Read how the growing organic snack producer keeps up with soaring product volumes and market demand with state-of-the-art packaging line automation and technical support.
Making good things better comes naturally for the team at the Riverside Natural Foods production facility north of Toronto in the city of Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. Founded in 2013, the privately-owned company has achieved phenomenal growth in market share and consumer loyalty since the launch of its signature MadeGood brand of organic snacks. Ranking as one of the bestselling brands of all-natural granola bars in Canada, the MadeGood brand’s rapid ascent has been a main driving force for the company’s capital investment in new production facilities and state-of-the-art equipment. Today operating five production facilities totaling about 575,000 feet of production space, Riverside has expanded its mainstay MadeGood brand offering many new flavor varieties and adding more other snack products into the mix.
Canadian Packaging magazine recently visited the busy 100,000 square-foot Vaughan facility to talk to Riverside’s Vice-President of operations, Justin Fluit and to Raphael Burkart, Project Manager at Schubert Packaging Automation. The Vaughan facility runs two shifts per day, six days a week. “Made Good is a brand that came out of nowhere to be everywhere,” describes Fluit, citing a strong retail base comprising more than 8,000 grocery stores across Canada, including the Costco chain of club stores, as well as growing list of clients in the foodservice, institutional and private label markets. “We are also building a strong brand presence online, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fluit says, noting that the company now sells a substantial portion of its output online through its website and other mainstream e-commerce channels, with specially designed pouches and cartons for shipping its products for home delivery.
As production volumes kept growing at a rapid pace, the Riverside plant found itself in need of high-throughput, high-speed automatic machinery to keep pace not just with the volumes, but also with the growing variety of different packaging formats required by its diverse customer base. Having had installed several vertical form-fill-seal machines to pack the free-flowing product into the different bag sizes at speed rates of up to 200 pieces per minute, the plant needed to find the right automatic secondary packaging system for placing those bags into the retail folding cartons at similar throughput speeds, with quick change - overs to accommodate all the varying packaging formats executed over the course of the shift. With multiple SKUs (stock-keeping units) often requiring for different product quantities and varieties of filled product pouches to be placed into all the different cartons to suit the customers’ varying requirements, superior speed and flexibility were naturally the two main capabilities that Riverside aimed to achieve through investment in packaging automation. “If we wanted to keep building the brands and enter the US market, we needed to be cost-competitive, we needed to be highly automated, we needed to have enough production capacity, and we needed to be able to scale up very quickly to respond to market demand,” Fluit explains.
After conducting a diligent market search and vendor evaluations, Riverside ultimately decided to go with the high-performance TLM (Top Loading Machine) picking and cartoning line by Schubert, which has been operating in Mississauga, Ontario, since 2006. “In addition to the state-of-the-art machinery Schubert showed us, I was really impressed by the level of the company’s commitment to the Canadian market,” says Fluit, describing the 2018 installation of the first of two Schubert TLM picking and cartoning lines at the Vaughan production facility to handle the soaring production volumes for the MadeGood brand products. “As a growing company with big plans for big future growth and expansion into new markets domestically and abroad, it was important to partner up with someone who would be there for us in terms of local service and support over the longterm,” Fluit explains.
Following a thorough discussion of Riverside’s application requirements, Riverside proceeded to order a TLM picking line by Schubert to perform the final packaging of flow-wrapped granola minis with packages of different flavors into a variety of carton sizes and in special bag formats. Programmed to pack five different flavors in four-, five and 28-bag boxes— each in one chosen flavor—the TLM line employs five identical pick-and-place robots to box 400 bags of MadeGood snack pouches per minute. The five different flavors can be intelligently pre-grouped—with the help of the Transmodul transport robot and an inline image recognition system—so that the granola minis can be automatically packed on the TLM machine. Different carton blanks are automatically taken out of the magazine, quickly erected by an F2 robot and glued together. The Transmoduls then swiftly transport the boxes to the next station, where five F4 pick-and-place robots fill them with the products. The TLM line is equipped with high-accuracy scanners that detect the orientation and position of the flowpacks over a width of 600 millimetres. This information is transmitted to the F4 pick-and-place robots for the correct pick-up and placement of the flow-packs in the boxes. The filled boxes are then transferred by a first F2 robot to a vacuum conveyor, and there closed by a second F2 robot in one step and placed on the outlet conveyor. For the special format packaging of the flow-packs into larger pouches, the scanner also recognizes the flavor based on product color. This enables the intelligent pre-grouping of granola minis with different flavours, which are supplied unsorted on the product belt. The flow-packs are pre-grouped in groups of four—each with two flavors— on the Transmoduls and transferred to the output conveyor by means of an F2 robot for further processing by Riverside. While the color recognition function for the pre-grouping of different flavours was not originally part of the machine order, Schubert was subsequently able to integrate this capability on-site in time to put the system into operation.
In addition to proving continuous service and system enhancement to optimize the TLM line’s performance, Schubert has also provided Riverside technical staff with extensive in-house training both in Canada and at the company’s global headquarters in Crailsheim, Germany, which had a great positive impact on the Riverside staff’s familiarity, comfort and confidence in Schubert’s modular and versatile TLM line technology. So when the time came to add another automated packaging line to keep up with growing demand for Riverside products in the Club Store and e-commerce segments, ordering a second Schubert TLM line to handle new products and bigger packaging formats with more varied SKU selection was a natural choice. Says Fluit: “With the diversity of our product line, we really like the TLM system’s flexibility of picking the primary pillow-bag packs containing crumbly or odd-shaped mini-sized products, and gently loading them into the cartons without any product damage. “Being a young company with a relatively small engineering team, we relied heavily on Schubert’s team for their technical expertise and support,” Fluit points out. “This is a company that has invested heavily into the Canadian market, not just in sales but also with full team project management, full-service capabilities and all the spare parts inventory we would ever need in the future,” Fluit says. “This was something that differentiates Schubert from many other vendors for us.” As Fluit relates, the commissioning of the second TLM line was a time-sensitive project because it was meant to coincide with a major launch of the new MadeGood cookies, with a large portion of that output reserved for production of large sized 28-pouch Club Store packs and the 32-pouch e-commerce boxes. “As I recall we had a four- to six-week window for start-up,” Fluit relates, “and Schubert was outstanding to meeting all our time requirements, with their modular design expertise and service experience greatly contributing to the speed of this installation.”
The addition of the second TLM line has greatly reduced the manual labor requirements for producing a growing of variety packs—combining several different flavor varieties and styles in one box—popular with the Club Store and e-commerce customers. “Before the Schubert line arrived, we were doing it all manually, using a lot of labor and sill not getting the output we needed to meet our increasingly large orders,” Fluit says. “So now that we have achieved higher throughput capabilities with the second line, we can focus on growing demand for our product rather than struggling to keep up with it,” he states. “And with e-commerce increasingly becoming a large part of our business, we can easily accommodate the processing of all sorts of different types of variety packs on our Schubert lines with just a few programming changes, with minimal interruptions. “As a growing company, we have big plans to continue expanding our markets,” Fluit concludes, “and we are confident that we will be able to achieve all our goals with partners like Schubert by our side.” For Raphael Burkart, project manager with Schubert Packaging Automation in Mississauga, the company’s close collaboration with Riverside Natural Products is an example for Schubert’s world class technical expertise and customer service excellence. “Our relationship with Riverside is amazing,” Burkart states. “We worked in very close contact with them throughout the project, especially in installation and commissioning of the machines, and the second line was operational within two weeks of arriving at the plant in crates. “Although the machines’ performance has been excellent since installation, we still do on-site inspections and maintenance to make sure their machines a running as well as they can,” he says. “We have five full-time service technicians and three project managers working from our Mississauga office,” Burkart points out, “so we are always within easy reach for all our clients in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) region to serve them whenever they require our assistance. “The better we know our customers,” Burkart concludes, “the better we can channel our world-class TLM technology to help them accomplish their objectives.”
By George Guidoni, Editor Photos by Naomi Hiltz