Demand Is GoGoing Up: Materne’s U.S. applesauce pouch production expanding

It started with a French revolution.

Now it’s hit the United States.

In 1998, Materne rolled out its applesauce pouches in France – to wide success. They brought the products to the United States about six years ago, and it’s gone so well that they’re getting ready to expand. Again.

“Materne created the pouch format over 15 years ago in France under the Pom ‘Potes brand name,” said Jeanette Cornell, vice president of brand strategy and activation for Materne North America, headquartered in New York City. “When the brand launched in the U.S. in June 2008, the U.S. product was called GoGo squeeZ.

“Both brands deliver a fast and healthy applesauce on-the-go snack in a variety of flavors.”

Pouches have it

Pouches are catching on like wildfire internationally, in everything from baby food to school lunch snacks. A recent study published by PCI Films Consulting showed that demand for pouches is growing by 5 percent in Europe and 8 percent in North America.

Those numbers are driven by improvements in packaging, consumer demand for convenient, portable, on-the-go snacking options and the environmental advantages of units that are easier to move and store than rigid containers. Another study by The Freedonia Group indicates that stand-up pouches will continue to be a significant area of growth for the packaging industry as a whole.

“It’s just a much more portable and convenient way to eat healthy snacks,” Cornell said. “It’s just a very convenient way for people to carry food with them.”

Joining forces

In 2011, Materne began U.S. domestic production by partnering with Cherry Growers Inc. in Traverse City, Michigan, to produce GoGo squeeZ.

“As Materne grew in the U.S. market, it was determined that there was a need to find a strategic partner here to work with us related to the base of our business: apples,” said John George, vice president of manufacturing, Materne North America. “After a great deal of evaluation of the various market drivers – supply of apples, infrastructure, community, etc. – a relationship was established with Cherry Growers Inc. that has evolved such that we now occupy space on their property and manage the full manufacturing business directly, while Cherry Growers provides infrastructure and logistics services, in addition to a supply agreement on apples.

“One building was retrofitted to fit our needs for food-grade manufacturing, and a separate was built as a greenfield (completed in 2013),” George said. “Most of the manufacturing equipment was brought from European suppliers to ensure we have a consistently high-quality product and continuity with our other operations.

“We’ve gone from one production line just about two years ago to a total of eight,” he said. “Four of those lines came on in the past year alone, which is half of the plant’s production capacity.”

After targeting Michigan and surrounding areas first, Materne sources apples for U.S. production from New York, Washington and others, as needed.

“For the other fruits (purees), we source throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world to find the right quality for our brand,” George said.

Cherry Growers is processing about a dozen varieties that include apples mixed with various other fruits, a Gimme Five blend of five fruits, a line of Fast Fruits in four flavors and a half-dozen organic flavors. They come in resealable, recyclable pouches with a built-in straw.

The products are  targeted at children in the 4-12 age range, though the company’s research shows that the market includes adults of all ages.

“I always throw one in my gym bag,” Cornell said.

While many baby food producers are offering pouch options over traditional jars, GoGo squeeZ isn’t intended for infants.

“It’s not formulated as baby food,” Cornell said.

The company didn’t just bring what it does in Europe to the United States. Tastes vary between markets, and the American products were developed accordingly.

“It’s very similar (to Europe), but obviously the taste preferences are different,” she said. “We formulate products here for American consumers.

“We don’t just grab what we have elsewhere.”

Growing fast

Since the product’s North American launch in 2008, GoGo squeeZ’s distribution has grown to encompass 50,000 supermarkets, convenience stores and children’s retailers across the United States. George said the company is building relationships with JetBlue Airways and 7 Eleven. GoGo squeeZ is available at Applebee’s and KFC, with more quickservice restaurants expected to follow. Its European counterpart is selling more than 2 billion pouches across Europe and gaining a daily spot in McDonald’s Happy Meals there, George said.

Growth has been huge, Cornell said. GoGo squeeZ’s sales are currently more than $100 million annually.

And in North America, there’s more expansion ahead.

“One of the nice things about being a global leader in pouches (is) … it helps us understand what could happen and move faster because of our experience,” Cornell said.

Materne North America is acting quickly now to open a processing facility in Idaho by the end of the year.

“Our Idaho facility really opens up the West Coast manufacturing option for us to keep up with marketplace demand,” Cornell said. “The growth has been very fast.”

And there appears to be no end in sight.

“We’re looking at all sorts of different opportunities in our innovation pipeline,” Cornell said.

Kathy Gibbons, contributing writer

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