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An artists rendering of the planned new robotic warehouse addition to California Natural Products in Lathrop is seen at left. McKinley Avenue runs between the new and the existing buildings with an elevated walk bridge connecting the two structures. - photo by Rendering contributed

LATHROP - Robotics technology is the foundation of a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art, 12-story warehouse on the horizon for Lathrop’s California Natural Products (CNP) firm located on McKinley Avenue just south of Lathrop Road.

Gold shovels were the order of the day Monday morning at 9 for the groundbreaking of the first phase of the storage facility being built by Power Automation Systems (PAS) directly across the street from the 300 employee strong CNP operation.  The building will hold some 9,000 pallets of food products ranging from teas, soups, broths and nutritional drinks to meal replacement products.

Chief Operating Officer Marc Weinstein added that CNP produces a broad range of aseptic beverages and food ingredients from both conventional and organic rice, soy and fresh vegetables.  An aseptic product is defined as commercially sterile – combined with sterilized packaging under sterile conditions. 

The in-house artist’s renderings show a covered walk bridge that has been designed to connect the new building with the current campus of the parent operation to the west by crossing over McKinley Avenue.

A planned second phase will add another 5,000 pallet capacity.  Phase three is expected to provide for an additional 9,000 pallet loads and phase four an additional 5,000 pallets.

Lathrop city officials and company representatives from both CNP and PAS were on hand for the ground breaking ceremony led by California Natural Products founder and President Pat Mitchell.  Mitchell. He founded both companies, starting years ago in two World War II Quonset hut structures that sold watermelons on the corner of Lathrop Road and McKinley Avenue. 

Several speakers addressed the crowd including Steve Salvatore, interim Lathrop city manager, Chaka Santos, mayor of Lathrop, and Rodney Tipton, president of the specialized warehouse construction firm PAS and Pat Mitchell.

Vice President of Marketing and Sales of Brand Products for California Natural Products Clark Driftmier said Monday that the building is the “most advanced (and largest) automated warehouse in the world using robotics technology.”

He explained that “empty space” in the new warehouse concept is completely eliminated as the pallets loaded with foodstuffs are stored into the building by elevators taking them to the various floors of the storage facility.  Driftmier said it would normally cost more than 25 cents in man hours to move a single pallet, adding that the new system reduces that overhead to about three cents – 1/8 of the conventional energy that had been required in the past.  The company has added more than 25 new employees in the last six months, according to Bob Bachahn, marketing and sales manager in the Branded Products.

Company officials said there is no plan to cut employees who serve the firm’s world-wide market, explaining that some of their 300 workers may be relocated, however,  within the  seven-day-a-week operation.

Driftmier said that conventional forklifts can sometimes store inventory in the wrong locations which does not happen with the automated system.  He further explained that when older product is stored in back of newer pallet stacks, the age placement is remedied during the night with computer programming.  The most recent products are exchanged with the newer pallets being put in their proper locations.

Weinstein was further quoted as saying their products “taste great and require no refrigeration, lasting a very long time” until the packages are opened. The aseptic packaging provides ease of opening and reclosing in addition to an ease of storage.

California Natural Products also offers their own electrical, mechanical, drafting and process engineering services which allows for rapid production scale-up benefits for their customer accounts.

Weinstein added that CNP has attracted Fortune 500 company workers to the Lathrop operation bringing with them their experience that their competitors in the industry often do not enjoy.

“We want our potential customers to know that we have a passion to achieve benchmark performance.  We are committed to being the best in the industry and we will achieve our customers’ desired results,” Weinstein stated on the firm’s website.

California Natural Products was founded in 1980 by Mitchell who has been long known as an innovator at the leading edge of the developmental trends in foods and food ingredients.  The patented natural processes for Rice Syrup, Rice Syrup Solids and Rice Milk in the ’80 were all credited to Pat Mitchell.  CNP also pioneered the packaging of natural and organic Aseptic beverages in the mid ‘90s.  The McKinley Avenue facility was built from the ground up through Mitchell’s vision.

The company’s values are obvious in its employees throughout the many departments who emulate respect, honesty, integrity and commitment in the daily operations – a requirement in their employment. 

Builders of the warehouse – Power Automation Systems of Lathrop – is said to be a leader in the manufacture and integration of cart-based, deep lane automated warehouse systems.  It is a global company with the world’s most innovative automated warehouse storage solution billed as optimizing the highest density of storage with the greatest flexibility.