Sanitation drives cutting-edge ice processing innovation for Seattle's North Star
Seattle, Washington U.S.A.-based company North Star Ice Equipment Corporation has been helping seafood processors stay calm, cool, and effective since the mid-1900s, when its cutting-edge flake ice making machines first arrived on the scene and forever transformed the industry’s concept of “on ice.”
With the dry, sub-cooled flake ice produced by North Star’s innovative machinery, which first hit the market in the early 1950s, seafood processors could keep their perishable proteins over, under, and completely encompassed in ice, without risk of bruising the meat. The benefits weren’t confined to just product health, either – flake ice also offered laborers a safer alternative to traditional methods of chipping block ice, North Star’s president Logan Shepardson explained.
“Technology at the time was mostly based around chipping ice blocks, and it was dangerous and dirty and machines always broke down,” Shepardson told SeafoodSource.
In 1951, North Star Ice Equipment Corporation sold its initial 13 flake ice machines among Seattle’s robust fishing industry. Within five years, sales had tripled. Flake ice, which is the only kind of ice that is harvested dry, conserves energy and can be stored long-term in a frozen room without hardening into a giant block. It has established a new standard following its introduction into the market, Shepardson said.
“Flake ice for the fishing industry is almost always superior,” he said.
While North Star’s business reach has grown to include 150 countries today, the U.S. Pacific Northwest remains an important, flagship market for the processing solutions developer, Shepardson added.
“The heart and soul of our business is the Northwest fisheries, from Oregon to Alaska. That is our bread and butter, and our market share up there is huge,” he said.
North Star’s product portfolio has expanded to include several flake ice makers, liquid ice makers, ice storage systems, ice delivery systems, and more. The company recently launched a new product line for the first time in years at the 2018 Seafood Processing North America event, held in Boston, Massachusetts last month. This latest range, the Cascade Series by North Star, possesses production capacities ranging from 1,100 lbs. to 11 U.S. tons of flake ice per day, and focuses on a new customer demographic for the company – small processors.
“We’re really targeting those smaller customers, fish markets, places like that that don’t need five, ten, or twenty tons in a day,” Shepardson said of the new range.
Shepardson, whose family has owned and operated the North Star for 40 years, notes that all of the company’s products, including the new Cascade Series by North Star, have been inspired and optimized with two key driving factors at the forefront.
“For us, what really drives us always, is reliability of the product – making sure we’re giving the customer something that they can always depend on," he said. "The next thing, which has really driven us for the last five years heavily, is meeting everybody’s sanitation requirements. We have an ever-changing environment around food regulation, and it’s going to get tighter and tighter, especially considering the Food Safety Modernization Act.”
The traits built into North Star’s processing equipment solutions, in many ways, reflect the values of the company’s client base, who tend to keep their machines for close to 50 to 60 years, according to Shepardson.
“The fishermen are really passionate about taking care of their equipment, making things last – they’re maintenance-heavy people. And they are really connected to these machines,” he said.
Consequently, offering timely machine maintenance has become an additional, imperative business component for North Star.
“We know that if their machine’s down, there’s product going bad, there’s people not fishing," Shepardson said. "And if you’re a fishing company that requires ice, there’s not really an alternative. We’ve got to keep [these machines] going.”