COVER STORY
By Jamie Popp

Building on a
healthy foundation
Langer Juice attributes
success to its independence
and customer connection.


Started in 1960 by Nathan Langer as a healthy juice company producing a unique assortment of fresh-squeezed juices, Langer Juice Co. Inc. today is a multi-dimensional, family-run company with a diversified portfolio of beverage options. Most importantly, the company prides itself on maintaining its independence and flexibility throughout its evolution among big juice players. “My father started [the company]

making health food juices, which at that time only appeared in health food stores," recalls Bruce Langer, co-vice president of the company. "There was a time when it was fresh and not shelf-stable."

The juice, formerly known as L&A Juice, was available only in Southern California. The Langers brand the company sells today didn’t evolve until 1988, when the company moved to its current 140,000-square-foot, City of Industry, Calif. location, nestled among plants and warehouses outside of Los Angeles. Shortly after moving into its new location and changing its name from L&A to Langers, the company began to focus on developing its foothold in the national market. Today, Langer Juice has its sights on the Eastern United States.


Regardless of expanding its juice-making capabilities and varieties over the years—and even becoming a starlet in recent Hollywood movie promotions—Langer Juice Co. always keeps its roots in Building on its solid foundation of healthy and other product lines, the company has seen double-digit growth during the past year, reporting $107 million in sales for 2002, up from $99 million in 2001. In addition to its California facilities, Langer Juice has grown to five distribution centers and four manufacturing facilities across the country. Its sixth distribution center is scheduled to open next month.

According to Langer, the company has grown over the years for two key reasons: customer contact and high-quality product introductions in response to consumer demand.

“ I think the reason we’ve been successful is our mindset, which takes several forms,” he says. “It’s how we work with customers and put ourselves in their shoes. [We also] bring in private [suppliers] that are officially promoted as No. 1, top-quality producers from raw materials, to blending and tasting. It’s a family business and this is the juice our children drink.”

For these reasons, producing a quality product is of top concern to the Langer Juice team. During every step of the process, from raw materials to filling, there are people who test the product. The plant is fully staffed 24 hours per day and tasters test every batch of juice produced. A bottle of juice from each 45-minute run is retained in the warehouse for about one year for quality purposes, according to the company.

The breadth of the Langers product line ranges from juice for babies to adults. And in the case of Langers 100 percent cranberry blends, the line transcends age demographics. Its 100 percent line of products from Cranberry to White Grape makes moms feel better about giving juice to their children, and builds on the health-conscious message that added vitamins and minerals are a necessary part of the American diet, which appeals to older consumers. In addition to 100 percent line, Langers is available in Plus varieties that offer consumers vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, iron and calcium. Additionally, herbs such as ginkgo biloba and ginseng are added to various items in the 100 percent product line.

“ Our [product] enhancements are important to our consumers and promote loyalty,” Langer says. “[For example] our Cranberry 100 has added vitamin A, C and E, and all of our shelf-stable diet juices have calcium.

The Langers juice product line varies not only by enhancement but also by style and size. In addition to its 100 percent and enhanced juices, Langers comes in frozen concentrates, seasonal blends that rotate throughout the year, and juice blends in 32-once, 16-once and 10-once sizes. The company also uses 128-once bottles for a variety of its products.

Industry trends promote change
In addition to changing its name and relocating its operations, juice industry shifts during the past three decades have affected the company, requiring an agile approach to growth and development. Langer Juice Co.’s years of experience in the marketplace and understanding of the juice category have prepared the company for what lies ahead.

For instance, the company at one time divided the juice category into cranberry and apple juices. All other juices were lumped into one side of the business based on consumer trends, according to Jerry Bekier, president of Premier Sales & Marketing, an Anaheim Hill, Calif., company that manages sales and marketing for Langer Juice.

“ That’s all out the window now,” Bekier says. When the company introduced its cranberry juice, consumers were beginning to realize that many products on the shelf were mixtures of juice and sugars. Once the consumer’s embraced 100 percent all-natural juice without added sugars, smaller producers such as Langers had room to grow, he says. With a little coaxing to expand its juice offerings, the company took advantage of this market change and rolled out its 100 percent cranberry juice with added vitamins and minerals.

“ We were successful with our customers in apple juice and then one of our buyers suggested that we make a cranberry version,” Langer remembers. Langer Juice listened to its buyer and forged ahead, proving to be weighty competition in the category.

According to Langer, without passionate, aggressive and intelligent salespeople, the company would have faltered against major national competitors.

“ We found that people believed the category needed competition,” Langer says. Good things come from healthy competition such as pricing and promotions, he says. It also doesn’t hurt that the product’s flavor was judged second to none.

A taste test performed by the American Culinary Institute, a division of Quality Institute International, gave Langers a boost as the “best tasting juice”.

With a gold medal under its belt, the Western United States market cornered, and expansion looming in the Northeast thanks to an independent broker waiting in the wings, Langer Juice knew it had a big future ahead.

“ We just started selling in Boston and New England because it was the place to go competitively, “Bekier says. “We didn’t do focus groups. We just canvassed the trade, looked at what was available to the consumer and determined how we could fill unmet needs.”

Although Bekier attributes some of the company’s 100 percent juice success to being in the right place at the right time, he also considers consumer buy-in a driving force when competing against large companies in the market.

Consumer satisfaction is especially important when producers are faced with decisions triggered by industry trends. A lack of stability in the juice category has caused many juice companies to not only revise their product formulations to meet consumer needs, but also to consider alternative packaging options to keep up – even when faced with consumer animosity toward change.

“ Not too long ago, everything was glass,” Bekier says. “We were the first juice company on the West Coast to use plastic packaging.” Although plastic was easier-to-handle and a more efficient packaging option for producers, consumers on the West Coast were not excited when juices adopted plastic packaging in the late ‘80s, according to Bekier.

Today, Langer’s packages only its Pineapple Coconut juice in 64-once glass bottles, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the company’s portfolio of brands. But it wasn’t only consumers’ eventual acceptance of plastic that was important to the company. Retailer support played a key role in whether or not the product would get to the shelf.

“ Getting past [many years of brand loyalty to other brands by retailers] and the consumer giving the retailers reasons to carry the brand has been a huge part of Langer’s success,” Bekier says.

Independent alliances
Langer’s family-run operation maintains the atmosphere of a company run without outside management and bureaucracy, and cross-promotional and sales activities continue to win over the support of the trade. Having been approached by numerous companies looking to get into the business of juice making, the company enjoys its independence and prides itself on creating partnerships with like-minded organizations in the industry. For example, Langer Juice works within a network of independent food brokers and distributors.

“ The people we see are decision-makers and it’s frustrating for them to have to wait for an answer and not be able to negotiate across the table [with other companies], “Langer says. “As an independent company, we provide that negotiating experience that lets [the companies we work with] move on with their business.”

Another advantage of working with independent companies is that the owner lives within the marketplace and is able to keep an eye on local business and understand what consumers want.

“ We like to work backward from the consumer,” Bekier says. “The company philosophy is such that if we find a need on our production side, we find the best people we can, define our goals, hire the ‘A’ team and let them run with it. We’re not formal, we’re very informal, and all ideas are considered.”

As a result of continual contact with the trade and consumers, the company has introduced a variety of successful flavors such as Raspberry Lemonade 100. Additionally, grocery stores that Langer Juice works with have tipped it off to trends in grocery aisles to move to single-serve packaging, an area in which the company is considering ways to do more business, says Tom Bottiaux, national sales manager for Langer Juice.

But it’s not only opportunities to enter burgeoning categories that interest the company.

“ To us [the juice market is] new and exciting,” Bekier says. That excitement has carried over to other categories. [In the beginning] we consciously entered a market to give it a little life.”

For example, the company introduced its frozen juice concentrates at a time when frozen concentrates were on the decline due to limited promotional activity and flavor innovation.

The company’s desire to encompass all age groups and tastes within the family of products triggered its entry into the diet juice business, which brought in more than $5 million for the company during the past year. Its six varieties of juice with no sugar added use sucralose and acesulfame potassium as sweeteners.

“ The consumer [with diabetes or other health concerns who requires sugar-free alternatives] hasn’t had a choice,” Bekier says. “The most enthusiastic e-mail we get is from people who haven’t had a choice until now.”

But it’s not only juice that the company feels will reach all age groups and tastes. The recent launch of Langer brand purified drinking water, which is available in 0.5- and 1-liter sizes, received representation in the Southern California market in the beginning of May, according to Bottiaux.

As the company expands into uncharted territory with water and frozen concentrates, the question remains: will the new lines of products undercut Langers juice business?

“ You’re going to have your No. 1 product and No. 80,” Bekier says. “Pineapple Coconut juice has dedicated consumers, and our apple juice business is growing, even though the percent of contribution to the total grocery apple juice market is declining typically in a market such as Southern California, Langers product accounts for anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the juice category. It’s hard to find that [type of product representation] in a single market.”

Cross-promoting to the top

From adding vitamins to co-marketing and cross-promotions with major Hollywood movie and consumer product companies, the Langer’s consumer is getting more for the money – and “freebee” opportunities such as a trip to Jamaica, a JanSport Backpack with Langers “Go Anywhere” Sweepstakes, or a “Charlotte’s Web” movie videocassette.

“ Part of the overall philosophy is adding value to our consumer,” says Langer. “We have one promotion coming up in December in which the winner and their friends will have a private movie screening party. And we just completed a sweepstakes with the ‘Agent Cody Banks’ movie.”

Langer’s proximity to Hollywood is a driving factor in the company’s decision to partner with MGM, Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Mira Max and Universal Studios. Another outlet for promotion has been the video gaming industry, which is popular among younger consumers, who in theory, will maintain their juice-drinking habits throughout their lives.

“ If you can find a consumer who is nine or 10 years old who likes your product, then you’ve got a consumer for life,” Bekier says.







PLANT PROFILE
BYJamie Popp

Flexible and Independent
Langer’s efficient manufacturing and distribution systems accommodate demand

The Langers brand is best known for its quality product and flexibility. It’s this flexibility that keeps the company and its arsenal of independent business suppliers and partners coming up with new flavors and products on a regular basis. However, what goes on behind the scenes in the Langer Juice plant and warehouse is what makes the ideas pouring in from frontline salespeople, wholesalers and distributors a reality.

“ We’re not going to sell the new juice just to one customer,” says Bruce Langer, co-vice president of Langer Juice and son of founder Nathan Langer. “If it’s successful, that customer will be the anchor, but it will be part of the normal product line, and other customers will also get the juice.”
Maintaining its company philosophy of supporting independent decision-making and the people who do it, the process of introducing a new product may be as simple as having a customer identify a need and supply the demand. However, bottling the final juice style and flavor is only a small part of the process it goes through before hitting the shelf.
“ Currently, we operate five distribution centers across the country,” says Langer. “By July, we’ll have six distribution centers. There are four manufacturing locations, and logistically we’re in a position to supply the country.”

Having the capability to deliver product across the United States requires careful planning, technology, and production efficiency. It also requires working capital.

Since 1999, the company has invested $4.5 million for plant additions to improve operations such as adding space, a new case packer, and most recently, a 16-head labeler. The electronic filler, installed in 1999, fills 600 16-once bottles per minute, and protects PET bottles against distortion by electronic control. David Langer, also co-vice president of Langer Juice, estimates that the filler has saved the company $300,000 in juice loss since it was introduced into the production line, and increased plant efficiency by 25 percent.

In addition to monitoring the efficiency of operations within the plant, the company is also aware of the environment and state policies regarding business management. City of Industry, Calif.-based Langer Juice is located in a part of the country that is fuel emission- and energy-conscious, which has prompted the company to discover unique solutions to becoming more fuel-efficient. Investing in development of a co-generator meets the demands of state restrictions on emissions as well as creates an independent means for the company to sustain its operations.
“ With co-generation, we will not only be able to generate our electrical needs, but also reduce our thermal usage without increasing our emissions, “Bruce Langer says. “The cogeneration system will produce electricity, steam and hot water with fuel that is already being used.”

Quality determined by supply

Depending on the type of fruit, the concentrates and fruits that are used in the plant come from various parts of the country. This also applies to the suppliers that contribute their technology and equipment to the process of getting Langers juice from the concentrate stage to the bottle and finally onto a delivery truck.
Apples are basically from our suppliers in California and Washington, David Langer says. The concentrates are made to our specifications. Guava, papaya and other tropical fruits come from abroad.
Were very strict with what we buy. If the concentrates arent perfect, we reject them, Bruce Langer says. The key to making good juice is to start with good fruit and not abuse the juice.
We start with receiving raw materials and everything is checked to make sure it meets specifications and were happy with flavor, David Langer says. Then the fruit concentrates are mixed in 3,000 gallon blending tanks. The tanks are strategically located in a pit within the plant for safety reasons, according to the two Langers.
Langer Juice goes through a variety of tests after the mixing process. Once the mix is approved, the juice is filtered and pasteurized through either a plate and frame or tubular heat exchanger. Then the bottles go into one of three hot-filling machines, where they are filled and capped before entering a cooling tunnel. The cooling tunnel sprays water to cool the 185 F juice to 100 F. The bottled juice then goes through a fill height inspection machine to make sure the volume of juice in every bottle is accurate. Finally, the product is labeled, boxed and racked for inventory.
The added accumulation table in the filling process, which is about nine minutes at 300 bottles per minute, has allowed us to go from 200 bottles to 300 bottles per minute in that time period, David says. Changing to electronic fillers has had the most impact on our production. The [filler] machines also minimize the distortion of the bottles [because of the low pressure used against the bottles].
Everyday, Langer Juice has 5,000 pallet positions of finished product, and produces 75,000 cases per day, which are wrapped and stored in its gravity-flow warehouse system. When compared with 50,000 cases of finished product produced three years ago, its clear that the latest advances in technology and equipment in the company have greatly affected productivity levels.

Managing production and orders

Like the production process at Langer Juice, the order procedure is a balance of speed and efficiency. Once an order is received electronically through the companys EDI system, which is linked to salespeople and retailers, it is combined in a report to help manage production, inventory and distribution. Tracking the order begins with the initial request and continues until the product ships.
After we receive an order for items that are to be produced, we create a production report, David says. Bar code labels go on each product pallet. Then product is scanned into inventory. When the product goes out, its scanned again and details, such as where the product is going and which truck picked it up, are recorded.
Although the company sold its plant in Mexico in 2002 the Langers brand is available in both Mexico and Asia, which is a relatively new venture, according to Tom Bottiaux. Each country has local laws that prove challenging to get into those markets, he says. But, dont think the challenges of distribution will keep the company at bay. Langer Juice is always looking for new distribution opportunities and markets to serve with its juice, and water, product lines.


Co-generation fuels Langer’s operations

Langer juice is on the cutting edge of technology not only inside its plant and warehouse, but outside as well. A short distance from the plant delivery door, against the outside of the building is the company’s solution to the energy crisis on the West Coast: a co-generator.
According to Garrett Smith, the mastermind behind the custom-designed project and president of Cogentech, Portland, Ore., “it’s a natural gas system that provides electric, steam and hot water, all from the same source.”
Although co-generators exist in other countries and throughout the United States, the Southwestern states, which are prime candidates for energy solutions considering recent power shortages, are lagging behind due to the economic implications associated with co-generation.
“ Hydroelectric power has previously provided all power [to the West],” Smith says. “While Langer’s co-generator is unique to this area [co-generators are] very common in Northern Europe because countries such as Denmark and Norway focus on energy efficiency.”
Recommended for bottling and pasteurization facilities due to the technology that combines heat and power, co-generation goes beyond energy efficiency.
“ The big benefit of combining power sources is that it saves money and reduces fuel usage, which in turn reduces pollution,” Smith says. “[The cost savings are] dependent on utility prices. In California, for example, a co-generator provides a 70 percent savings over traditional utility rates.”
Although Cogentech is currently working on several co-generator projects, the Langer Juice model is the most efficient energy system in the Southwestern United States, according to Smith.
“ The air pollution system is the cleanest ever built to meet South Coast air quality requirements,” he says.