This Labor-Saving Fruit Item Also Delivers Social Impact

    For versatile, cost-effective fruit filling and apple sauce, restaurants can turn to this grower-owned cooperative.
    Sponsored Content | March 20, 2023
    Fruit growers with box of apples
    Knouse Foods

    Clean labels, long-term sustainability efforts, and stretching the hard-won dollar by saving on food and labor costs—these are all key efforts when it comes to the critical need to reduce waste. Knouse Foods, a grower-owned fruit-processing cooperative comprising more than 100 fourth- and fifth-generation U.S. farming families, helps quick-service restaurants cut down waste in all these ways. 

    “We try to embody our brand awareness around the premise of the grower-owned cooperative. That farm-to-table approach, the idea of American-made with the sustainability aspect. It’s very important that we drive with what we’re trying to locally put out to operators,” says Todd Michael, senior director of foodservice at Knouse Foods. 

    Sourcing from over 15,000 acres of fruit orchards spread across the central Pennsylvania Appalachian growing region, the Peach Glen–headquartered company offers ready-to-serve products for quick-service restaurants under two brands: Musselman’s for all things apple and Lucky Leaf for all things pie filling and topping. 

    With only a handful of cooperatives left in the United States that have processors, or food manufacturers, Knouse Foods’ impressive sustainability program—94 percent recycled solid waste, a 17-acre solar panel field, an on-site wastewater treatment facility, and soil initiatives, to name a few—has had a positive environmental impact. Hand-picked and hand-delivered from their very own orchards, the growers have a true stake in the company and community. They create the product, which also puts food on their own tables. Given this business structure, there’s zero incentive for growers to cut corners or compromise integrity. 

    “We are stewards of the land. The farmers and growers want this land for their future generations, and they’ve been sustainable for over a century,” says Kevin Blacker, director of marketing at Knouse Foods. “The Musselman and Lucky Leaf brands resonate with quick-service restaurant customers for their high quality. That’s what we’re known for: Musselman’s Apple Sauce, apple butter, and apple juices, and Lucky Leaf fruit fillings that can be used in pastries and baked goods and also as toppings. Customers appreciate our brands and our history, and above all, quality stands out. That is our differentiator.” 

    The versatility and variety of the products—for example, today’s apple pie is tomorrow’s apple-cherry strudel—allow restaurants to create cost-effective menu items for all dayparts, age groups, and taste preferences. Musselman’s and Lucky Leaf offerings range in size from ready-to-eat squeezable pouches and 4-ounce cups featured in countless kids’ meals to larger containers for larger commercial usages. Case in point: Apple sauce can be used as a substitute for oil and eggs in baked goods.

    Given the long shelf life of Musselman’s and Lucky Leaf products, restaurant operators can plan their menus far in advance. 

    “We recognize that labor is still a challenge, followed now by the inflationary impacts affecting operators,” Michael says. “Having high-quality ready-to-serve products with a long, extended shelf life gives them that fortitude of not tying up inventory and labor associated with adding extra steps of prepping. They can get a quality product out of the package and ready to sell to their consumers.” 

    In the end, this is the growers’ story, a reflection of their integrity passed on to operators and consumers. 

    “We are 100 percent American-grown apples, the quality coming from local growers and local farms. We are not a corporate conglomerate. Our stamp says ‘hand-picked from our family farms.’ They actually are hand-picking every apple; these aren’t shaking trees,” says Blacker. 

    To learn more, visit the Knouse Foods website.

    By Jocelyn Winn