Riveridge Produce Marketing has been in operation since 1990, though many of the 117 growers they work with have been around for much longer. The company operates apple packing sheds and a cider production facility in four West Michigan counties: Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent, and Newaygo. They also have a presence in several other states to support their distribution channels.
2022 has been a phenomenal year for Michigan’s apple crop. An estimated 29.5 million bushels of apples will be harvested in the state this year. Despite being busy processing many of those apples into 40,000 gallons of cider a day, Jamie Kober, enhancement director, and Trish Taylor, marketing manager, took time to share what makes Riveridge unique.
“We aren’t just in it for ourselves. Riveridge is part of a community of growers, and supporting each other is important. The success of one is the success of us all,” Jamie shared.
When asked for an example, Trish mentioned a food safety training the company had created. “We developed an English and Spanish version of the training for orchard workers. It is on video, and we share it with any grower that will use it.”
Food safety is critical to Riveridge. They have utilized Going PRO Talent Funds Industry Led Collaborative funds through West Michigan Works! to bring together workers from various orchards and packing houses for food safety training.
Another strategic need for Riveridge is data analytics. Jamie shared that analytics touch every facet of the operation. “Everything from sales and marketing to quality control is informed by data. Testing for starch content helps us know where apples should fall in the packaging schedule.” An increased focus on data analytics is something Riveridge sees as a key to their success.
Automation is another best practice they have leveraged in recent years. Their packaging line is fully automated, with machinery building, filling, taping, and stacking boxes onto pallets. Pallet wrapping is automized as well. Riveridge operates with a very lean full-time staff of 21 year- round, including sales and leadership positions. About the same number of staff are employed at their ancillary companies, Riveridge Land, Riveridge Packaging, and Riveridge Cider. “The opportunity to increase automation really helped with the labor shortages. The machines do the work of five or six people, but they really help us keep production at the same level when staff are hard to find,” Jamie told us.
The small by mighty team is making a product that people love. Customers from Alaska, Hawaii, and even a houseboat traveling the gulf near Florida, send them cider pictures. An elementary school classroom in Chicago did a taste test of Riveridge cider and apple juice from another company, and the students picked Riveridge cider as the clear winner.
With leadership who build a sense of community while keeping an eye on the future, Riveridge seems poised to be a clear winner for decades to come.