New England Apple Products donates cider to food banks

LEOMINSTER – Family owned and operated New England Apple Products Company donated over 250,000 gallons of apple cider last year to several charitable organizations, a true testament to the company’s commitment to community.

The company has donated cider nearly every fall and winter to Ginny’s Helping Hand in Leominster and Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Devens, providing enough to accompany hundreds of holiday meals given out. They upped the ante in 2020 amid the pandemic.

“Last spring, after hearing about the growing food insecurity problem across Massachusetts, we decided to donate truckloads of cider and lemonade to the Greater Boston Food Bank, which reaches scores of food pantries across the state,� said CEO Steve Rowse.

Gallons of apple cider fresh off the press.

All in all, they donated six tractor trailer truckloads of cider and lemonade to the Greater Boston Food Bank last year to support its efforts in reducing the increased food insecurity that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on.

“New England Apple’s packaging suppliers greatly assisted this initiative,� the company stated in a press release. “Rocheleau Plastics of Fitchburg donated all of the half gallon bottles, while Silgan Plastics, headquartered in Connecticut, donated colorful orange bottle caps, Creative Labels of Vermont provided free labels, and WestRock Company of Atlanta, via their corrugated box plant in Devens, provided cardboard shipping boxes.�

Rowse said they are “very grateful� to their packaging suppliers for helping with the effort.

“Their contributions allowed us to increase the volume that we’ve been able to donate to GBFB,� he said.

Rowse said New England Apple has been doing OK during the pandemic; as such they are in a position to be able to help those in need.

“We were able to take advantage of government small business assistance programs and figured that this was the best way to give back,� he said. “We donated another couple of truckloads of cider to Greater Boston Food Bank before Thanksgiving this fall, in addition to the dozens of cases that went to Ginny’s and Loaves.�

Apples waiting to be pressed for cider.

Rowse purchased the apple cider-making equipment and other assets from Carlson Orchards of Harvard in the summer of 2011 and moved New England Apple Products to its current location on Industrial Road in North Leominster.

“The folks at City Hall in Leominster were really helpful when I was searching for that new home, and I’m glad we landed here in Leominster,� he said.

His younger brother Dave Rowse joined him at the company in 2013 as COO.

“He’s an engineering and operations guy, and I really needed his help to ramp the cider business,� Steve Rowse said.

While the company itself celebrates 10 years in business this year, its roots go back to the end of the Civil War. The two brothers grew up in their family’s business, Veryfine Products, Inc. of Littleton, which traces its roots back to 1865.

Press Operator Peter Morton loads rice hulls into a hopper, which                        helps them get more of the juice out of the apples when the                               presses close at 1000+ PSI. Morton lives in Leominster and has                        been with the company since the day they moved the cider equipment from Carlson Orchards in Harvard to North Leominster in 2011.

“Our family owned Veryfine for over 100 years, but we sold that company in 2004 as competitive pressure from the big beverage companies had really intensified,� Steve Rowse said. “I think the biggest lesson that we’ve carried over from our family’s Veryfine business is how we think about and work with our employees. Our success completely depends on our team, and we like to think we treat them fairly and compensate them generously.�

The company instituted strict Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 protocols and guidelines right when the pandemic hit. To date they have not had any confirmed cases in the cider mill.

“We did have to quarantine a few folks in the office for a couple of weeks last fall but everyone on our team is fine and has been terrific with adhering to the protocols, keeping us all safe,� Steve Rowse said.

While some of their customers who focus on institutions such as restaurants, bars, schools, and cafeterias “have really struggled,� he said their grocery store customers’ purchases “were very strong� this past fall during cider season.

New England Apple presses and bottles fresh apple cider for Carlson Orchards and several other southern New England orchards, and also produces hard cider. Steve Rowse said the future of the company is bright, and they look forward to continuing their community outreach efforts.

“Fresh cider is a healthy and growing business, and we seem to be well positioned to continue to grow there,� he said. “Our Carlson Orchards hard cider, after some fits and starts to get it going, is now on a rapid growth track and has a ton of upside. So, in a nutshell, we’re not done growing.�

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