- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

A Frederick, Md., cider mill is adding products once deemed outside its capability as it grows from an 80-year-old retiree’s side job to a major wholesaler. McCutcheon’s Apple Products Inc., 45 minutes northwest of Washington, is one of the few op-

erating apple-pressing mills left in the state.

The company, which makes mainly apple and fruit products, is adding a marinara sauce to its 250-product line. Frederick Italian restaurant Nido’s features the sauce on its menu.

It also is adding cherry-raspberry-strawberry preserves, tomato salad dressing and a grilling sauce.

The marinara is one more extension to what company President Robert McCutcheon III hopes to build into “a one-stop shop for farmers’ markets.”

“We want it to be easy for a distributor to get all their items here,” which is why McCutcheon’s offers salad dressings, hot sauces, barbecue marinades, salsa, pickled foods and its apple products, he said.

Linda Lewis, a Dickerson, Md., retailer, said the approach is working. Lewis Orchards, a 25-year customer of McCutcheon’s, buys about 90 percent of its inventory from the company.

“They just keep coming up with new things that are interesting to our younger generation while satisfying the older crowd with the staples,” Mrs. Lewis said.

For example, younger customers are buying a case and half a week of a blackberry and blueberry preserve mix, she said.

William O. McCutcheon, Mr. McCutcheon’s great-grandfather, started the company in 1938 with a used apple press, then worth $25, to make apple cider and juice for farmers. He charged 2 cents a gallon.

While the company is known for its apple products, McCutcheon’s has scaled back pressing operations as apple juice has become more of a commodity.

Apple juice and cider make up 15 percent of the company’s total production.

Now the big sellers are apple butters, fruit preserves, jellies and a product line using onions from Vidalia County, Ga.

The limited supply of onions from Vidalia County and high demand from farmers’ markets have boosted profits the last few years, Mr. McCutcheon said. He would not disclose financial statistics.

“Historically, we sold to a lot of small, roadside markets, but urban sprawl wiped out that market and forced us to look at farmers’ markets,” Mr. McCutcheon said.

The company ships 80 percent of its goods to markets along the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, bringing in a “steady and controlled profit growth.”

McCutcheon’s plans to stick with farmers markets, whose numbers have grown 79 percent from 1994 to 2002 to some 3,100 nationwide, the U.S. Agriculture Department says.

“We prefer dealing with other family businesses like us, which is what most farmers’ markets are. It makes for a nice business environment,” he added.

Nine other McCutcheons work at the 25-employee company, which has been a family affair since William O. McCutcheon chose pressing apples as an alternative to retirement.

In the 1940s, he sold the company to his son, Robert Sr., whose sudden death in 1947 transferred the long, grueling workload to Robert Jr. and his brother.

“Because you could only operate the presses three months out of the year back then, we’d go to college classes in the morning and work a 10-hour day,” Robert Jr. recalled

They moved the production facility to a larger warehouse nearby.

“We added on a few new items like preserves and jellies, but we had no idea it would grow this much,” he said.

Product growth became easier after the flood of 1976, which left 4 feet of the building under water.

The city of Frederick bought the facility as part of a plan to put in a flood dam, and McCutcheon’s moved back to its first headquarters, adding a 48,000-square-foot warehouse to the 12,000-square-foot building.

“Suddenly, it didn’t take an act of God to get trucks unloaded and the consolidation has made us a lot more efficient,” said Robert McCutcheon III.

The company now puts apples in two industrial-size presses from September to March, making about 5 million gallons of apple cider and juice each year.

McCutcheon’s kettle room, which has six vats that hold 400 gallons each, produces 400 to 1,000 cases of preserves and jellies daily.

Even though the company is small enough to be exempted from Food and Drug Administration labeling requirements, Mr. McCutcheon proudly holds up an apple butter jar with the nutrition fact label on the back.

“We don’t use artificial sweetener and the jellies have very little fat,” he said, adding the FDA’s recent change to disclose trans fat information would not change the company’s label.

Mr. McCutcheon said he expects the company to remain in the family.

“Every McCutcheon here has grown into his or her own niche that works very nicely and is vital to the company succeeding,” he said.

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