Making It In Northern Michigan: Shoreline Fruit

MakingIt2What began more than four decades ago as a few acres of leased cherry orchards near Traverse City has grown to become the largest tart cherry operation in North America.

Shoreline Fruit – launched by two sets of brothers, Bob and Don Gregory along with Dean, Gene and Norm Veliquette – operates nearly 7,000 acres of cherry orchards in a cooperative of Michigan growers. Its 137,000 square-foot production facility in Yuba (between TC and Elk Rapids) processes dried fruits, including cherries, cranberries, blueberries and apples.

Those are used in a number of foods, including dried snack and trail mixes, baking applications, salad toppings, beverages, flavor enhancers and nutraceutical powders. Shoreline Fruit is a bulk supplier to clients in about three dozen nations around the world, including such faraway places as Brazil, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

Shoreline also produces cherry and blueberry concentrates and a nutraceutical supplement made from the skins of tart cherries. The supplement, Cherry Pure, comes in the form of a capsule and is the company’s newest product, launching just last month.

“It’s made from 100 percent tart Montmorency cherries,” explained CEO John Sommavilla as he popped one in his mouth. “The Montmorency has proven to be a rich source of powerful antioxidants and flavonoids which promote a host of health and recovery benefits, including healthy joint function, normal uric acid levels, a healthy cardiovascular system, regular sleep patterns and muscular strength and recovery.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that sales at Shoreline Fruit have been blossoming over the past few years. “May was the biggest sales month in our history,” noted Sommavilla. “In 2013 we did $44 million, $46 million last year and expect just north of $50 million this year.”

Sommavilla credits Shoreline Fruit’s team of 160 employees, the Cherry Marketing Institute and the company’s vertical integration for the growth. “One key is our vertical integration, from the selection of the orchard stock saplings, growing, harvesting, processing and the product marketing to customers and consumers around the world,” he said. “We do it all.”

The company has a team of about 20 administrative workers at an office in Traverse City and 140 at the Yuba facility. While the cherry harvest in July and August is a busy time, workers keep active year around. The company has implemented new technology to reduce the manual labor involved in processing the products. Using two enormous dryers that are 50-yards long, the production lines are humming 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Yuba location.

“We never stop,” said Sommavilla.”We work 10-and 12-hour shifts. And we’re always looking for good people.”