Preferred Freezer Services eyes expansion

By Jeff Morrow

Preferred Freezer Services opened up a monster facility in July 2015 in the north part of Richland.

The $115 million building dominates the landscape, standing 120 feet tall, with 455,000 square feet of space and 313,000 square feet dedicated to automated freezer space.

And it’s about to get bigger with a major expansion that could add 33 percent more capacity and about 30 more jobs.

“We’re kind of in the final design stage,” said Burnie Taylor, general manager of the Richland facility. “We’re not at the permitting stage yet. And there has been no formal announcement of expansion.”

The facility already handles more than 2 billion pounds of food a year.

“It’s all been fruit and vegetables, unlike other markets who have proteins,” Taylor said. “But here, it’s primarily potato products.”

Growing industry

As the original Preferred Freezer Services storage space has filled up, other companies have made announcements about opening new food processing facilities in the Tri-City region.

Food packaging manufacturer Volm Co., based in Wisconsin, broke ground in Pasco on a new 90,000-square-foot plant that will cost $8.5 million to build.

Illinois company Ingredion Inc. recently closed a $1.2 million deal for its Richland plant and property with the Port of Benton.

And ConAgra Foods announced in June that it would be adding a $200 million French fry processing line – its second one – at its Lamb Weston manufacturing campus in Richland.

That last project might have convinced Preferred Freezer Services to begin the process of expansion to make room for those additional potato products.

Taylor was non-committal, saying all of the company’s relationships with clients is confidential. Still, Taylor sounds like a man overseeing an expansion project.

“It would be the first of the year to break ground if we move forward,” he said. “There could be approximately 33 percent more capacity. That includes 40,000 additional pallet positions in 105,000 square feet of space.”

It would mean more jobs too.

“Current staffing is at 218, which consists of 180 in the warehouse and 38 logistics and shuttle drivers,” Taylor said. “An expansion would add approximately 30 employees to that total.”

 

History of growth

Preferred Freezer Services started in 1989 with 25 employees in a 1.3 million cubic-foot refrigerated warehouse in Perth Amboy, N.J.

The company brought in $3.6 million in revenue that first year.

Today, the company has 35 facilities in nine regions in the United States, 1,300 employees and $300 million in sales. It also has facilities in China and Vietnam.

The 2800 Polar Way facility in Richland sees trucks coming and going day and night.

“We do a lot of shuttle activity in the Basin area,” Taylor said.

The Richland facility is fully automated, with a monorail system. People working in a control room monitor the system.

About 65 percent of the facility’s inbound receivables arrive via automated shuttle trucks.  The product is taken from those trucks to a pickup location, where it’s transported by monorail trolley system to the freezer, or AS/RS (automated storage/retrieval system).

The remaining 35 percent of delivered product is handled in a more traditional way with forklifts prior to being brought into the AS/RS.

Outbound orders flow through the same automated systems prior to delivery at the loading docks.

Fork lift operators then take product from the dock to trucks and rail cars.

Other workers load and unload pallets in bays in 36-degree temperatures.

There are other areas people can’t get into without an oxygen tank because the cold is unbearable with little oxygen, Taylor said.

But the bottom line is that the system works, as clients are clamoring to store their products at the facility.

It’s all exceeded Taylor’s expectations.

“This new automatic facility has been popular with our customers,” he said. “We’ve been operating at a high level.”

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