Natural Foods Merchandiser

Expo Manufacturing Tour Highlights

The manufacturing plant tour on Saturday was a rousing success, with Expo West adding a second bus to accommodate the sixty-plus retailers and other industry folks who signed up. Tour participants got an inside glimpse of three very different kinds of manufacturing operations.

The tour began at the facilities of Maplegrove Gluten Free Foods Inc., maker of certified gluten-free pastas from rice, corn and potato flours. After an overview of their testing procedures and practices from president Raj Sukul, the tour group was taken through the facility to witness all stages of production, from receiving of raw materials through pasta manufacturing and drying all the way to the shipping dock.

The next stop was Robinson Pharma, a contract manufacturer of supplements specializing in softgel encapsulation technology with the capacity to make more than 8 billion dosages per year. Apparently their manufacturing processes are highly proprietary; tour participants spent as much time signing non-disclosure forms as they did touring the labs and encapsulation lines. Once everyone was cleared and outfitted in their lab coats, hair nets and shoe covers, Robinson employees led groups through the enormous facility, explaining some of the testing procedures required for GMP certification.

The final stop was Earth Friendly Products, makers of Ecos laundry detergent and other earth-friendly cleaning supplies. Their facility was green to the core, from the solar array on the roof to supply 60 percent of the building’s power needs to recycling programs. The facility is one of five in the U.S., set up in different locations to reduce shipping costs and allow for local suppliers.

Participants were treated to a talk by company founder Van Vlahakis, who immigrated from Greece as a teenager and has grown the company he founded into a $100 million dollar business and an industry leader in eliminating problem ingredients, such as 1, 4-Dioxane, from its products. The tour provided a rare glimpse of what goes into a natural product before it reaches retailer’s shelves.

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