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Molded-fiber trays cushion bottom line

Sun., Feb. 24, 2013

WENATCHEE – Keyes Packaging has cracked the egg-tray market and is scrambling to meet demand for its recycled-paper trays popular with egg producers and retailers across the West.

“Our machines run 24/7 to turn out hundreds of thousands of trays,” said Ross Riedinger, the company’s vice president of marketing. He looked upward at trays stacked 20 feet high in a jam-packed warehouse. “Make that millions.”

In the last year, Keyes Packaging Group, a 110-year-old company and the nation’s leading producer of molded-paper fruit trays, has created a handful of new products – and profitable markets – made from its recycled-paper technology.

That includes molded trays and shipping cartons that protect fragile products other than apples, such as eggs, avocados and bottled wines.

The company’s product line also includes shipping and storage trays for peppers, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, citrus fruits and specialized tissue-paper wraps to protect eggplant, squash and bottles of wine.

Introduced eight months ago, the XL 5-by-6 filler flat – a rectangular, 30-count egg tray – has been adopted as one of the primary egg protector-containers by the egg industry’s distributors and largest resellers, including warehouse chain stores such as Costco.

“The XL is a response to customer demands,” said Len Geren, Keyes operations manager. “We stay tuned in to what our customers need as their industries evolve. It’s where we get our ideas.”

In this case, distributors needed open-carton protection that held more than the usual dozen eggs and could be easily stacked. The tray needed to cushion yet be strong, be high-quality yet inexpensive and be designed to stack uniformly on standard wooden pallets.

The same with Keyes’ new 12-bottle stand-up wine shipper.

Keyes’ stand-up shipper is made-to-order for stores that frequently ship case lots or cases of mix-and-match wines.

“They’d rather pack and ship their wines vertically than horizontally,” said Riedinger. “It’s better for the wine and makes a nicer presentation.”

Egg trays and wine cartons are the latest in a long line of Keyes products made from wood and paper pulp.

In the late 19th century, inventor Martin L. Keyes created the first paper plate molding machine in Maine to take advantage of the area’s logging leftovers, mostly sawdust and wood chips. He founded Keyes Fibre in 1903.

In the 1980s, the Keyes plant here introduced its molded paper-fiber apple tray, which has become an industry standard and, in the following decades, acquired other molded-fiber companies to expand its product line into containers for other fruits, veggies and wines.

Today the company touts its use of environmentally friendly processes to transform recycled paper and cardboard into quality containers for some of the world’s favorite foods.

“Trash into trays,” said Riedinger. “We even recycle boxes used by local packing sheds and trays we made ourselves. If it’s paper, hardly any of it goes to waste.”


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