Arnold Caviar looked at the plot of ground with an expression of disbelief. At the moment, it was just a big, graded rectangle of dirt, but that’s not what he was seeing.

Liberty Fruit breaks ground on new expansion project

Bob Luder

Members of the Liberty Fruit Co. family were joined by Kansas City, Kan. officials Nov. 9 for the groundbreaking of a 30,000 square foot repacking and storage facility. Shown in the ceremony are, from l. to r.: John Mendez, commissioner-at-large, District 2, for Wyandotte County; Arnold Caviar, owner and chief executive officer of Liberty Fruit; Kansas City, Kan. mayor Joe Reardon, Morgan Caviar; Allen Caviar; Carol Caviar; Allison Caviar; Cory Caviar; and Mark Holland, commissioner-at-large, District 1, Wyandotte County.

In his mind, Caviar, owner and chief executive officer of Liberty Fruit Co. in Kansas City, Kan., was looking at the new, 30,000-square-foot repacking and storage facility his company plans on building there, behind the existing facility, later this year and early next year.

“I didn’t think this would ever happen,” Caviar said as he addressed a group of city and Wyandotte County dignitaries, company officials and employees during a ground-breaking ceremony Nov. 9. “But, as you grow and treat your customers right, this is what can happen.”

Caviar then drew a laugh when he sent a good-natured barb toward Kansas City, Kan. Mayor Joe Reardon, who was standing nearby.

“I just hope we get our permit pretty quick so we don’t get any weather issues coming up on us,” he said.

Liberty Fruit’s needs for expansion became more and more evident the past couple of years, said the company’s chief operating officer Scott Danner, as the existing 126,000 square feet grew ever more squeezed for space.

“Last spring and last summer, we were running 105-110% of capacity,” Danner said. “It was taking too much time for trucks to get in and out of here. We were upsetting our contract trailers. It got to a point where we had to load trucks to unload trucks, which was good because we were busy with business, but it was just inefficient.

“We had to do something.”

Danner said half of the 30,000 square feet in the new building will house a repacking facility. Currently, Liberty houses its repack in three separate rooms.

“There will be no repack facility like it in the Midwest,” Danner said. “I feel we’ll be a lot more productive.”

Danner said the new facility will be set up to easily and quickly become compliant with Produce Traceability Initiative guidelines should they become law of the land. The other half of the building will be for storage. Danner said they also plan on reconfiguring the old side of the facility to increase productivity there as well.

“We should increase capacity by 50%,” he said. “Arnold is setting the company up not only for (son) Allen, but for (granddaughter) Morgan and the rest of the kids.”

Liberty Fruit currently employs more than 250, making it one of the top 20 employers in the city, and expects to add an additional 25 workers after the expansion, a byproduct that especially was pleasing to city officials trying to keep a city’s economy afloat in tough times.

“The ability to create jobs is crucial to economic recovery,” Reardon said. “It speaks volumes about what a commitment like this means to this community.”

The expansion is expected to be complete in March, 2010.