On the one hand, labels are becoming increasingly important, but on the other, consumers are becoming more and more critical. Because of this, it’s becoming more important to fulfil the promises on the labels. One bad apple no longer contaminates an entire barrel, but a six-pack. “One of six is bad in that case, and consumers respond to that more intensely,” says Chris Komatas of Compac, part of TOMRA Sorting Food. The company renewed a technology to sort for internal quality.
This technology can be summed up in three letters: NIR, but a complex process is hidden behind these letters. Although optical sorting focuses on the external quality of the fruit, the NIR technology looks underneath the skill. Using light, the internal quality of the fruit is measured. The light breaking up tells us something about the internal quality. The sorting machines are equipped with sensors and software that sort the fruit based on that information. “Sorting fruit is our speciality. For the internal quality, we developed Inspectra2, which is more accurate and easier to use than the older version,” Chris explains. The Inspectra2 has a maximum capacity of ten lines and ten pieces of fruit per second, but it can also be built for one line. “We adjust the machine to the number of input belts.”
High consumer expectation
“The internal quality of the fruit is becoming increasingly important, because the expectations of consumers is getting higher and higher,” Chris says. “Labels have to guarantee that there are no internal problems and that flavour is good, because that’s how far the sorting technology has come. In the space of a second in which the fruit comes under the sorter’s light, brix is measured as well, and that means we’re actually sorting for flavour,” he confirms.
Firmness of the fruit is also measured, which can decide the storability of the fruit. “Based on the sorting, traders know whether the fruit can be stored or whether it should be marketed sooner.” Although the technology is used to sort premium fruit, sorting also offers chances for batches that seem unsellable at first glance. Because of this, the sorting technology isn’t just an option for large companies or premium brands. “Sorting for internal quality can make a difference between an unsellable batch and a sellable one. I therefore also see advantages for growers who have a partly damaged or overripe harvest.” After sorting, part of the harvest can often be marketed after all.
Internal quality increasingly important
In future, the internal quality of the fruit will only become more important, Chris expects. “More and more labels are created in the sector for apples, kiwi fruit or citrus, for example,” Chris says. These brands have to fulfil the promises on their labels to make consumers loyal to them. The smaller packaging also play a part in this. “When you buy a punnet of four kiwis and one of them is rotten, that’s very different from when you buy a large bag of kiwis and one is rotten. Consumers’ tolerance isn’t great in that, and consumers are quick to change their preferences when they’ve had a bad experience.” The sorting technology is available for apples, kiwi fruit, citrus and avocados, but other products can also be sorted with adjustments to the software.
Compac, from New Zealand, has been active in sorting technologies for 30 years. “Our focus is on sorting for the internal quality of fresh fruit,” Chris says. In January 2017, the company was taken over by TOMRA Sorting Food. “TOMRA wanted to expend their portfolio in food sorting for which an individual product is sorted,” he continues. Compac supplies a sorting technology for the internal quality of the fruit, among other things. “TOMRA and Compac invest a lot in R&D. This will only become more important in future.”