Embracing new technologies with Baker & Murakami
Baker & Murakami Produce Company grows, packages and ships freshly packed onions to destinations throughout the United States. With the help of Modesta and other OTA members, Baker & Murakami now has a brand-new factory that’s future-proof.
Baker & Murakami Produce Company is the result of a merger between two of the biggest and most respected names in the American onion industry, with a history dating back more than 45 years. “The reason both companies came together was the need for modernization. Looking at labour costs and the huge investment needed to automate, it just made sense. Together, we are the largest shipper in Idaho and Eastern Oregon, and we are one of the largest shippers in the U.S.,” Chief Operating Officer Cameron Skeen explains. Both companies were primarily working mechanically before the new factory was built, so switching to Modesta's fully automated system was a big step – but a necessary one, says Cameron. “The industry is at a turning point where everyone has to decide whether or not to integrate new technologies. We decided to take action.”
Baker & Murakami was already familiar with Eqraft’s onion toppers, which were regularly sold in the region. However, the collaboration actually started in 2015, when Cameron was invited to the Fruit Logistica trade show in Berlin by Norman “Snap” Keene, Eqraft’s local support and sales representative in the U.S. “What stood out to me most during my visit was the concept of the Onion Tech Alliance (OTA) – working together with a group of companies, each with their own expertise, really made sense to me,” says Cameron. Eqraft also invited him to the Netherlands, where he saw several reference projects first-hand. “That was a very good experience. I noticed that companies in the Netherlands were ahead of the curve in terms of automation. It was an eye-opener for me.”
What convinced Cameron to work with OTA was its way of working together with the client to achieve the best end results. From the moment they started collaborating, he had the feeling that they understood each other’s vision. “I never got the feeling that they just wanted to sell their products to us; it was bigger than that. Representatives from Eqraft, Deprez, Modesta and Symach have all been on-site and were 100% involved in the project. I enjoyed working with Gerard, Rutger, Diederick, Johnny, and Sacha.”
A month later, Modesta and the other OTA partners arrived in Ontario and the process development started. There were a few tricky challenges to overcome: first of all, the existing building presented challenges due to length, width and ceiling height, and the project had to be completed within a three-month timeframe. “We had to go back to the drawing board many times. It was a real puzzle, but in the end we solved it together – the end result is a beautiful piece of engineering,” says Cameron contently. He adds, “Thomas Bimbi, our local support and sales representative, was integral to our success during the installation phase.”
And the end result? At the time we spoke to Cameron, the new factory had been operational for three months and the employees were still becoming familiar with the equipment. “That takes some adjusting, but we’re already saving a lot of labour costs. Before, where two companies used to put in long working days, we are now achieving the same results with just one company and fewer people. And we’re still improving.”