Two decades after the founding of Riveridge Produce Marketing — then as a sales agent for growers of fresh apples, the Sparta, Mich.-based firm has become fully vertically integrated with a new packing operation.

In 2009, Riveridge Produce marketed about 3.5 million cartons of Michigan apples, or more than one-third of the state’s fresh apple volume, said Don Armock, president and one of the company’s three owner-founders.

The marketing staff is supported by a 72,000-square-foot packing and holding facility acquired in 2008. Refurbished, expanded and upgraded, it now features a four lane presorting line and a two lane packing line, Armock said.

Riveridge Produce launches packing operation

Courtesy Riveridge Produce Marketing

Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta, Mich., invested $6.8 million in acquiring, expanding and upgrading the company's 72,000 sq. ft. packinghouse, said Don Armock, president.

The three partners invested nearly $7 million in the packinghouse remodeling, Armock said.

The packing facility is the third leg of the company, which began acquiring farmland in 1994. There is no secret to the company’s success and expansion, Armock said, overlooking his experience and that of another partner.

“We had been on the retail/wholesale side of the business,” he said. “We kind of have a perspective of where they (retailers) are coming from, a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish and how to communicate that back to our farms and to the growers we represent.”

As a result, Riveridge acts as a kind of information conduit between retailers and suppliers, Armock said.

Unique to the Riveridge packing facility is an under-the-floor conveyor system that transports packed cartons to an adjacent storage and shipping building. The system addresses two concerns.

“It’s kind of a solution to our wanting our employees to not be exposed to high load traffic all day long,” Armock said.

The system also frees floor space for other tasks.

The continuing expansion of Riveridge Produce is not focused solely on benefiting the owners.

“We have a generation of employees in their late 20s and early 30s,” Armock said. “We’re trying to make sure that they have a strong company that will be able to carry forward.”

The owners’ commitment also extends to the environment. Riveridge Produce was recently certified by the Michigan Department of Agriculture as a participant in the state’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.

”The whole industry is slowly but surely transitioning,” Armock said.