A cool way to increase production and reduce labor costs
Founded in 2006 by Eli Madrigal and Roberto Paredes, West Valley City, Utah-based Rancho Markets have grown to be a favorite community shopping resource. The company is known for quality as they process and prepare many of their grocery, bakery and specialty products in-house. Two products of note are the fresh, house-made corn tortillas and their superb icy-cold paletas. For those unfamiliar with the term paleta, they are a delicious frozen treat with Mexican origins. And they are taking North America by storm. It might be tempting to describe them as Popsicles, but that’s selling paletas short. Paletas are a traditional treat made fresh with organic ingredients; some recipes call for milk, and most feature in-season fruit. Their flavors change regularly (though some of the favorite flavors are always available), and the best quality products are made without the use of preservatives, dyes or fillers. Paleta flavors can include: mango, kiwi, banana, pine and pecan nuts, pineapple, coffee, coconut and even prune. The paletas from Rancho contain chunks of fresh fruit, are delicious, and as a result, demand is growing rapidly.
Tempting paletas – now, no further than the grocery store
Popsicles in the U.S. have traditionally been packaged on a flow wrapper machine with the package sealed on all sides. Flow wrappers perform three tasks in one fluid and continuous operation – forming a bag out of flat roll stock, filling it with product, and sealing and discharging the finished package. These packages are protective, consistent, and professional looking. But Rancho Markets wanted something a little different. Rancho paletas are largely made by hand with ultra-premium ingredients, and they wanted the product packaging to reflect the “hand-made” nature of their sweet treats. They were accomplishing this by wrapping each paletas in a clear sleeve that was open on the stick end. They would then apply a sticker to the pouch. The look was in line with their artisanal image – and how you might expect them from the paleta vendor in Mexico, but the operation was done entirely by hand, and as such, the process was extremely inefficient and time consuming. In order to scale up their operation they would need to mechanize their packaging process.
A custom packaging solution
After an extensive web search, Ellie Madrigal, Rancho’s current president and CEO, identified PAC Machinery as a potential supplier of the flow wrapper they required. After a brief conversation, Madrigal scheduled a visit to PAC’s headquarters in San Rafael, California. There she met Mr. Brian Jobson, Product Line Manager for flow wrappers. In preparation for her visit, Jobson set up a Packaging Aids FW 400F for the demonstration – just as he had done for countless other frozen dessert customers. Setting up a FW 400F to wrap Popsicles is a slam-dunk for Jobson. But when Madrigal expressed an interest in an open ended sleeve, Brian had to do some quick engineering in his head. Could he customize the seal bars on the flow wrapper to trim an unsealed pouch? The answer was yes. The demo was conducted and an order for the machine was placed the next day.
A very cool custom solution
The Rancho Market version of the FW 400F would be configured with optional chill plates to avoid warming the products to the melting point. Chill plates utilize recirculating refrigerated water to reduce the temperature of the machine. No problem; this option is standard fare for customers packaging temperature-sensitive products – including fragile chocolates. But on the Rancho Market machine the customer wished to use the existing water chiller plumbed into their manufacturing facility instead of the optional portable water chiller that most customers ask for. Again, no problem. The PAC engineers could easily customize the rig to integrate easily into the existing facilities.
The PAC engineers started work immediately on the Rancho FW 400F machine. Before long the machine was built, the unique options were completed and the FW 400F was prepared for final inspection and testing. In the meanwhile, PAC received 100 unwrapped paletas, packaged in dry ice, and delivered by FedEx. The challenge was retaining enough paletas for a test run after word got out that the tasty treats were in the building. Brian Jobson wasted no time. The machine was set up with the proper printed film (no more hand-applied labels), and the customized end-sealer/trimmer was installed. The standard chiller was utilized for the demo. Everything that needed to be hot had achieved operating temperature and everything that required chilling was cold. Brian had full confidence the solution would work. But like everything else in the realm of custom design and engineering, the actual results would tell the proverbial tale. The customized machine worked perfectly in every regard. As is customary, a video of the demo was provided as was the operation manual and a document noting all necessary settings and operational details for that specific machine and application. A true custom solution.
Time to chill
Having achieved the on-site, 2-day FAT (Factory Authorized Training) with flying colors, the custom FW 400F was ready for action. The fast, efficient flow wrapper enabled the folks at Rancho Market to re-purpose the people who were tasked with hand-wrapping paletas. In fact, the machine could package at nearly ten times the speed of the hand operation. It was a pretty cool way to increase production and greatly reduce expensive hand labor.
Ellie Madrigal, Rancho’s current president and CEO, identified PAC Machinery as a potential supplier of the flow wrapper they required. But the Rancho Market version of the flow wrapper would need to be configured with an optional chiller that was plumbed to the facility system instead of the conventional, self-contained unit. And there were more requests to follow.