Litehouse Foods Inc., the longtime Sandpoint salad dressing maker, recently launched a new line of varietal apple cider blends that it says marks an expansion by the company in a new direction.
Paul Kuschke, Litehouse's director of marketing and innovation, says the new ciders feature blends of three types of apples grown in the Northwest that ripen at different times during the apple season.
Litehouse rolled out its first varietal, a gala apple cider blend, in September at stores throughout the western U.S. Now, its blend of honeycrisp apple cider has become available, and soon its Fuji apple cider blend will make its way to refrigerated produce cases.
"It's called extending our influence into the produce category," Kuschke says. So far the new line has been successful, with nearly 200,000 gallons sold in its first month in stores, he says.
Litehouse has for more than 40 years been known for its refrigerated salad dressings, sold in the produce sections of grocery stores around the country, and also manufactures fruit and vegetable dips, marinades, sauces, freeze-dried herbs, and organic salad dressings. The company has sales of close to $3.5 million a week, and employs about 350 people at its facility in Sandpoint. It also operates a production facility in Lowell, Mich.
Kuschke says Litehouse has, for now, formed relationships with Northwest companies to produce and package the ciders as it gauges the viability of the new line.
Litehouse has teamed up with Johanna Beverage Co. LLC, of Spokane; FruitSmart Inc., an apple supplier in Prosser, Wash.; and Hood River Juice Co., of Hood River, Ore. , to produce the ciders.
The apples supplied by FruitSmart are crushed and juiced at Hood River Juice and shipped by tanker to Johanna Beverage, where the juice is bottled in gallon and half-gallon containers before being shipped to Litehouse's customers, Kuschke says.
The juice is fresh-squeezed and flash pasteurized, using only Northwest-grown apples, Kuschke says. In Spokane, it's available in the produce departments of most stores that carry Litehouse dressings, including at Albertsons, Super One, Yoke's, and Winco stores. The retail price of the cider blend is between $3.99 and $5.99.
Kuschke says the collaboration with other companies has worked well. Litehouse intends to continue the cider line next year, but hasn't determined yet if it will produce any of the products at its Sandpoint facility, he says.
Luke Miller, Litehouse's business development manager for cider and other food products, says the company projects selling about 600,000 gallons of the ciders this year, and he thinks sales could exceed those expectations.
Kuschke says sales of Litehouse products have grown this year, and the company now is seeking to emphasize health and value in its marketing, touting its use of canola oil in its dressings and introducing a family-sized squeeze bottle dressing size.
Litehouse is in the first phase of implementing an employee stock option plan, or ESOP, which Kuschke says the company's majority owners, brothers Edward and Doug Hawkins, intend to use ultimately as a way of passing on ownership of the company while keeping it a Sandpoint concern.
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