Designing an international processing facility

Sunsweet expanded their prune processing facility in Chile, which presented a few unique challenges for the company.

By Stellar March 11, 2021

Sunsweet, a grower-owned cooperative based in California, is the world’s largest and most famous brand of dried tree fruits. When the company decided to expand their prune processing facility in Chile, they partnered with architecture, engineering and construction firm Stellar to plan, design and navigate the international construction process.

Sunsweet already had a small operation for growing and drying prunes in the South American country, but it wanted to expand that presence to include a larger processing plant. But designing and building an international facility comes with its share of unique challenges and considerations — starting with site selection.

Stellar began by analyzing possible locations for the new facility and advising on the preferred location from a transportation and logistics standpoint. The team considered three other sites in Chile before determining Sunsweet’s existing property there would make the most strategic sense for multiple reasons.

The Chilean government requires builders to secure a significant number of environmental permits before starting a new project — a process that can take years. However, the team determined by building on Sunsweet’s existing property, which already had the necessary permits established, the project would be classified as “remodeling and expanding,” thus saving the company time and money.

While Sunsweet initially decided to work with Stellar because of its food industry expertise and international experience, the connection the firm created quickly confirmed it was a perfect fit. The Stellar team flew out for in-person meetings with company leadership, and Spanish-speaking architects and engineers from Stellar were able to easily relate to and communicate with the teams on the ground in Chile.

“The Stellar team was very engaging and so well-spoken when meeting with company leadership,” said Matt Kelly, vice president of manufacturing operations at Sunsweet. “Engineers who can translate technical complexity and be comfortable in a boardroom is unique and impressive — that was huge for us.”

Selecting a site was just the beginning. From navigating cultural differences and foreign building standards to advising on process engineering and food safety priorities, Stellar helped the American prune processor realize its vision for a new state-of-the-art facility in another country. Today, the plant is a successful, full-fledged operation supporting Sunsweet’s ongoing growth.

Learn more about the project here and see how they were able to make the project work.

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