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Sunday, 09 June 2013 22:00

Ferris plans GR expansion to accommodate coffee, nut growth

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Ferris Coffee & Nut plans a 10,000-square-foot addition to its production facility in downtown Grand Rapids to accommodate further growth. The $1.3 million project also includes an office renovation. Ferris Coffee & Nut plans a 10,000-square-foot addition to its production facility in downtown Grand Rapids to accommodate further growth. The $1.3 million project also includes an office renovation. PHOTO: ELIJAH BRUMBACK

GRAND RAPIDS — Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. is brewing up plans for an expansion the company hopes will help transform its operations and lead to continued corporate growth.

The company, which recently rebranded simply as Ferris, is gearing up for a roughly $1.3 million expansion and renovation of its downtown production facility, which will make way for up to 30 more jobs at the location.

Ferris is increasing capacity by adding 10,000 square feet of additional production space, along with a complete renovation of its offices at 227 Winter Avenue on the city’s near west side.

Driving the expansion is a desire for increased efficiencies at the plant, as well as a need to accommodate heightened food safety regulations.   

“As we’ve grown (and are) doing business with some very large food manufacturers and retailers, a big reason we need to add on to this building is so that we can continue to provide a safe food environment and the necessary documentation in addition to third-party audits,” said John Van Tongeren, president and owner of Ferris.

The expansion also includes refrigeration for the nut production lines and the ability to separate the various allergens the company works with, he said.

As the company has grown and started to deal on a more regional and national scale, food safety requirements have also increased. In 1996, when Ferris built its downtown facility, food safety parameters were a lot wider, Van Tongeren said.

Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture Corp. is providing the design services for the project.

Ferris also aims to establish greater efficiency and flexibility to meet national and local customer needs, according to Mark Van Tongeren, the company’s marketing director. Part of the plan also means adding new equipment and two new packaging machines, he said.

During the construction phase, the company plans to temporarily shift some nut production from downtown to its Wyoming facility and move it back when the work is completed, said John Van Tongeren.

On top of the expected build out, Ferris is also laying the groundwork to bolster its retail presence with more locations, but executives are mum on the details of the plans.

Overall, it’s a good time to be in the coffee and nut business.

Americans consume about 400 million cups of coffee per day, the equivalent to almost 146 billion cups a year.

Coffee is ubiquitous and the go-to pick-me-up for more than 50 percent of Americans over the age of 18. At the same time, nuts have been increasingly marketed as a health food and are considered staples in a number of popular diet programs.

Capitalizing on the market conditions, Ferris wants to grow about 10 percent annually, Van Tongeren said.

“Coffee is a constantly evolving business, similar to the wine industry, where the product depends a lot on the climate and the weather in a year,” he said. “We’re taking a fresh look at our coffee operations and managing some big strategic moves to position ourselves where we are setting the trends rather than following in the industry.”

A recent move to rebrand under the simpler name of Ferris is another initiative the company is pushing to increase brand awareness and its market position. With the name change, Ferris also styled-up its packaging with a simpler, neo-retro design. Point-of-sale materials also changed, as did the company’s advertising.

With the image enhancements, Van Tongeren said the goal is to shed the company’s commodity association and make Ferris’ brand and products more recognizable.

So far, Ferris has established strong relationships with the Home Shopping Network and a couple of other major partners, which are giving the company more visibility.

When Van Tongeren purchased the company in 1985, he never imagined the way coffee and even nuts would take off as consumer products.

Starting with Starbucks going public in the early 1990s, the coffee industry went through the roof, he said. And like the current boom in craft beer, coffee continues to grow in both mainstream and niche market segments.

As for the nut side of business, “who would have guessed that nuts would be considered a health food,” Van Tongren quipped.

“As soon as the Atkins diet and the South Beach diet came out and started saying you should eat 15 almonds a day — boom, all of the sudden we’re selling a lot more almonds,” he said.

The whole nut business has oriented around consumers’ perceptions of nuts as a healthy snack, he said.

“People have become more health conscious, and as a result, they still want snacks, but something that’s healthy,” he said. “Whether it’s a trail mix or a handful of nuts, that’s what they’re looking for, and we just happen to be in the right spot.”

That sense of serendipity also played a role Van Tongeren’s decision to jump into the coffee and nut business. At the time, he was unemployed and looking for a new line of work when the opportunity to purchase Ferris almost found him, he said.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Read 6045 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:14

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