Business Spotlight

Knouse Foods Cooperative, Inc.: In the heart of “America’s Orchard”

Spring 2017 Catalyst

Anyone traveling through southcentral Pennsylvania is amazed at the abundance of beautiful orchards that dominate the landscape. More than a century ago, pioneers in the fruit industry started these family-owned orchards, many of which span five, six or even seven generations. These families recognized that the slopes of the local mountains, the rich soils and perfect drainage, coupled with warm days, timely precipitation and cool nights, provided the perfect garden for growing the most delicious fruit in America. Headquartered in the heart of “America’s Orchard” is Knouse Foods Cooperative, Inc.

The year was 1949. In the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, a prominent group of neighboring independent fruit growers recognized the enormous potential at their fingertips and began working together as a Grower Cooperative. Since then, generations of growers and employees of Knouse Foods have been working in partnership to provide the highest quality fruit products for customers, opportunities for employees and services to the surrounding communities. Today, the Cooperative has 111 active Members in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Michigan; and approximately 1,500 employees working at six processing facilities — five in Pennsylvania (Peach Glen, Chambersburg, Orrtanna, Biglerville and Gardners) and one in Paw Paw, Michigan.

Still, most folks outside of Adams County or southcentral Pennsylvania know little about Knouse Foods. However, if you mention Musselman’s Apple Butter or Apple Sauce, or Lucky Leaf Pie Filling, they quickly recognize two very successful brands in the retail marketplace. Additionally, with an extensive network of food service customers to serve, Knouse Foods has grown to become one of the largest apple processing companies in the world, processing more than 400 million pounds of apples, 11.2 million pounds of cherries and 4.5 million pounds of peaches. With sales of approximately $300 million annually, and spending more than $62 million last year to suppliers and vendors in Pennsylvania, Knouse Foods’ impact to Pennsylvania’s economy is considerable.

As Knouse’s customer list and geographic coverage area increases, so too do their customer’s demands. Today’s consumers not only desire a quality product, but they expect it to be produced in an environmentally sound manner, by a company following the highest of ethical standards.

Several years ago, Knouse adopted the manufacturing practices and principles as set forth in the Safe Quality Foods Global Food Safety initiative. The SQF standards, which include an ethical sourcing component, require rigorous manufacturing guidelines that are subject to continuous independent audit, as well as guidelines for Human Resources practices, supply chain and vendor conduct, and strict adherence to environmental practices to achieve sustainability for years to come. All six of Knouse Facilities are Level 3 SQF Certified — the highest level of certification. Sustainability was not an oft-used term in 1949, but even then, decisions were being made with the future in mind. From the beginning, the Cooperative had lots of recycling and beneficial use efforts but did not recognize their significance until former Gov. Robert P. Casey awarded Knouse Foods the Governor’s Waste Minimization Award in May of 1990 for exemplary achievement in waste reduction.

Programs in place were both large and small, and both facility-specific and company-wide. This included recycling of tin cans, glass, aluminum and plastic containers, cardboard and office paper; repairing wooden apple bins and pallets, re-utilization of fruit residual waste, use of recycled oils, collection and recycling of pallet wrapping and pallet strapping, and much more. Since May of 1990, the Cooperative has been able to annually reduce its trash stream by more than 90 percent by continuing these efforts and building on them. A sampling of additional initiatives are shown below (many of these programs have been joint efforts with local, municipal, county, state and federal agencies and citizens’ groups, and Knouse Foods thanks them for all their assistance):

  • Knouse developed a ‘20/20 Vision’ sustainability plan which commits the company to fully and clearly examine operations and practices so that it will be sustained as a viable fruit processor, food supplier and environmental leader in the near future (i.e. 2020) and beyond.
  • Ownership and use of 250,000 wooden apple bins that are circulated annually, complimented by a growing number (50,000+) of durable, recyclable plastic apple bins.
  • Knouse Foods developed a Solar Power project which went live in 2010. It currently hosts over 14,000 solar panels, covering 19 acres, delivering 31 percent of the power demand to the Peach Glen manufacturing plant. The Solar Project incorporates 10.1 acres of a closed food processing plant landfill which was out of productive use for 25 years.
  • In 2014, a managed services project involving transportation logistics and warehousing was implemented, moving finished goods warehousing to a Carlisle, PA location with immediate access to Interstate 81 for distribution ease, product handling reduction, warehouse storage relief and a significant carbon footprint reduction.
  • Ground up apple material, known as “pomace,” is not disposed as waste, but is released under responsibility agreements with regional farmers for use as a feed material (nearly six million pounds annually) in a normal farming practice.
  • By redesigning its packaging, Knouse has reduced the amount of wasteful cardboard used to ship products to grocery stores. In addition, the cardboard now in use is made with 65 percent consumer recycled board.
  • The Knouse Orrtanna manufacturing plant generates much of its own electricity via a natural gas-fired jet turbine engine. Waste heat from the jet engine is then used to make steam for processing lines, eliminating the need for another fuel-burning boiler.
  • All Pennsylvania production plants have modified their boilers and are permitted to run on recycled used motor oil as an on specification fuel, equating to 2.4 million car oil changes each year.
  • The Knouse trucking fleet uses California certified clean burning diesel tractors and a percentage of bio-diesel fuel.
  • Food processing wastewater is irrigated upon state Department of Environmental Protection permitted grassy fields where percolation occurs. Annually, this adds up to 160 million gallons of water a year across five production plants.
  • Water conservation changes have been made to cherry processing and apple processing lines.
  • The Cooperative partners with Trout Unlimited are property owned along Conewago Creek, a renowned trout fishing stream, in Adams County; the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission currently uses the Knouse Foods Orrtanna Ponds for annual ‘Mentoring Day’ youth fishing ahead of spring trout season.
  • Knouse Foods has cooperated with the Adams County Conservation District and lease holding farmers to install ‘grassy waterways’ at Biglerville and Orrtanna sites to aid in controlling soil erosion.
  • The Cooperative examines its carbon footprint annually and addresses corrections needed for steam generation and use efficiency.

Presently, Knouse Foods is investing nearly $20 million in construction of an industrial wastewater treatment plant at its Peach Glen facility, which will go live this year. This treatment is being installed as a combined heat and power facility, where wastewater and fruit solids from the Peach Glen factory will be digested along with fruit solids from the Cooperative’s Biglerville and Gardners Plants. The biogas produced will be used to generate steam and electricity for use at the Peach Glen treatment and processing plant. The Cooperative anticipates another 30 percent of the Peach Glen electricity purchased will be reduced by this system.

As you can see, sustainability initiatives are nothing new to Knouse Foods. The Cooperative continues to make changes today, protecting the American dream by allowing family farms to prosper, and ensuring it will be a viable grower-owned fruit cooperative, producing quality fruit products well into the future.

Scott Briggs is vice president of Human Resources and Communications for Knouse Foods Cooperative, Inc.

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