaging Technology (boschpackaging.com) in New Richmond, Wisconsin. “I asked around and heard about the solid reputation of Bosch’s Doboy brand of band sealers and Pack series horizontal flow wrappers,” says Decker.
The first steps with packaging technology made easy
The timing worked well, as Bosch had just launched its new entry level flow wrapper, the Pack 101 at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013. “The Pack 101 fit my speed requirements and hand loading operation perfectly, while the Doboy CBS-D band sealer reliably seals the microwave bags,” notes Decker. “This needs a precise operation since the pre-applied adhesive activates in a relatively narrow temperature window.”
The packaging line Decker assembled starts with a Weigh Right automatic weigher, which dispenses the 3.7 ounces of corn kernels into the microwave bag. The bags are then manually fed into Bosch’s Doboy CBS-D band sealer. After the bags are sealed, they are folded and placed into the infeed flight of the Bosch Pack 101 flow wrapper for overwrapping. Next, 24 microwave bags are placed into a tray and shrink wrapped using a HDS215 combination shrink system from Heat Seal, LLC.
“Throughout the specification, assembly and the installation phases, Bosch has been a true partner,” says Decker. “For someone like me, new to packaging, it was great to work with a supplier that I could trust and acts as consultants to ensure the best solution to meet production goals. I even visited the Bosch plant for training. There was always clear communication, especially during installation, which I managed to do myself.”
Decker is now packaging thousands of microwavable popcorn bags per month and his loose popcorn, available in 1- and 3-pound bags, is selling well and riding the resurgent trend to “pop your own.” Partially thanks to Bosch, Decker’s packaging experience and savvy is growing every day and he projects that his Farmers Best popcorn business will continue its fast growth, just like his corn plants in the fertile Iowa soil.