Breathtaking changes in food production are a hallmark of California agriculture. The latest is occurring in the Sacramento Valley, where the owners of California Olive Ranch (COR) have made a $60 million down payment toward an aggressive plan to produce four million tons of olive oil a year, about 5% of US consumption.
Comments from chefs and other foodservice clients guided development of bag-in-box for 2.5- and 5-gallon packages of extra virgin olive oil. Source: California Olive Ranch.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) was a boutique business in California until 1998, when the first 500 acres of COR’s high-density, trellis-trained dwarf olive trees were planted. Today, 8,000 acres are under cultivation, already accounting for almost 40% of the state’s production and a fraction of what is planned. Mechanical pickers harvest the olives, which are milled in Orroville and Artois, CA. “The whole process is designed to reduce the time from harvesting to processing,” explains Claude Weiller, COR’s vice president-sales and marketing. “If it is completed within six hours, the oil is phenomenal.”
A three-stage grinder, a mill and a centrifuge accelerate the separation of oil, water and the fruit’s pumice, which is used as cattle feed. Some of the EVOO is bottled as Olio Nuovo in a black, circular bottle, with most of it stored in stainless steel tanks and packaged on demand.
Glass bottles of 500-ml are fine for retail sales of five varieties of EVOO, but foodservice is COR’s early focus, and the high-density plastic jugs originally used were compromising quality by allowing oxygen and light to react with the oil. “It prevented me from expanding our footprint beyond California,” says Weiller. Comments from chefs and other customers led COR to a bag-in-box conversion. A 2.5-gallon container debuted in December, soon followed by a 5-gallon version.
Preformed jugs posed a storage waste-handling issue for COR and its customers. Beefed up corrugate supports higher pallet heights, increasing the number of units per truckload by about 20. The addition of a nitrogen flush and the collapsible bag help keep the EVOO fresh for up to a year. Overall, the amount of packaging material was reduced 6%.
Bag-in-box is well-established for bulk wine, though specialized resins and taps were needed for gourmet oil, comments Keith Kovarik of Scholle Packaging’s Merced, CA office. A two-ply bag that maintains product integrity and prevents any off flavors was used. Scholle also customized a filling machine to deliver “a very gentle process” to minimize oxygen exposure, Kovarik adds.
“Everything in this package is recyclable,” and that’s a plus with chefs-though “they don’t want to pay 10% more because it’s environmentally friendly,” concludes Weiller. Elimination of a white paperboard over-wrap and box cutouts that replace handles add green appeal while also lowering costs for all parties. “If you don’t rush and give your customers a chance to weigh in, you’ll end up with a better package that’s also environmentally friendly,” he says.
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Keith Kovarik, Scholle Packaging,