Quality and consistency of packed produce is number one for the packhouse

Posted by Andrew McQueen on Dec 6, 2016 5:15:08 PM

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In our recent customer survey on what packhouse managers care about, the most important factor was ‘quality and consistency of packed produce’.

Why is that? It’s because the top priority of fresh produce brands is guaranteeing a consistent eating experience for consumers. This also means that retailers demand quality fresh produce as it is the biggest lever they can pull to bring more people through their stores. As increasing amounts of fresh produce are purchased online, at sites like Amazon, the fresh brand promise becomes critical.

The days of handpicking your favorite produce from a bin at the supermarket is fast disappearing; the 21st century is about convenience, which has seen the rapid increase in pre-packed and branded produce. In a supermarket, convenience means grabbing a bag of Halo mandarins or a tube of Rockit apples and knowing that the quality is as reliable as a bag of chips or a can of drink. You can read the Rockit Apple story here.Rockit-BLOG.jpg

“People are not going to want to buy a tube if there is one single defect or problem.” – Phil Alison, Founder, Rockit Apple.

We’ve all heard the expression of ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch’ but in today’s consumer driven world of choice, it has become more like ‘one bad apple spoils the brand’.

To meet this consumer demand, packhouses must become more like manufacturing lines and be able to guarantee the quality of its product. One of the most interesting differences between packhouses and manufacturing production lines is that we are dealing with a delicate product from mother nature that is inherently inconsistent. We’re not putting predictable raw materials through an unchanging process to get the exact same output every time. Every bin from the orchard has different quality and each customer and market has different requirements but consumers still expect the same eating experience. This is why the accuracy of your inspection system is so important, because it gives packhouses the ability to pack to the exact tolerances and ensure customer expectations are met and your packhouse or produce brand is protected. 

People I talk to often say that technology ‘x’ is good enough to do the job for their packhouse. This isn’t because they don’t want better technology, it’s because our industry has previously lacked a good performance benchmark for quality and it’s been hard to quantify the additional benefit of better technology. Before Spectrim, analyzing whether a single piece of produce found its way into the best paying box was difficult due to the limitations with the current inspection systems on the market. Instead, packhouses often focused on other metrics: tonnes per hour, % of bad in good, cost per pack, etc. This meant that investment decision-making focused on easy-to-measure Software_spectrim.jpgoperational efficiencies instead of hard-to-measure factors like regulatory compliance, desirability to growers, and brand value to retailers where the real business value lies.

Spectrim matches the quality to the grade by using a combination of high performance hardware and new machine learning algorithms to accurately and consistently put the right fruit in the right box. This protects your packhouse and produce brand as your customers predictably get the exact specification they require. The result is increased profitability as you are not giving away quality to the market and your growers are rewarded for growing great produce.

“As the weeks continued, we saw vast improvements in not only the consistency of our class 1 fruit, but also the accuracy of grade splits in our downgrades. Compac did not simply take our downgrades and classify them as such, but they also allowed us to make different splits of downgrades that helped us increase the value of that fruit in the processing world.” Ross Williams, Operator, Titan Farms

When we started on the Spectrim journey, we recognized that packhouse technology is not just about achieving those efficiency metrics, it’s about adding value to the supply chain beyond the packing line. Recent press around Spectrim has been about how many people have been displaced in each packhouse, but that was never the end goal. Labor savings is just a step towards the lights-out packhouse because Spectrim is about exceeding expectations and allowing packhouses to grade above the line.

So, as we trend towards more and more consumer ready packaging, retailers and consumers no longer have the discretion to reject each individual piece of fruit and demand that all pieces meet the standard. Consistent high quality produce is a top priority - a bad apple doesn’t just spoil the product; it spoils the brand.

If you’ve got any comments on how you measure the accuracy of the inspection system in your packhouse, please drop me a line at andrew.mcqueen@compacsort.com.

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Topics: Spectrim, defect sorting

Andrew McQueen

Written by Andrew McQueen

Product Manager: Inspection Systems