Pieces of the Puzzle

This month’s issue of Pellet Mill Magazine highlights some upstream/downstream handling steps and processes, which vary depending on the intended use of the pellet.
By Anna Simet | October 02, 2018

By the time a wood pellet reaches the inside of a stove or boiler, it has taken quite a journey. That typical journey involves many steps, each of which has considerable influence on a pellet manufacturer’s bottom line. This month’s issue of Pellet Mill Magazine highlights some of these upstream/downstream handling steps and processes, which, of course, vary depending on the intended use of the pellet.

Last week, I ordered a headband that was delivered to my home in a box that could have fit more than a hundred of them. Not only that, but it had plastic bubble wrap inside (for a headband made of cloth). Sure, it properly protected the headband, but it was incredibly wasteful, and kind of offputting. This is something you won’t see in the wood pellet industry, which doesn’t have that wiggle room for wasteful packaging practices, and also has to be mindful of the impression the packaging makes on consumers. This is emphasized in Ron Kotrba’s page-12 feature, “More Than Just Price,” for which he had an interesting discussion with Appalachian Wood Pellets’ Don Wagner, who explains what’s important to his operation when it comes to protecting its product. Wagner says that lower prices aren’t necessarily what pellet manufacturers want. When presented with much better deals, he says, that is usually an indicator that corners have been cut, and that’s something producers serving the domestic market shouldn’t risk. Says Wagner, “The bags are the delivery vehicle of my products. It’s what the consumer sees, so it must look good, but the No. 1 thing is, it must perform well—it must deliver the product to the stove intact.” 

Moving the focus to the industrial pellet market, I had a conversation with the Port of Stockton’s Peter Grossgart, for “Operation Diversification,” on page 19.  After a stark realization that it must expand its cargo base, the port has had its eye on the industrial wood pellet market for years, and has been working to attract a manufacturer interested in shipping product to Asia. Grossgart told me all about the port and what it has to offer a potential producer. In an increasingly competitive port market—which is also true in Canadian vs. U.S. wood pellet exports—expanding to handle nonconventional cargo that is in high demand by overseas customers can give some ports a leg up over others, if all the pieces of the puzzle come together right. Whether a scenario such as this, or one involving getting product into a home or business, it’s important to get each of these puzzle pieces right, as one misstep could result in a setback or failure.

Finally, I would like to mention Tim Portz’s column on page 6, in which he discusses the Pellet Fuels Institute’s first-ever social media beta test. This is being done to better understand customers—what they want and need, how to reach them, and how to get them to choose wood pellet heating appliances. The consumer is the ultimate driver of all steps of the journey, and I have no doubt the test will yield some valuable and interesting results.

Author: Anna Simet