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Wilcox celebrates 70 years, undertakes total equipment rebuild of potato facility

The Wilcox family has been packing and shipping Idaho potatoes since 1948 when Floyd Wilcox and his three sons, Keith, LeRoy and David, built their first 7,000-square-foot potato warehouse to pack potatoes grown on family farms. After 40 years and three additions to the warehouse, Floyd Wilcox & Sons built a new 88,000-square-foot facility in Rexburg, ID.

This year, the company celebrates its 70th year in business.

In what is probably its most extensive remodel project to date, Wilcox undertook this year a complete equipment build in its potato packing facility.

02-Wilcox-brothers---Ron-Terry-LynnRon, Terry and Lynn Wilcox in a potato field.“We replaced and upgraded our grading and sizing capabilities and installed a lot of equipment to help us automate and streamline our production,” said Derek Peterson, vice president of sales and marketing for Wilcox Fresh, the family-owned company’s marketing organization.

The current owners, Lynn, Terry and Ron, are Keith Wilcox’s sons. Several members of the fourth generation are also now involved in the company in various capacities, as are “a couple of sons-in-law, myself included,” Peterson said.

Lynn Wilcox, the company’s president and chief executive officer, served as 2017-18 chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission.

When the company began, most of the sorting, grading and packing was done by manual labor. “Seventy years later, we are staking pallets with robots and electronically grading” the potatoes, said Peterson. “The business has evolved,” he added, noting that technology has advanced significantly just in the past five to 10 years.

The two main objectives of the recent upgrades were to enhance quality and to improve efficiencies, streamline production and reduce labor costs.

“Not that we were having any problem before” with quality, Peterson said. “But it is important to put your best product forward.” He added that technology continues to advance, and today’s sophisticated grading equipment achieves that objective with greater accuracy and efficiency.

Labor has become “quite an issue” in recent years,” Peterson said. Reducing the need for manual labor with mechanization and automation helps address those concerns. The new remodel included the installation of robotic automatic palletizers. The finished product “really looks good,” he said. “The way it comes out stacked and organized is really nice.”

The company has also incorporated a new inventory management program in its facility that “has helped us organize our shipping floor and be more efficient in our shipping,” Peterson said. “A big focus this year’ has been to improve truck turnaround times because transportation has been a big issue, and we needed to address that.” The new innovations “make it easier for the trucks to come in and get loaded and get back on the road.”

Many of the improvements are mechanical, he explained. As an example, “we have incorporated a gravity flow pallet rack” facilitating efficient first-in-first-out product rotation, he said. “It is a different look and a different feel for our shipping department, but they took to it really well. It was a natural next step for them and made their job a little easier.”

Peterson said he is hopeful that the improved efficiencies will result in improved capacity of at least 10 percent for the facility.

The Wilcox family is celebrating the company’s 70th anniversary with a specially designed 70th anniversary logo that is being incorporated in the artwork for some of their cartons and also in some of their advertising this year.