In the past 18 months, editors of The National Provisioner visited more than a dozen companies and processing facilities, giving our readers an unprecedented look at the operations of some of the most innovative and progressive companies — telling their success stories and digging into the details of their efforts to further their business and the industry in general.

This year, we’ve created a new annual award — our Plant of the Year — and asked our readers, Web site visitors and industry contacts to vote, choosing from the list of processing facilities visited by NP from January 2011 through June 2012. Our readers responded with a significant turnout online, and when voting concluded, Universal Pasteurization Co. (UPC), a cold-storage, value-added and high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) company featured in our April 2012 issue, tallied 29% of the vote to earn the inaugural Plant of the Year award.

Andy Hanacek, editor-in-chief of The National Provisioner, spoke with John Jacobson, owner and manager of Universal Cold Storage and UPC, in August to congratulate his company on the honor and find out what the company has been doing since his visit to the facility in Lincoln, Neb., in early 2012.

Hanacek: When I visited your facility in spring 2012, we discussed some of the expansion plans for the future at UPC. What additions/expansions/capital improvements has UPC made since the spring?

Jacobson: The biggest news is that we’ve purchased a 280,000-square-foot facility just south of us from Sysco. When we’re done with renovating that facility, all of it will be refrigerated. Our facility has been under pressure lately in terms of footprint, and we had to limit some of our customers on the cold storage side because we were full. The new facility will add 16,000 pallet positions, and it is expected to take us three months to renovate. We need to put in a new refrigeration system, and once the work is finished, it will take some pressure off this facility. While HPP doesn’t take a lot of room, staging, tempering and the like does eat up a lot of floorspace.

Hanacek: How has business changed since my visit? Has business been built more with legacy customers, or is UPC finding more new customers picking up the phone and beginning a relationship with the facility?

Jacobson: It has probably been an even mix between the two. We have some very large customers who have scheduled test runs, and one plans on testing at least 25 different items. We’ve learned from experience that’s the first big step, and then they’ll take it back to their labs, do their tests. That said, established customers are constantly looking for new, innovative products to catch the consumers’ eye. So it’s probably a balance between the two in terms of new business. It’s worth mentioning, we noticed your Top 100 Processors list (in our May issue), and we can report that we’re doing business on cold storage or HPP with five of the top six. And the one we had no business with to this point has scheduled product to be tested on HPP in September.

Hanacek: Is the future at UPC still focused tightly on adding high-pressure pasteurization machines or adding another facility (or both)? Have the timetables for either changed at all?

Jacobson: We’ve held several meetings about how to handle the addition, and our plan is to take our rework section from our main facility to the recently purchased property. That will free up about 60,000 square feet of USDA rework area, and the move will open the floodgates for the HPP side to grow. There are weeks in which we have to temper so much product that takes up a lot of floorspace, and we have to be careful about distances and sectioning off product. But a lot of those problems will go away with this move. The square footage we have for HPP and rework now will be solely committed to HPP. It will also help our management in that the two areas will be in separate buildings in the future.

In closing, Universal would like to thank the folks that expressed their support. We pledge to continue our levels of service and interest in the customers’ needs. We set no limitations on providing whatever service the customer needs: HPP, repack, inkjet, or whatever they need; we will buy any equipment a customer needs. Finally, we are so honored to have this award, and again thanks to all those who took the time to vote for us.

To read the original cover feature on Universal Pasteurization Co. from our April 2012 issue, click here.