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United Supermarkets has made its first venture into the manufacturing world with a new state-of-the-art ice-making facility -- capable of producing 80 to 100 pallets of ice per day by producing ice using 100 percent reverse-osmosis water derived through a five-step purification process.
The 9,000-square-foot plant is located at the company’s distribution center at Llano Logistics, and is the only facility of its kind in the region, according to Lubbock, Texas-based United.
Company officials check the water quality daily, and weekly independent lab visits do the same. “The water quality is a real differentiator for us,” said Edward Kitten, director of manufacturing for United. “There are very few operators in the country -- and none in this area – who are producing ice at the high quality level we are here.”
The $4 million facility, made possible in part by a grant from LEDA, employs a total of seven people. However, the plant’s other major differentiator is that it is a totally automated system – human hands never touch the bags of ice until they’re ready to be placed in freezers at United stores.
“We sourced equipment from all over the world, including the U.S., Canada and Japan,” noted Kitten. “The palletizing robot is common to a variety of industries, and is incredibly efficient and virtually maintenance-free. It can completely stop and restart itself automatically. The team members employed at the plant love this operation because their jobs are consequential – they’re operating high-tech equipment and producing an important product.”
The plant operates three days per week at a capacity of about 140 tons of ice per day -- or about one pallet of ice every three-and-a-half minutes. Distributed by Llano Distributing, the ice is packaged in seven- and 20-pound bags under United’s private-label Kristal brand. It will arrive in stores about 24 hours after production.
“Although all the ice we currently produce is sold in United stores, we’ve built this facility for future growth with the intention of developing new markets,” said Kitten. “And, we hope this becomes only the first manufacturing venture for the company.”
The first bags rolled off the conveyor belt in early March. “We produced 10 truckloads of ice simply for testing purposes before we opened the facility,” observed Kitten. “Today we can safely say we are producing a far superior product under the highest quality standards using state-of-the-art technology.”