The expansion is planned for the third quarter of this year in response to high demand for flexible resealable-pouch products produced at the plant at 7108 Daniels Drive, according to a company news release. It will enable SunOpta to increase its filling capacity to about 150 million pouches.
A SunOpta spokeswoman declined to comment and did not answer questions sent to her by email for this story.
A global company with $841 million in revenue in the first three quarters of 2012, SunOpta makes natural and organic baby food, sports drinks, fruit purees and other products at the 100,000-square-foot plant, the company's first on the East Coast.
"The variety of products offered in pouches continues to grow, driven in part by the consumer's desire for convenient, portable, healthy and nutritious foods in sustainable-packaging formats," Steve Bromley, SunOpta's chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.
When SunOpta announced in December 2011 it was opening a plant in Upper Macungie Township, the company said the flexible resealable-pouch market was well established in Europe and Asia and catching on rapidly in North America. The resealable pouch adapts to lots of products, such as applesauce, baby food, yogurt and fruit and vegetable snacks. SunOpta planned to open with 50 workers but said those numbers could increase.
Today the future looks bright for growth in the organic-foods market and for SunOpta specifically, said Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association.
"Through the recession when most of the food sector was seeing negative growth, the organic sector showed 6 percent growth year over year," he said. "Since the recession ended, it's been going gangbusters."
Globally, organic food sales hit $62.9 billion last year and about half of that was in North America, Holmes said.
As for the increased demand for flexible, resealable packaging, Holmes said the typical consumer of organic foods is very environmentally conscious.
"What you see is a lot of innovation in packaging," Holmes said.
SunOpta products are for sale under such brand names as SoL Sunflower Beverage, Sunflower Soy & Corn Snacks and other items from Sunrich Naturals but it is also a leading supplier of organic ingredients to other brands.
When the move to Upper Macungie was announced, John Dietrich, SunOpta's vice president of corporate development, said the Lehigh Valley was a prime location because other food production companies would make it easier to get the equipment and services the plant needs to function. Candy and nut company A.L. Bazzini moved its production to the township from the Bronx in 2011. Ocean Spray is building a 315,000-square-foot juice-bottling plant on 44 acres off Schantz Road near Route 100.
Margie Peterson is a freelance writer.