Nearly 20 years ago, Food Engineering launched an annual awards competition to honor outstanding process and facility design in the food plant environment. The thinking was simply this: We learn best by observing what is good. And what better means of spreading the word than showcasing the winning plant in the pages of Food Engineering?

The winner of the first New Food Plant of the Year competition was a modest little company named Campbell Soup. Since then, the competition has gone on to honor companies like Anheuser-Busch and Frito Lay, General Mills and Pepperidge Farm, Nabisco and the Dannon Company.

As this month's cover shows, the winner of the 2001 New Plant of the Year Award is Canadian-based Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee USA Ltd. If you're not familiar with the name Mother Parkers, you're probably not alone. If you are familiar with it, you're probably from Canada, where the 89-year-old company is the country's top supplier of coffee and one of its leading suppliers of tea. In addition to its own brands, which include Higgins and Burke and its namesake, Mother Parkers Coffee and Mother Parkers Tea, the company produces private label brands for a number of lines, including President's Choice.

Mother Parkers has made significant inroads into the U.S. market in the last decade, and the plant we've honored this year is a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility in Fort Worth, Texas, capable of roasting, grinding, blending and packaging private label coffees at a rate of 20 million tons per year. Just as impressive, the plant was designed and constructed in just nine months, despite heavy rainstorms and other construction challenges. Of course, expert help is required to meet that demanding of a schedule, and Mother Parkers got it from both design/build firm The Austin Company, which designed and constructed the Fort Worth facility, and Probat-Werke of Emmerich, Germany, which supplied the plant's roasting, grinding, blending and handling equipment.

Rather than steal any more of our own thunder, I'll just refer you to page 30 of this issue, where you can read Senior Editor Chuck Morris's report on this complex and fascinating facility.

But to provide a little context for the Mother Parkers honor, I'd like to tell you how plants are selected for the award. Each December, we issue a call for entries requesting information on any new food plant or major plant retrofit that became fully operational during that calendar year. Any company can submit an entry, as long as the plant in question produces processed food products designed for human consumption.

Plant submissions are essentially evaluated according to the following four criteria:

1) The plant's contribution (actual/projected) to the company's long-term business strategies.

2) The level of innovation in processing and packaging line design, as well as post-production materials handling.

3) Building and site innovations.

4) Productive integration of workers into the plan.

If your plant excels in those four areas, and you can document it, then you've definitely got a contender on your hands. In addition to processors, any design firm, construction firm, supplier -- or any others qualified to provide a detailed account of a particular plant -- may submit an entry.

One more thing: Any plant entered in the competition must be available for a plant visit in the late winter or early spring. So please don't submit a plant unless you're certain it will be available.

Although it's still early in the year, we'd like you to think about submitting an entry next winter if you feel your plant qualifies for recognition. Simply contact me, and I'll make sure that you are mailed an entry. Who knows? The plant featured on next June's cover may be yours.