Terry Chambers, left, and Jim Early stand in front of five new tanks added this year to increase bulk storage capacity of finished juice and concentrate products.
Photo by Melissa Hansen
Apples make up the bulk of the volume of fruit processed at FruitSmart, but it’s not traditional apple juice concentrate they are making. A unique cold-pressed technology called NFC (not from concentrate) is used to create what is essentially the modern, food-safe version of old-fashioned apple cider like that pressed in backyards. “It puts the apple back into apple juice,” said company co-owner Jim Early, adding that the cold press technology preserves the apple flavor.
Early explained that they can’t compete in the global apple juice concentrate market because of competition from China. But they have found a domestic market for not-from-concentrate apple juice, selling to small, quality-minded food manufacturers.
He says there is a tradeoff in using the cold press system, the only one of its kind in the state. Using heat to make juice concentrate dramatically improves yield but at the sacrifice of flavor.
The apple cold press equipment, made in Switzerland, looks big enough to be a subway car. It uses mechanical force to press the fruit, compared to the centrifugal force commonly used in other juice-processing applications.
Because quality is so important, fruit used to make juice, concentrate, and value-added byproducts cannot be just any cull from the fresh market. External, cosmetic blemishes are okay, but apples must be sorted for quality defects like bruises and postharvest molds and rots.
Terry Chambers, FruitSmart’s president and general manager, said that the plant operates year-round with its apple processing, pulling fruit all 52 weeks from local packers to use in the fresh-pressed juice product. Because the cold-pressed juice has a short shelf life, product turnover is high.