New apple processing company to go online this month

Feb 3, 2012

The old Empire Fresh food processing facility in Oswego will soon be humming, packaging apples for schools and retail. 

Fresh Express used to process onions in this cavernous warehouse on Route 104 in the Town of Oswego. In it's next life it'll be home to an apple processing operation called Champlain Valley Specialty Inc. Later this month, the company will begin producing those little bags of sliced apples, using some state of the art equipment according to Jeremy Dygert, one of the owners of Champlain, based in Keeseville, NY.

"We're gonna be processing apples for the fresh cut industry, the sliced apple industry," said Dygert. "So the products you see like McDonalds, produces the apple dippers , it's a very similar product to that."

Dygert explains how it works.

"We're receiving in 20 bushel bins of apples so you'll have random apples in the bin that are random size," he said. "Our pre-sort line actually sorts them, grades them for size, color and defect.  And then it goes to the processing area where we actually slice them. We take a 30 mm plug out of the apple and then it leaves it with 12 slices."

Of course one of the problems with apple slices is that they go bad.  Dygert says they are one of only two plants in the country that uses a special disinfection and packaging process to keep apples crunchy for 21 days.

"We're coating the apple with an ascorbic acid solution to keep them from browning, and the package itself is a modified atmosphere packaging.  So it actually works as the apple is aging, it's getting rid of the gases that would promote a lot of the breakdown of the apple slices," said Dygert.

The big reason they chose the old Fresh Cut plants, was the supply of apples only 40 miles away.

"Our turnover on an order is  typically less than 24 hours. On average we're more around six to eight hours.  We receive the order and it's all custom packed.  We don't inventory any product."

Dygert says business is booming.

"The sky's the limit. It really is. We see the industry in general is fueled by healthy eating, but it helps as mothers and fathers who are working overtime and working extra hours so there's less time for them to get healthy food for their children."

23rd District Congressman Bill Owens sees that happening.

"I was visiting my daughter in Washington, who lives a few miles from where I work now and she was putting those packages in her kids lunch boxes.," said Owens.

Owens recently toured the plant, suggesting the business can be part of an initiative to expand exports.

"We're seeing an increase in ag exports around the world," said Owens. "I think that's going to continue to grow.  We need to stay focused on ag in terms of those opportunities because places like India and China are going to need more food."

Dygert agrees.  He says they've already put $4.5 million into this facility with help from tax breaks from Oswego County and New York State.   He expects to expand the plant for an industry that will continue to grow.

"One of the beautiful things about our industry is, we are kind of china proof," said Dygert. There's not gonna be competition in the future for fresh cut.  So it's a really good industry to be in."