Del Rey Packing Co. is a family owned packing company that has been packing premium-quality California raisins for more than 80 years. Now run by its third generation of family owners, Del Rey Packing Co.is solely focused on raisins and maintaining its quality-first commitment to customers.
“We are a midsize company, but one of oldest raisin packing companies still in existence in California,” President Gerald Chooljian says. “Our biggest strength is the people who work here. We are very hands-on.”
Ties that Bind
One of Del Rey Packing Co.’s defining characteristics is its commitment to building relationships with growers, suppliers and customers. Chooljian says he maintains personal contact with all of the above.
“If a customer needs something urgent, we don’t need a production meeting,” Chooljian says. “I can walk out of my office, go to the plant and adjust our schedule to make sure everything is taken care of.”
Chooljian says Del Rey Packing Co. processes items based on customer needs. Instead of holding onto excessive inventory, the company packs products based on orders as they come in.
“The customer could be a bakery, trail mix company, grocery chain or any major user of raisins,” Chooljian says. “We get to know their operations so we can process raisins in way that makes it easier for their production people to handle. We still have many of the same customers that my grandfather had.”
Similarly, Del Rey Packing Co. has many long-term relationships with growers. Many of the relationships aren’t based on signed contracts. Instead, they are founded on gentlemen’s agreements that Del Rey Packing Co. will bring in the grower’s raisins and the two parties can work together when issues like weather or financing pop up.
“We understand that not every year is a good year for growing, and we know the many challenges the growers face,” Chooljian says. “Oversupply is sometimes an issue for them. Weather is a key factor in growing raisins. Grapes are harvested and exposed to Mother Nature for two months in the sun, and rain is a bad thing for them. We have equipment we can use to help growers clean and dry their products and get them prepared for market.”
In fact, investments in processing equipment have helped Del Rey Packing Co. to be as modern as possible. The company uses what is considered to be the best sorting system available, the Belgian Electronic Sorting Technology (BEST) LS9000. The company’s upgraded equipment helps with important steps such as stem removal, and it uses laser technology that inspects every raisin. An air blast from the equipment can reject bad raisins.
“In the old days, bakeries had to put raisins in water so the stems would float to the top,” Chooljian says. “Raisins have no additives and come from the growers with stems and sand. Our updated equipment makes the product clean.”
Power of the Product
Del Rey Packing Co.’s long-term success has always come down to the inherent strength of the California raisin itself. Chooljian believes that continuing to focus on the quality and value of the California raisin will help the company stay strong for many decades to come. Not only will this be important in the United States, it will also be important internationally. Approximately 35 percent of all California raisins end up in Europe and Asia. The product must compete with raisins grown in Turkey.
“We have to compete with that and maintain overseas marketshare,” Chooljian says. “Our own goal is to be much more than just a commodity. We want to make it easier for our customers to get a good, safe product. They can trust California raisins and raisins from our facility. They have been tested. We keep detailed grower records and have third-party audits for our facility. We constantly upgrade our plant with the newest technology to ensure we produce a good, quality product.”
One trend that benefits Del Rey Packing Co. is the tendency of consumers to be more concerned about what they put into their bodies. They want to know what preservatives, additives and nutrients are in their food. Chooljian says that is a huge advantage for raisins because there are no additives and preservatives. For thousands of years, grapes have been dried in fields.
“We will continue to focus on our market position as we look to increase sales and compete in the market with our competitors,” Chooljian says. “We think product quality looks good for this year, but as with any agriculture commodity we must always look for ways we can increase sales and still be profitable.”