Above, a sampler of Motts products is displayed. (Michael Bupp/The Sentinel)
When people think of Motts, most think of apples.
Apple juice and applesauce make up a big chunk of the company's business, but these days Motts makes a lot more.
The Stamford, Conn.-based company's Aspers plant, just south of the Cumberland-Adams county line, churns out Grandma's molasses, Clamato vegetable cocktails, Yoo-hoo drinks, and a variety of other non-apple fruit beverages in addition to its apple-based products.
At the beginning of last year, Motts spent $18 million on a 400,000-square-foot addition to the Adams County plant that boosted the number of jobs to 370 and production and storage capacity.
Since 1994, the company has invested a total of $50 million in the facility, which is one of the company's largest.
Location is one of the biggest reasons for that.
The plant is close to highway networks and one of the state's top apple-producing regions. Motts purchases a tenth of the state's annual apple crop.
"We can reach 65 percent of the U.S. population within a day's travel from this site," company spokesman Chris Curran says.
In addition to more space at the Aspers location, Motts added state-of-the-art technology that makes the bottling lines more sanitary and efficient.
Unlike many other companies, Motts blows its own plastic bottles and does it at the same place where they are filled.
The bottles enter one of three PET blowmolder machines looking like small plastic test tubes. They're heated in an oven at 240 degrees, then hit with 600 pounds per square inch of pressure that blows them up to size.
From there, the bottles make their way along a system of conveyers to the apple-juice filling lines, where they are rinsed, misted with hydrogen peroxide for sterilization, and rinsed again with sterilized water before being filled with juice mixed in batch vats.
The entire filling process takes place in a "clean room" environment that Curran brags is more sterile than an operating room. "You could perform surgery in there, but an operating room is not clean enough for us to fill our product."
Completely enclosed and filled only with hepa-filtered air, the room is put out of service every 48 hours so workers can go in and foam it down. "It's not your normal bottling operation," he says.
Old product gets new punch
Nearly four years ago, Motts purchased the Hawaiian Punch brand from Proctor & Gamble. Since then, sales of the decades-old fruit drink have more than doubled.
Curran believes the brand blossomed because Motts paid attention to the product's strengths while developing new flavors, colors, and packaging designs to broaden its appeal.
"To (Proctor & Gamble), it was a small brand, but for us, it's huge. We've put a lot of resources behind it."
In addition to the traditional Fruit Juicy Red, Motts now sells Green Berry Rush and Berry Blue Typhoon flavors and changed the juice's bottle to a clear plastic to capitalize on the drink's attractive colors.
"Most marketing schools would say you can't do that to a product that's been around for so long," he says. "But in order to stay at the top of the consumer's mind, you have to innovate."
Curran believes square bottles with an easy-grip side and plastic jug handle make the Hawaiian Punch line stand out when stacked next to competitors on the grocery store shelf.
The plant's Aloha line cranks out a trailer load of the fruity juice every 20 minutes, around the clock, and has no inventory to speak of. "As fast as we're making it, people are drinking it," Curran says.
The clam barrier
Motts achieved long-sought U.S. success for its Clamato Tomato Cocktail during the past three years by catering to the country's growing Hispanic population.
The tomato-based vegetable cocktail with a hint of clam juice has long been a strong seller in Canada, where it is the main ingredient in a popular drink called the Bloody Caesar.
But American consumers had a hard time getting past what the company refers to as "the clam barrier." Many Anglos found the inclusion of clam broth in the vegetable drink unappealing.
When Motts shifted its marketing campaigns toward Hispanics, sales skyrocketed.
"They're just gobbling it up," Curran says. "They consider seafood to have certain (beneficial) properties."
Some drink the beverage straight, others mix it up in cocktails, and even more use it for cooking.
In October, the company launched its newest flavor of the drink.
Campestre, which in Spanish means "from the countryside," is similar to Clamato, but thicker in texture and with more spices, including cilantro, roasted garlic, and Worcestershire sauce.
In the fall, Motts added a Yoo-hoo! boxed drink line to the Aspers operation.
Yoo-hoo! is made with water, dairy whey, corn syrup and other ingredients. It comes in several flavors.
A special room in the plant fills the boxed drinks according to stringent standards for low-acid products. Only employees who work directly with the machines in the room are permitted inside, and that's only if they are masked and gowned.
The product doesn't come out of the sterile environment until after it is sealed into boxes.
Then comes a 15-day quarantine time sitting on the warehouse shelves. During that time, employees check the acidity of each box for spoilage. If the boxes make it to the end of that time period without spoiling, they are shipped out.
Secret to success
Curran says the company has grown by adding innovative touches to products that have become time-tested favorites and by acquiring new products that complement lines it already owns.
In the 1930s, Motts introduced apple sauce to the public. Fifty-five years later, it launched the first single-serve apple sauce cup.
In 1997, Motts pioneered the first blend of apple sauce and fruit puree for its Fruitsations line.
A year and a half ago, the company purchased ReaLemon and ReaLime brands, which complement its Clamato line and adult cocktail mixers such as Mr. & Mrs. T, Margaritaville, Rose's and Holland House.
Curran says, "We've been able to do a lot just by making small changes."