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Modern solutions to blueberry pack house challenges

Pack houses are facing new challenges with constant changes in the blueberry business

With increase in production, new growing regions are gaining market strength, resulting in a rise in consumer quality expectations. “There are now pressures to improve both quantity and quality – and solutions that make this possible,” said Joshua MiersJones, global category director for Blueberries at TOMRA Food. “For blueberry businesses, this is a time of change. Global demand is climbing,” he added. 

The US still produces the greatest volume, followed by Canada. However, China is expected to soon overtake and become the number one domestic producer of blueberries. Today the world’s biggest blueberry exporter (and third-biggest grower) is Peru, followed by Chile and Mexico, with the US standing fourth in the exporter rankings. 

Demand for quantity and quality

With the increasing availability of blueberries, consumers are becoming more discerning about quality. TOMRA Food, the world-leading manufacturer of optical inspecting, sorting and grading machines for the food industry is also the only integrated line provider for blueberries, offering solutions for all varieties of blueberries, and handling everything from tipping the fruit onto the line, to sorting, grading, and packing. In addition to sorting, TOMRA also offers artificial intelligence for increased grading superiority across calyx, stem hole, and advanced defect detection

Innovation through R&D

One reason behind the effectiveness of TOMRA’s pack house solutions is the company’s long-standing culture of innovation, which includes an inhouse Fruit Science Program, run from the company’s Field Research Centre in Waikato, New Zealand. Another reason is TOMRA’s acquisition of BBC Technologies. This led to world-class expertise in precision sorting and grading systems, and punnet and clamshell filling solutions, for blueberries and other small fruits. Yet another reason is that TOMRA’s engineers have acquired a deep understanding of pack houses’ operational challenges by working closely with their customers for over two decades. 

The impossible becomes possible

The industry-leading precision sorting and grading system for blueberries is the KATO 260 which provides five or seven outlets for seamless sorting in any size packing facility at speeds of up to 286 or 572 berries per second. The process also ensures a consistent supply and even distribution of blueberries onto the sorter, hence optimising throughput. Moreover, it allows for a complete 360 degree surface inspection and can identify defects as small as 0.2mm.

A valuable, optional add-on for the KATO 260 is a software and hardware package called LUCAi, which employs artificial intelligence to classify and grade fruit with unprecedented accuracy. In 2022, another game-changing innovation known as KETE 16 was launched from TOMRA, which comprised of a robotic case packing technology that automated the process of placing punnets and clamshells into cases, trays, boxes, and crates. The CURO-8 packing system which can handle 110 packs per minute was also used by blueberry packers. These machines increased productivity by reducing human handling errors and fruit give-away, and were also capable of simultaneously packing for different markets.