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Bélgica 30/08/2022

Solutions for blueberry processing plants in a competitive market

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Global demand and production of blueberries is growing fast, while new growing regions are gaining market strength. Consequently, consumers’ quality expectations are increasing. This means producers and packhouses must be more efficient than ever before.

In the last decade, demand for fresh blueberries increased more than 50% and is expected to keep on rising in the future at a compound annual growth rate of around 7%. First reason for this growth is the rising popularity of healthy products worldwide. Second reason is that blueberries are now sold not only seasonally but all year round.

Nobody could have imagined this when in 1908, a cranberry farmer in the United States first began producing wild highbush blueberries in New Jersey, before selling the first commercial berry 8 years later. With time North America became the fruit’s biggest grower, however now other classes of this berry are being cultivated commercially, and other countries are growing blueberries in great quantities. Since 2010, the number of countries producing over 10.000 tons of blueberries annually have increased from 4 to 11. The United States remains the largest producer, followed by Canada; however, China will soon leave behind both.

Domestic sales is only part of the story. What’s really boosting sales is exports, and that’s mainly due to expanding production in the Southern Hemisphere. Today the world’s largest blueberry supplier (and third-biggest producer) is Peru, followed by Chile and Mexico, being the U.S. fourth in the exporter rankings. This counter-seasonal growth in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres enables a year-round availability of blueberries.


Quality and quantity required

Today the availability of blueberries is expected, and purchasers are becoming more capricious about quality. They look for preferred blueberry brand names and countries of origin, and they don’t return to labels that have disappointed them. This is not just a good: retailers are selling an eating experience, and growers and packhouses are responsible for providing satisfactory products.

Pursuing higher quality, huge investments are being made in cultivar research. Food science is leading to blueberries that are bigger, firmer and sweeter. And cultivar developers are seeking blueberries with a longer shelf life so the commodity arrives at export destinations in perfect condition despite long-term shipping.

Higher throughputs at packhouses lead to lower product quality. Better quality requires slower sorting and grading speeds and lower throughputs, and the game-changer here is technology. Today’s sorting, grading, and packing solutions can boost packhouse efficiencies by making the previously impossible possible.

TOMRA Food’s blueberry solutions are versatile and equally suitable for small family-owned farms to multinational corporations. And because these solutions are modular, packhouse lines can expand as the business expands.

Innovation through R&D

Among several reasons for the effectiveness of TOMRA’s packhouse solutions is its in-house Fruit Science Program, run from the company’s Field Research Centre in Waikato, (New Zealand) that has a production design facility, cool storage, a facility for full test simulations, fruit science test labs and engineering space.

Another reason is TOMRA’s acquisition of BBC Technologies, originated when New Zealand’s blueberry growers developed a grader and sorter that they sold to other growers. This resulted in expertise in precision sorting and grading systems, and clamshell and punnet filling solutions, for different berries.

In the same way, TOMRA’s engineers have obtained a deep understanding of packhouses’ operational challenges by working closely with their customers for more than 20 years. 

The previously impossible is possible now

The KATO 260 is a compact precision sorting and grading system for blueberries, suitable for any fruit sorting condition. This machine provides up to 7 outlets for seamless sorting in packing facilities of any size.

An automated Tray Tipper gently loads fruit onto the KATO260 and guarantees a consistent supply and even distribution of berries onto the sorter, optimizing throughput. 

Its rolling conveyor system rotates and singulates berries to provide a 360-degree surface inspection. Cameras take photos of each piece of fruit, while the software can detect the smallest defects. Moreover, this system is able to deal with great quantities: it can sort up to 572 berries per second at speeds of up to 286.

LUCAi is an optional software and hardware package for the KATO260, which uses AI to classify and grade fruit with extreme accuracy. When each fruit is photographed in the grading line, LUCAi identifies and instructs how to classify each berry. Being able to process up to 2.400 images per second, LUCAi can also detect subtle defects such as bruising, early anthracnose and dehydration.

The KETE16 is another TOMRA’s sorting solution launched in 2022. It is a high-capacity, end-of-line system that automates the process of placing clamshells and punnets into trays, boxes, and crates. It’s flexible to case size, punnet size, and pack orientation, and enables easy change between packs. As TOMRA affirms, this is the only existing  robotic packing solution that can accommodate such a wide variety of package types at high speeds.

The CURO-16 is the packing system integrated to KETE16, one of the fastest fill-by-weight options on the market. Its 16 filling stations make it capable of handling up to 200 128-gram packs of fruit per minute. The sorting line’s minimal transitions and low drops guarantee the berry is handled gently as it is directed into packs.

The CURO-8 packing system is also widely used by blueberry packers. Its 8 filling stations and a smaller footprint can handle 110 packs per minute. These machines reduce human handling errors and fruit give-away, thus increasing productivity, and can pack for different markets simultaneously.

All these solutions enable blueberry packhouses to optimize operational efficiencies and boost profitability. 


To learn more about the TOMRA Food blueberry solution, see the webpage

If you would like to purchase TOMRA solutions or get more information, please send your inquiry






Become Gold

TOMRA Food’s blueberry solutions are versatile and equally suitable for small family-owned farms to multinational corporations. And because these solutions are modular, packhouse lines can expand as the business expands.
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