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Erwin Bakker (Ellips): “Many good apples are thrown away”

“Customers are going to require internal quality sorting”

In the Netherlands, internal quality sorting for apples is still very limited, but it’s very much on the rise in other production countries.

“The warmer the climate, the more internal quality problems the apples have. That means the necessity of it is much larger abroad. In Australia, five supermarket chains have even made internal quality sorting mandatory for their suppliers,” says Erwin Bakker from Ellips. 

Ellips recently supplied the system for internal quality sorting to their partner, GP Graders in Melbourne.

“We set up a demo-unit in their factory. We were given a box of rejected apples by a competing sorting machine. Our system flawlessly picked the good apples from that box. We emptied half the box! Otherwise 750 dollar would have been just thrown out. You could save quite a bit on an entire orchard that way. Internal quality sorting is often seen as an expensive measuring method. That might be true if you don’t have much internal quality problems, but when a year is bad qualitatively, every packer with optical sorting technology wants to use it. The choice then is throwing everything out or picking out the good product.”

“Supermarkets and consumers make high demands on their fruit and vegetables. They want high and constant quality. Damages are accepted less and less. By sorting mechanically or manually, damages occur too often,” Erwin continues.

“Over the years we developed a system that can accurately decide on the internal quality of a product in addition to the external quality. Defects like rot, but also sugar content, dry dust, acidity and ripeness can be accurately measured. The system knows how to accurately distinguish between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ products.”

“Our software TrueSort is used by more than 3,500 sorters throughout the world,” Erwin says. When asked about their secret, the programmer answers: “Years of studying. I started developing software programmes for sorting machines in 1989. We studied tens of thousands of apples and onions to find out what the bottleneck was in sorting. We then started programming for that. In those 25 years, we built ourselves a knowledge advantage.”

“Onions are the most difficult fresh produce product, regarding the sorting of internal quality, and that’s how we started. Compared to that, apples are much easier. But we definitely recognise we can still improve. For example, there are major differences between varieties. Sorting an Envy apple is going incredibly well. We recently had only one mistake in a test of 1,500 apples, that’s practically abnormal. But a variety like Honeycrisp is a much more difficult apple because of its local defects,” Erwin says.

“I sometimes see packing stations that could make you cry. Such an enormous amount of good apples are thrown away. Such food waste! If you then show growers and packers how to improve quality sorting, it becomes a no brainer. Our approach is unique in that regard. Most competitors are machine manufacturers that supply sorting software on the side, which is suitable to only their own machines. Our standard software can be used on every sorting machine, no matter what brand, and it can also be used on both old and new machines.”

More information:
Erwin Bakker

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