Big batch: Raining Rose scales up CR plant

Raining Rose Automation Engineer Steve Giese cuts the ribbon at a ceremony marking the completion of the company’s new blending facility, which has more than six times the company’s previous batch capacity. PHOTO DAVE DEWITTE


By Dave DeWitte

CEDAR RAPIDS—Raining Rose will soon be cranking out natural bug repellent and shaving lotion, along with its stable of mainstay products like lip balm and deodorant, following the completion of a new high-capacity blending facility.

The Cedar Rapids-based company is a leading contract manufacturer of personal care products, including some 3,000 different promotional products given away to customers and big consumer brands sold in natural grocery and drugstore chains. It’s best known for producing natural and organic products, such as lip balms in over 100 flavors, but has more recently added products such as beard conditioner.

As Raining Rose built a large base of satisfied customers, some wanted suppliers for different products that weren’t economical to make with its former production system’s 300-gallon blending tank.

With commitments from a few major customers, the company launched a $2.5 million blending capacity expansion project last year that includes a 2,000-gallon blending tank, a 600-gallon side-phase process tank and a 2,500-gallon storage tank.

The new facility was opened July 30 for a private tour by city officials, business partners and the news media ahead of its official opening.

The message from the event was that Raining Rose is upscaling, and now able to produce bigger orders and more water-based products. The company now has the capacity to produce 500,000 lip balms daily, for instance.

“We’ve moved from the $5 blackjack table to the $100 blackjack table,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Wehr said, standing in front of the new massive vats. “The bets are a little bit bigger, but we continue to win.”

Mr. Wehr said the side-phase blending tank allows Raining Rose to produce more complex products. An oil-based formulation can be blended in the side-phase tank, for instance, and added to a water-based formulation in the main tank.

“We’ll probably never make lip balm in there,” CEO Chuck Hammond said, explaining that the capacity is larger than typically needed for a product sold in two-ounce containers.

Most of the products made in the facility are more likely to be four-, six- or eight-ounce products like lotions.

The system was assembled by walling off an 8,000-square-foot area of former warehouse space, which had to be retrofitted to add additional floor drain capacity. The facility was built with capacity for expansion, Mr. Wehr said, and after a “world tour” of customers to promote the company’s new potential, he said it’s possible the company could add a second 2,000-gallon blending tank in less than a year.

Before building the new facility, Raining Rose had already made a series of investments to increase production capacity and flexibility. Those included a new $1.4 million, German-made system for filling lip balm containers – what Mr. Wehr called the “Rolls-Royce” of flex-filling systems – and a highly flexible printing system.

The July 30 event brought a show of support from city officials, including Mayor Brad Hart, a business attorney who’s worked with the company since its earliest days, and City Manager Jeff Pomeranz.

Mr. Hammond credited Raining Rose’s rapid growth to its 300-plus employees — people like Steve Giese, the automation engineer who oversaw the blending room project.

“In a big project like this, the devil is in the details,” Mr. Giese said.

He pointed to technologies like an RFID system that prevents the blending system’s operators from connecting the wrong ingredient hose to an intake port and a network of sensors that track of everything from flow rates to temperatures.

Although Raining Rose has diversified from its roots in beeswax-based lip balms, Mr. Hammond said the company’s long experience in working with natural products is still important in certain product categories. He said the company continues to work with customers and in-house on ways to become more sustainable and reduce waste.

Weitz Industrial, Hawkeye Electric and Modern Piping were major contractors on the project.