Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are transported across the conveyor very precisely. A bit further along, punnets with three compartments are manually filled with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Since the opening of FruitMasters’ renewed soft fruit packing station, the machines haven’t stopped once. Between January and May, 52 per cent more soft fruit was packed than in that same period a year before.
The process for renewing the packing station was started in May 2017, when the first plans were drawn up and an inventory of various machinery solutions followed. After a period in which various solutions were considered, the decision was reached and an investment in a top-seal machine, among other things, was made. “We did a lot of research, this type of packaging is much used for soft fruit particularly in the UK,” says Dick Heijmans, project manager.
Replacing lid with top-seal
In Dutch retail, a punnet with lid was the most common packaging for soft fruit up till two years ago. This changed when supermarket chains switched to top-seal, after which the market followed suit. “A few supermarkets still want punnets with lids, but top-seal will become the new standard,” Dick continues. Top-seal has a logistical advantage and saves packaging material. “The punnet and resealable top-seal are made from the same material. This results in an advantage with recycling,” says Freek Versteeg, Manager Operations. “Usually, the punnet and the lid are made from different materials.”
Freek and Dick expect top-seal packaging will become the packaging used most often. This packaging is also more convenient for online sales. “For example, we’ve heard about lids coming loose from the punnet during transport, this doesn’t happen with top-seal,” Dick explains. Because of this, the Dutch market is following developments in British retail, where top-seal has already been fully integrated.
Printed film next trend in UK
Another trend visible in British supermarkets is pre-printed film. With the prospect of printed films also gaining a foothold in the EU, FruitMasters already made investments in a packing line capable of printing label information directly onto the film. Besides the Dutch market, FruitMasters also exports to, for instance, the British market and other destination both within and outside of Europe.
The packaging range is broad. Standard punnets, shakers, buckets, packaging with two or three compartments and break-away packaging are just a few options. Customers want to be distinctive with various packaging. To handle all of these packaging, standard sizes are used. Besides, the machine line can be adjusted for deviating packaging. About 55 per cent of soft fruit is packed in plastic, so the punnet is completely produced from recycled plastic. The remaining 45 per cent is packed in pulp. “That’s a completely different market,” Dick explains. The soft fruit under the Prestige label, among others, is packed in pulp punnets.
Growth in volume
Seven lines have been set up in the renewed packing hall. Five of these have been equipped with tray sealers. Besides, a new scale has been purchased. In week one of this year, the packing station was taken apart. In week three, the machine lines were built up again. The hall underwent a metamorphosis in the second week. A new floor was placed, and LED lights were hung up. “That was quite a feat of the technical service and suppliers,” Dick proudly says. The staff received training to learn to operate the new machines. “Knowledge is becoming ever more important and that’s why we invest in our workers, so that they know what to do should an outage occur,” Freek says.
With the start of the Dutch strawberry season, the new packing station was taken into use. The market for soft fruit is showing good growth figures. “Demand is also increasing all the time,” Freek says. Blueberries in particular show much growth. This is also reflected in figures of the new packing hall. Between January and May, 52 per cent more soft fruit was packed in the hall than in the same period a year previously. “It’s not that the peak occurred earlier, we see demand for a larger volume in general,” Freek explains. While the soft fruit market showed a fickle pattern with considerable peaks in the past, Freeks sees the peaks levelling off now, and the market becoming more stable.
Additional machines for blueberries
The machine park for FruitMasters might not be the largest one in Europe, but it was never supposed to be. A large overcapacity just costs money. “If you do fewer packaging per hour in general, but have a more stable process, it’ll be more profitable,” Dick says. “There’s naturally room for growth,” Freek adds. For instance, they now work with a two-shift schedule, which could easily be changed into a three-shift schedule.
Despite the renewed packing station offering room for growth, the limits are already in sight. “Sales were already showing a growth, but this continued more than expected,” Freek says. That’s why a top-seal machine will be added to the blueberry line in the packing station.