Jan 30, 2014
Michigan packer-shipper debuts $22 million facility

Heeren Bros., a family owned wholesaler, marketer and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables in Michigan, officially debuted its new, $22 million processing facility in Alpine Township in mid-December.

Heeren Bros. distributes a diversified line of fruits and vegetables from around the world to retailers in the Midwest and beyond. The new location will serve as Heeren’s cold-chain-controlled produce distribution warehouse. The company is leaving its traditional base in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The new Heeren facility, which is seeking LEED certification, includes 60,000 square feet for produce distribution and 11,000 square feet for corporate offices.

Heeren’s packing arm, Ridgeking Apple Packing, invested $5.6 million in the remaining 107,000 square feet of the 178,000-square-foot facility to double its capabilities with new highly mechanized apple packing lines that include color sorting, internal and external defect sorting and pre-sort capabilities.

“We’ve been very successful in getting this new facility up and running, even in the midst of our busy apple packing season,” said Hal Roy, CEO of Heeren Brothers, in a news release. “The new technology has already made us more efficient, allowing us to comply with tighter food safety standards while being a better steward of our natural resources.

“Since we opened our doors in 1933, Heeren has continued to grow and innovate as a company. This new facility represents a significant investment in our future and demonstrates that when we say we’re committed to growing in west Michigan, we don’t mean just apples.”

Remaining a focus of the endeavor is All Fresh GPS, a company formed in 2011 that stands for “grower-packer-shipper.” Heeren Bros. Produce and Applewood Orchards in Deerfield, Mich., own All Fresh GPS.

All Fresh GPS markets apples for Ridgeking and Applewood, which was part of the recent opening of another nearby packing operation, Elite Apple. Applewood Orchards is one of seven partners who launched Elite, a 55,000-square-foot packing plant in Sparta, Mich.

Heeren Bros. held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 11 to mark the opening of its new plant. Approximately 50 state legislators, township officials, contractors, vendors and neighbors toured the facility.

The company broke ground on the new facility in October 2012. It was designed by Dixon Architecture and built by First Companies, both west Michigan-based businesses. It features expanded storage capacity, including 15 controlled atmosphere rooms; expanded processing capabilities, featuring multiple state-of-the-art apple packing and grading lines with color and defect sorting as well as presort capabilities; energy-saving refrigeration equipment and other energy-conscious features that will allow Heeren to pursue LEED certification; and better compliance with food safety regulations and initiatives, including SQF 2000 and the Bio-Terrorism Act of 2002.

According to the news release, through its subsidiaries and joint ventures Heeren manages more than 1,500 acres of orchards, represents more than 75 family owned Michigan grower operations and packs and sells more than 20 percent of all fresh apples grown in Michigan.

Heeren Bros. got its start in 1933 when brothers John and Elmer Heeren began a produce trucking business, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables from the south to sell in Grand Rapids. Over the next 30 years, they expanded their operations, selling and distributing produce, purchasing land and building an apple packing and storage plant.

The second generation of Heerens joined their fathers in 1962 as the business continued to grow, adding new facilities and expanding capabilities. The third generation stepped into leadership roles in the late 1990s. In the mid-2000s, Heeren launched a series of subsidiaries and joint ventures – including All Fresh GPS, Ridgeking Apple Packing and Storage and Gourmet Specialty of Michigan – in a move to expand its product offerings and geographic reach.

In December 2006, Heeren acquired rival J.A. Besteman, creating the largest family owned, full-line produce distributor in Michigan. The acquisition allowed Heeren to expand its distribution footprint throughout the Midwest and add national, regional and small independent grocers to its retail customer list.

Today, the fourth generation of Heerens has taken roles within the growing company, according to the news release.

Gary Pullano

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