SONOMA -- A private-label food producer and copacker known for teriyaki sauces and fresh organic ginger finally will be able to triple its production capacity after a highway mishap led to a 14-month delay in the $5 million expansion project.
MPK Sonoma Corp. was moving across the street into its new 48,000-square-foot production facility at 21684 Eight St. E. in mid-July 2007 when a key piece of equipment was destroyed in transit from the Port of Oakland.
Until the French manufacturer could send a replacement for the $750,000 automated filling apparatus, MPK Sonoma had to cobble together high-speed bottling lines designed to work with the smashed 150-bottle-a-minute filler with the company’s existing 48-a-minute filling station, according to founder and President Charles Boles, 61.
The mismatched equipment led to frequent downtime on the bottling line at a time when company customers were pleading for product to keep shelves stocked. That created a production backlog that was costing $20,000 to $30,000 a month in overtime pay.
“It happened during the height of the grilling season, which starts in April and peaks in July, and is most of what we do,” Mr. Boles said.
Most of what the company bottles for clients are soy sauce-based dressings and marinades. The key product is Veri Veri Teriyaki for Felton-based Soy Vay.
But the company also makes other sauces as well as organic ginger sold grated and frozen as an industrial ingredient. The industrial ginger market came with work on the startup Soy Vay teriyaki brand in 1988, and MPK Sonoma had to figure out how to source and generate 230 pounds of finely chopped fresh organic ginger per batch. Today the company receives 22 tons of organic ginger at a time and sells 28-pound pails to Whole Foods Market and other retailers.
The new Hema high-speed filling machine arrived from Sidel in France in April of this year, and production has ramped up to 115 bottles a minute since then to help reduce the backlog. In August, MPK Sonoma will start approaching some smaller-scale brand owners on a waiting list for production contracts.
Though production capacity has tripled with the expansion, the company employment is steady at 13 employees. Part of the upgrades at the new facility are two, 5,000-gallon soy sauce tanks, from which sauce is pumped to the filling station rather than being carried in 5-gallon pails.
MPK Sonoma started as Marinpak Corp. in 990 square feet of a Bel Marin Keys warehouse in Novato in 1984. After growing to occupy 3,600 square feet a dozen years ago, the company relocated to 12,000 square feet in Sonoma. Last year, MPK Sonoma expanded to 24,000 square feet.
Before topping off bottles of teriyaki, Mr. Boles scooped together $7,000 in 1976 to buy two gelato machines and opened two stores in San Francisco. In 1979, he sold the shops for $309,000 to the Heffernan family, which built it into what is now called Cafe Classico after passing through ownership by Baskin-Robbin.
After two years of traveling the world, he decided to start a copacking business to be able to address national retail markets without the hassles of running retail operations.
Company revenue reached $7 million last year. The new production capacity and ability to court additional clients likely will boost revenue, but global pressure on farmland to grow commodities such as soybeans and pineapple rather than subsidized ethanol feedstock crops has sent costs soaring.