The majority of MBG’s frozen blueberries were “block frozen,” a process in which fresh blueberries are cleaned, packed in 30-pound boxes, and placed in freezers. The preferred method of freezing for most uses is Instant Quick Frozen, or IQF, in which berries are individually frozen to minus 36 degrees before packing, making them flowable like a box of marbles. In contrast, block frozen berries must be fully or partially thawed for processing and come out in clumps or solid blocks. Because IQF berries flow and can be handled without thawing, they are easier to handle and result in less damage. Although processors and retailers increasingly demand IQF berries, MBG had been limited in its ability to supply them due to its lack of company-owned IQF facilities and dependence on outside packers. Wishing to build an IQF facility capable of handling up to 15 million pounds of blueberries a year plus other fruits and vegetables as capacity allows, the board desired an outside assessment of the project’s viability and risks before committing to the project. Likewise, the company’s bank wished to see an independent feasibility analysis of the proposed facility.
Morrison was engaged to perform a feasibility study and prepare a business plan for a state-of-the-art IQF facility near MBG’s Michigan headquarters. Morrison reviewed MBG’s plans from the standpoints of business organization, markets and market risk, marketing approaches and competition, facilities and production, distribution, information technology, personnel, capital needs, and risk analyses. Along with the expertise of Morrison’s professional staff, we engaged longtime partners in the areas of food processing engineering and information technology, and specialists in marketing to assist our assessment of certain aspects of the proposed construction and operation. Our findings included a thorough assessment of the key aspects of construction, operations, marketing, and risk, plus multi-year financial projections under stated assumptions.
MBG’s board and bank approved the project, which now handles MBG’s Great Lakes area IQF needs. The feasibility study and business plan reports were also submitted in support of a successful USDA Value-Added Producer Grant application. MBG’s IQF plant marked a milestone in the company’s history, enabling them to satisfy the needs of the most demanding buyers, grow markets, and improve returns for their growers.
About the client
MBG Marketing, “The Blueberry People,” is the largest marketer of fresh and cultivated blueberries in the world. Founded in 1936 as Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, the cooperative is headquartered in Grand Junction, Michigan, and has grower-members in the Great Lakes region, the Sun Belt, the Pacific Northwest, and British Columbia. MBG is a partner in Naturipe Foods LLC, which produces and markets frozen and value-added berries under the Naturipe label.