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Soup Start-Up Finds Path For Growth

Tue, 03/16/2010 - 10:57am

Having recently retired, Philip Wilbur-with family in tow-opened the doors to HURRICANE'S Café & Deli in 2005. Among the traditional deli fare, HURRICANE'S offered quality soups and chowders, which were made entirely from all-natural, local ingredients. Soup sales took off, with volume quadrupling in a single year.

This success, coupled with a flood of awards from local chowder competitions, prompted the family to begin manufacturing their products and marketing them to regional restaurants. And so HURRICANE’S - Premium Soup and Chowder From Maine was born. By the summer of 2009, the company was selling four flavors: the award-winning Haddock Chowder, Cuban Black Bean, Butternut Squash with Broccoli Cream and Cajun Style Sweet Potato with Chicken Soup.

Based on the success of these four brands, the company eventually expanded its offerings to include 14 varieties of soups, many of which include locally fished and processed shrimp, crab and lobster. All of the soups are packaged in one gallon bags and sold to food service distributors who, in turn, market them to restaurants throughout the New England area.

Distribution of HURRICANE’S brands continues to grow, with products available in regional Whole Foods and Hannaford stores as early as April 2010.

Building a Whole New Operation

Making the move from restaurant operator to manufacturer is not easy, particularly when dealing with significant volume growth over a short period of time. Limited manufacturing experience complicated things further, especially in the initial phases of identifying the equipment and packaging materials needed to make the launch a success.

“We had two things going for us when we started this process: 1,500 square feet of unused warehouse space adjacent to our café and knowing how to make our product,” Wilbur said. “But the process of getting it to market in the volume and at the rate we required was unchartered territory for us.”

A last-minute invitation to PACK EXPO by an exhibiting company turned things around for HURRICANE’S. With more than 1,600 exhibitors spread over 1.1 million net square feet, PACK EXPO helps attendees discover a range of advanced packaging and processing machinery and material technologies all in one convenient location. This proved to be an advantage for Wilbur and his team as they began the quest for an innovative packaging format and a depositor for their operations.

“Though I had visited many regional restaurant shows, I had never experienced an exhibition with the magnitude of PACK EXPO,” Wilbur said. “The show served as a critical starting point for our business. We’re looking forward to returning this year to find new ways to streamline our operations and continue to grow our business.”

An Unconventional Package

To reflect the company’s commitment to the environment, Hurricane’s opted to package its soups in plastic pouches rather than the traditional rigid tubs, reducing both the amount of material used and overall weight.

Wilbur purchased PLASCON Packaging’s Cook-Chill bags made with Cryovac® C5045 shrink film from Sealed Air Corporation. The multi-layer, translucent film is co-extruded for enhanced durability and designed with oxygen and moister barriers to preserve flavor. HURRICANE’S uses 10 x 20 inch single-use, preform bags to package soups marketed to distributors. The bags are packed in paperboard cases that feature the HURRICANE’S bold-faced logo with the image of a caldron below it.

This original artwork by Wilbur’s youngest daughter, Joanna Wilbur, a new media student at the University of Maine, is also featured on the pre-printed paperboard sleeves used to wrap the 24-ounce 6 x 12 inch pouches in packaging Hurricane’s products for retail. The sleeve also features a small window, allowing consumers to see the product inside.

“It’s important to us to produce a high-quality product with minimal impact on the environment,” explained Wilbur. “The Cryovac® film fit our criteria because it uses renewable materials and produces only a small amount of waste as opposed to rigid tubs. In addition, the outer box is recyclable and made with recycled material.”

The Right Tools for the Job

As a result of the show, HURRICANE’S also purchased several pieces of manufacturing equipment, including an XL depositor from Unifiller.

Capable of depositing large product volumes in a single shot, Unifiller’s XL depositor can run at speeds up to 3,000 deposits per hour. The system offers a great deal of flexibility, including the ability to manually adjust the amount of product being dispensed by the piston. This change can be made at any time before—or even during—the filling process, allowing operators easily switch between the smaller and larger bags with no downtime. The equipment is also designed for fast and easy cleaning.

While pricing and availability were two major considerations for HURRICANE’S when selecting the system, quality technical support played an even bigger role. Unifiller’s team of experts helped Wilbur and his team redesign their kitchen facility and get the manufacturing operation running quickly and smoothly.

 “As a start-up company, it was essential to get started on the right foot,” Wilbur said. “The tech support personnel at Unifiller were with us every step of the way and gave us the guidance and support we needed to get down to business.

Fueling Growth with Improvements to Processing and Packaging

With both its food service and retail operations now in full swing, Wilbur looks forward to expanding capacity with the addition of form/fill/seal technology. Additionally, HURRICANE’S is seeking to streamline the processing end of its manufacturing line with new slicing, chopping and shredding equipment as well as a new chilling system to help increase volume and maximize shelf life. To find what he needs, Wilbur will return to PACK EXPO this October, where he initially began building his family’s business.

“I’m very excited to attend PACK EXPO as a show veteran,” Wilbur said. “This year, I have a long list of processing needs, so I plan to spend a lot of time in The PROCESSING ZONE to find what I’m looking for. Since the show is so large, I’ll be using www.packexpo.com to research solutions and prepare for the show well in advance.”

About PMMI

PMMI is a trade association with more than 530 member companies that manufacture packaging, processing and related converting machinery, commercially-available packaging machinery components, containers and materials in the United States and Canada. PMMI's vision is to be the leading global resource for packaging, and its mission is to improve and promote members' abilities to meet the needs of their customers. PMMI organizes the PACK EXPO trade shows. For more information about PACK EXPO International 2010, visit www.packexpo.com. You can also contact PMMI’s Show Department at (703) 243-8555; fax: (703) 243-8556; or e-mail expo@pmmi.org.

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