(July 26) Rainier Fruit Co. has been packing sliced apples for three years, but the addition of new equipment has expanded the Selah, Wash.-based grower-shipper’s fresh-cut offerings.

“Any time you can offer one more thing, it makes you more competitive and makes you more of a player,” said specialties manager Paul Newman.

Rainier’s new Atlas apple slicer, which was installed in May, adds more than just one thing to the company’s product line. The machine can slice, dice or cube apples and also allows Rainier to produce all three cuts with or without peels.

Rainier introduced Yo Bites 2-ounce sliced apple packs for school foodservice in 2004. Newman said that brand will be expanded to include sliced, peeled apples. Rainier also plans to introduce sliced organic apples, with and without peels, for retail and foodservice under a new brand in the fall.

Newman said expanding the company’s product line would benefit customers.

“When you look at what’s going on with transportation costs, being able to add one more product and doing it right is good for everyone,” he said. “It’s one less stop for the truck.”

Newman said the Atlas slicer makes a sharper, cleaner cut than the Wedgemaster line it replaced and is fully automated, unlike its predecessor. The machine can process up to 8,000 pounds a day, about double Rainier’s previous capacity.

But Rainier isn’t setting the Wedgemaster out by the curb. The company, which ships 15 million cases of apples, pears and cherries per year, is working on a treatment that would extend the shelf-life of fresh-cut pears. Newman said that application could be ready early next year, and the older machine would be put back to work.

NEW DICER

A fresh-cut equipment manufacturer also is upgrading its equipment. Valparaiso, Ind.-based manufacturer Urschel Laboratories Inc. introduced its M6 dicer this month. The unit is an upgrade of the ML dicer that was introduced in 1993. The machine can be used to dice, strip-cut or shred leafy vegetables or meat products.

“There’s quite a few changes,” said senior marketing analyst Deb Novello.

Novello said the model’s hinged access panels and stainless steel motor make the product easier to clean than its predecessor. She also said its easily accessible stop-and-start station and ergonomic design make it easier to use.

She said the M6 would be unveiled Oct. 29-Nov. 2 at the Process Expo in Chicago. Process Expo will be co-located with Pack Expo International.