Juice company Tabletree bolsters culled cherry juicing operations with new plant in Montana

Tabletree won “Best Pure Juice” at the 2012 World Juice Awards in Barcelona, Spain, for its Black Cherry Juice.

Due to growing demand for its cherry juice made from culled cherries, Canadian company Tabletree is expanding with a new juice plant near Flathead Lake, Montana, set to be fully operational by the 2016 harvest season. 

Tabletree Juice founders and owners Gary and Susan Snow started producing cherry juice, using damaged or culled cherries, in late 2010 after winning a cash award in the form of matching funds from the British Columbia Council’s Commercialization of Agricultural Technology competition.

Available in a variety of grocery retail stores in Western Canada, Tabletree Juice produces 8.5 oz. glass bottles of juice and concentrated cherry culinary sauce that is popular among restaurant chefs, according to the Snows.

A juicy deal

Five years ago, after learning that many cherry farmers could not make a profit because of amount of the money lost to culled fruit that didn’t pass export standards, the Snows (third generation fruit growers themselves) decided to turn their efforts towards juice making.

“Growers always talked about ‘what do we do with our culled cherries?’ because that culled cherry was costing about $1.70 a pound to produce the fruit, and we were rarely getting that back,” Gary Snow told BeverageDaily.

“Even in our little community in Canada, we had lost half our growers because they couldn’t afford to farm,” Susan Snow said.

That is when they hit on the idea of utilizing culled cherries to make and bottle cherry juice.

Cherry picking

Harvested cherries are typically sent to large fruit processing facilities, like Monson Fruit in Yakima, Washington, for quality inspection.  According to Gary, the technology is advanced enough that it can separate all the export-worthy cherries from the flawed, but still edible, cherries.

“Now the state of the art packaging facilities are these incredible optic sorting lines. It goes through the camera system and in a matter of seconds, they sort that out and segregate their culls,” Gary said.

However, Tabletree Juice does have standards on what passes as quality culled fruit and what can be permanently discarded.

“The only thing we really can’t have is rot,” said Gary “So everything else, if it’s got a split and it doesn’t have rot in it, we can use that. And the standards for sorting cherries now are so high that you can have something with a little bit of a blemish on the stem and the rest of the cherry is perfectly fine, but it won’t fly on the export market.”

Those are the cherries that the Snows round up to make their juice using custom-made machinery, which took nearly two years to develop.  Roughly 90% to 95% of culled cherries are perfectly edible and make for quality juice, Gary said.

Hidden treasure

Tabletree Juice does make it known that its juice is made from culled cherries and believes that it’s a positive selling point for the product.

“For one thing, it is a really good thing environmentally. And plus, for the growers, that cherry is costing you the same amount of money as the one that’s getting sold and getting shipped overseas because most of the money in cherry crops is in export,”  Gary said.

“The ones that are getting thrown away, the growers are getting nothing for it, and that could mean the difference of whether or not you’re here next year.”

New facility

The new Montana plant is due to be operational by the 2016 harvest season. It is a partnership with Flathead Lake Cherry Growers (FLCG), an agricultural co-operative whose 70 members grow around 2m pounds of cherries every year.

Around 10-30% of cherries are culled for various deficiencies, and so Bruce Johnson, FLCG president, says the partnership with Tabletree ‘is tuly a win-win-win situation’.

“We can more fully utilize our warehouse facility and increase returns for our local cherry growers, while being profitable for Tabletree and boosting our local economy with the creation of new jobs."

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