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Fowler Farms celebrates employee milestones

By
Keith Loria

It’s rare for a company to have workers who are lifelong employees, but Fowler Farms is paying tribute to six employees who have worked at least 30 years on the farm, in the packinghouse or at the customer service center.

“It’s a great achievement, and we value their loyalty and contributions for over three decades,” said Austin Fowler, VP of sales and marketing for the Wolcott, NY-based company. “When we need people to fill new positions, we can rely on the depth of our current team to help train and get them up to speed faster.”

The company also has an additional seven employees celebrating between 20 and 30 years working for Fowler Farms. All of these workers were honored at an employee appreciation luncheon this summer. This will be an annual tradition going forward.

“A real focus this year has been on how to take care of our employees and make their job easier, and deal with potential issues and keeping them healthy and happy,” Fowler said. “Everyone seems to be having labor issues, and we are very fortunate that we’ve got a really good group of folks.”

Fowler Farms utilizes H-2A labor, who come back year after year, and are provided with top-of-the-line, modern housing and nice transportation.

“They appreciate that, and we appreciate them,” Fowler said. “We’re developing new harvest aids that are more ergonomic, and we are trying to eliminate the heavy listing of the apple harvest with less turning and reaching using more automated platforms.”

The same carries through in the packinghouse, where the company has installed automated tools to assist workers with the more physical parts of the job.

“We’re not eliminating people, we’re just eliminating where people might be injured,” Fowler said. For instance, the company has installed robotic palletizers to handle the heavy lifting of the 40-pound boxes repetitively. “We’re doing a lot of research and development this season on updating things like that.”

With all the uncertainty or issues with the apple market this year — especially in Washington and Michigan — Fowler Farms feels fortunate that as it reaches the 65 percent point of this year’s harvest, the fruit has excellent eating conditions and things are looking good.

“We have the labor we need to get the job done so we’re in pretty good shape,” Fowler said.

He added that fruit size is up with a more desirable size profile compared to last year because of the almost record drought, which made very small fruit that couldn’t be utilized in the fresh market.

“This year, we won’t have as many individual pieces of fruit out there, but they will be larger, and at the end of the day, we’ll probably have more saleable fruit than we had last year,” Fowler said.

This year, Fowler Farms is also introducing a new cider SKU — a 100 percent Honeycrisp cider in a 16-ounce size. 

“We have seen an uptick in grab-and-go and we now can deliver the consumer the same satisfaction as eating about 3.5 Honeycrisp apples in a pint container,” Fowler said.

Fowler Farms also put a new bagging line in, in response to an increasing demand of sealed product vs. bulk, looking to capitalize on that trend.

Dissecting the market, Fowler noted it’s stronger than ever in the Northeast this fall, with consumers more interested in where their food comes from, so local is very important.

“Retailers that have been showcasing that with putting the face to the product, and explaining how these apples are grown close to market and the same apples you may recognize on the road-side stand — that’s going to do well,” Fowler said.

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