For some it's an excuse to keep partying like it's 1999. For others the fast-approaching turn of the century requires securing large amounts of storable food a search that leads tens of thousands of caution-minded consumers straight to the doorstep of Montpelier ID-based Walton Feed.
While Y2K has sent Walton Feed's sales soaring fulfilling orders has presented an almost overwhelming challenge for the company. "It's a nightmare" says director of sales Steve Portela. "I can't keep up."
For 10 years Walton Feed has been packaging and selling bulk quantities of dehydrated food packaged with FreshPax(TM) oxygen absorbers from Multisorb (Buffalo NY). Stored properly the products inside the cans and buckets maintain a 20- to 40-year shelf life.
Removing as much oxygen from Walton Feed's airtight containers is one key to maintaining food freshness. When a bulk container is sealed with an oxygen absorber inside the packet "binds" the oxygen preventing organisms from growing inside the container and slowing the spoilage process considerably. In fact FreshPax absorbers reduce and maintain oxygen content in packaging to 0.01% according to Multisorb.
Walton Feed which packages 100% of its own products uses FreshPax for three of its applications. At the company's packing plant in Montpelier cans and buckets are filled with product on several automatic lines and one hand-pack line. After containers are filled and weighed they travel down a conveyor to an operator who adds the absorbers. Each #401 can (21/2 gal) takes one 300-cc absorber while #603 cans (1 gal) and 6-gal buckets are packaged with one and two 750-cc absorbers respectively. Once the absorbers are in place the filled buckets and cans continue down the packaging line for lid sealing.
The buckets which are believed to be high-density polyethylene come mainly from Ropak West (La Mirada CA). The tin cans are enameled inside and out to prohibit rusting and are supplied by Crown Cork & Seal (Philadelphia PA) and Container Supplies (Garden Grove CA).
Although Portela says 58°F is the ideal temperature for storage of Walton's products he claims that most products will last more than 30 years if customers just "find the coolest place they have."
Packaging World sources indicate that using an oxygen absorber such as FreshPax will give food a shelf life of about two years compared to three to six months without absorbers.
Both oxygen absorbers and proper storage of the packaged products contribute to the long shelf life of Walton Feed's products which include fruits vegetables grains powdered milk and dairy products.
Taking care of business
Portela can hardly believe the impact Y2K has had on his company's sales which hit record highs in '97 then doubled in '98 and are now on track to go even higher in '99. "The impact has been astronomical" he says.
In addition to Walton Feed's longstanding customers (mainly church groups) the company is now trying to service the expanding number of what Portela calls "Y2K alarmists." "We're trying to deal with that audience in addition to everything else we've always supplied. Plus we wholesale to dozens of businesses" many of which he says have significantly increased their orders in advance of Y2K.
In fact a visit to Walton Feed's Web site at www.waltonfeed. com reveals just how extraordinary the clamor for bulk food has become. The site posts an update warning customers that bucket/bag orders are backed up to the point where the company is currently filling orders taken in mid-September '98. Also one-year food supplies ordered in March '99 are now being filled with a 30-day turnaround on can-only orders. A full page of disclaimers instructs customers to be patient when trying to get through on the phones and to order through the Internet for maximum expediency.
Despite the shipping logjams feedback from Walton Feed's customers continues to be positive which Portela attributes to the company's longstanding reputation. "We're working from experience here" he says. "We know how long this food will keep because we've been at this for so long."
Portela also points out that the company has not faced any additional costs in the wake of the sales surge therefore prices have remained stable.
As for what's to become of the dehydrated bulk foods business after Y2K comes and goes Portela anticipates: "My business is going to nosedive big time." In the meantime Walton Feed might as well cash in on the current demand for storable food something the firm is better able to do thanks to its ongoing use of oxygen absorbers.