he pride I feel when our magazine hits my doorstep has not dulled with time. Seeing a plan realized, from the screens of our computers to a real book in my hands, is an alchemy I get to experience nearly every month.
Similar to the creation medium I know so well, but on a scale that defies comprehension if I think on it too long, I cannot imagine seeing blueprints become buildings. Yet, in Fowler, California, Bee Sweet Citrus’ Tommy Marderosian, Joe Berberian, and Joe Ruiz are living this magic.
During the summer of 2023, lights turned on and wheels began to spin for a Mandarin facility that broke ground in April 2022 after five years of intense planning.
“I think seeing the result of everything come together has been my favorite aspect of the whole process. Everything is so much faster and more efficient,” Tommy, Bee Sweet’s General Manager, reflected. “We can get everything done during the work day and run more loads a week. The technology we’ve implemented in the new facility does a better job of grading the fruit, so our pack will be more consistent.”
The newest state-of-the-art grading equipment delivering these capabilities not only grades out stem pulls, clears rot, and more with better precision, it detects defects of the fruit more dependably for a higher percentage of accuracy overall.
“In addition to all this, the process is much faster because we’ve implemented a new wash line in our facility too. Prior to the opening, our washing capabilities were holding us back. A new wash line that’s used strictly for Mandarins has allowed us to keep up with the demand of packing,” Tommy shared.
Keeping apace is critical. Changes in Mandarin demand, Joe R. said, were clearly written on the wall, even years ago when the facility was but a storyboard discussion. The Vice President of Production assured me that trajectory has only continued to prompt such an investment.
“Mandarins have become a household necessity,” Joe R. pointed out. “When you go grocery shopping, you see them in every third or fourth cart—you wouldn’t have seen that in the past.”
Joe B., Sales, echoed this, helping me understand the drive propelling the change.
“Over the last decade, the citrus industry has seen exponential growth in Mandarin demand. More and more people are consuming them, not just here in the United States, but worldwide. It’s a good piece of fruit; it’s easy to eat, and the quality makes it easy to ship overseas. Our new facility helps us meet that growing demand by being able to handle the volume coming off our trees and by packing high-quality fruit more efficiently,” Joe B. told me.
Doubling down on this, Tommy said this is not just a help but the conception point of the new facility.
“The main reason we built the facility is because, to meet that demand, Bee Sweet Citrus planted more Mandarins. Now, this facility allows us to process and pack that volume,” he shared. “We outgrew our older facility. Our original packing line wouldn’t have been able to handle the volume of Mandarins we planted in the ground. A facility specifically for Mandarins was the clear solution.”
When I asked the trio to quantify the speed with which the new structure has improved the Mandarin process, I was not prepared for the accuracy of their reply. But it is in such details that the critical awareness and fine planning of this strategy are made clear.
“In terms of efficiency, the facility has more than doubled our previous capacity. The same amount of people that were running the original line are running the new one and are doing it more than twice as fast,” Tommy said.
This highlights another valuable return on the supplier’s investment, one in social sustainability.
“This facility eliminates our need for a night shift in packing, an impact that was felt immediately. We’re excited to look to the future and are implementing these projects to support a healthy work-life balance,” Joe R. reflected.
Now, Tommy pointed out, the only night shift in existence for the Bee Sweet operation pertains to shipping.
“Mandarins have become a household necessity. When you go grocery shopping, you see them in every third or fourth cart—you wouldn’t have seen that in the past.”
Joe Ruiz, Vice President of Production, Bee Sweet Citrus
“In the past, night shifts would run long. Now, we can do everything within a normal work day. Employees are happier, and we are seeing a nice jump in morale,” Tommy noted, understandably.
Doing so much more in far less time saves on labor and energy use (both human and environmental) and, perhaps most excitingly, the company is only just beginning to discover the capabilities.
“We have yet to hit our peak in how many loads we can run per day, which is really fun,” Joe R. shared. “What we used to do in two shifts, we can now do in one. When the season really gets under way, it will be exciting to see how we can deliver even better to our customers.”
Knowing the important role logistics plays in that—pardon the pun—delivery, both assured me the Mandarin-specific facility does not add any stops to customer orders, but simply furthers the capabilities.
“The loading dock attached to the facility is specifically for Mandarins, allowing for much easier delivery and faster load times. Because the facility sits on the same property as our original facility, drivers don’t have to go to another location to pick everything else up,” Tommy concluded.
Watching it all come together is a highlight Joe B. couldn’t help but pause on.
“Seeing the whole operation come together, from start to finish, has been incredible. The technology we’ve implemented in the building is nothing short of impressive, and we’re excited to see how it will continue to help us better serve our customers,” he said. “Retailers can be certain that our Mandarins are of the highest quality. The enhanced technology we’ve implemented has allowed our team to grade the fruit more meticulously, ensuring customers a better-quality piece of fruit every time they turn to our brand.”
It is a beautifully orchestrated machine, so intricate in the construction that when you step back to see the architecture as a whole, metal becomes gold. No wonder it is Tommy and Joe B.’s proudest moment after five years of planning. Which begs the question: From groundbreaking to present, what is the standout for Joe R.?
“In terms of efficiency, the facility has more than doubled our previous capacity. The same amount of people that were running the original line are running the new one and are doing it more than twice as fast.”
Tommy Marderosian, General Manager, Bee Sweet Citrus
“Mine,” he said definitively, “has been the ability to show the state-of-the-art building to our visitors. People will often drive by and ask what’s going on, and I get to explain to them what we are doing and share the exciting news.”
Not dissimilar to the joy I experience when the alchemical process of images and words yields a book of stories for our industry. Thinking back on the magic of a plan realized and shared with the world, I can’t help but smile with the three gentlemen and agree.