The global COVID-19 measures have upended the fruit processing world too. "We indirectly supply many clients in the travel, hospitality, and canteen industries. They're struggling at the moment. Some of them have seen a 70% loss of turnover," begins Hans Keijzer of ZTI smart machines in the Netherlands.
Hans Keijzer of ZTI smart machines
"That quickly puts investing in machines on hold. But we also have clients who supply supermarkets, and their work has only increased. We're generally pleased to have survived and have been able to continue developing machines. We'll, therefore, be in an even stronger position when demand explodes again."
And there are plenty of developments. For one, the company recently introduced several new machines. There's the new Pineapple Peeler and a smaller version of the Mango Peeler-de-Cheeker. Then there's a Watermelon Wedger and Watermelon Dicer. And recently, they delivered their first Fruit & Vegetable Wedger.
"We have solutions for both the vegetable and fruit processing industry, but we focus on fruit. In our business a wide product range is vital. You can only sell, for instance, a good slicing line if a good peeler accompanies it. That's also why as many as six out of our 14 employees are engineers," Hans says.
Fruit & Vegetable Wedger
"Our roots are in cabbage processing. We've had a sturdy cabbage corer for years. We also have cabbage, broccoli, and pumpkin sorting lines. We recently introduced the Fruit & Vegetable Wedger. As its name suggests, it's suitable for fruit as well as vegetables. We delivered it to Bruin Vegetables at the beginning of December. They use it to cut rutabaga and celeriac into four or five wedges. But it can also be used for melons, pineapples, apples, and much more," continues Hans.
"We serve an international market. We have customers in Europe, as well as North, Central, and South America. We've also recently started approaching the Asian market. The challenge remains in reaching low-wage countries. But factors like safety, repetitive work, and hygiene mean companies are increasingly switching to machine processing. For example, we currently have a project in Colombia. There's a machine there that gently dehusks physalis."
According to Keijzer, ZTI's biggest recent success is the Destemmer. This machine destems grapes. "We operate in a specialized market. We don't often sell ten of the same machines every year. But we've achieved that with the Destemmer. You can use it to destem products like dates and cherry tomatoes too. It's the only machine of its kind that removes the fruit from the branch in one rotating movement. It does so without damaging the fruit's growth point. That makes it unique."
There's one thing that's high on the company's wish list. They want to bring a contour peeler onto the market. This must be able to peel watermelons and honeydew melons in their entirety. "That would complete our package nicely. We now have a Wedger and Dicer. This delivers melons in slices or cubes."
"The peeling is, however, still done by hand. Unfortunately, we're too late for the new watermelon season. But we hope to make it happen this year." Hans also keeps a close eye on melon breeding developments. "Melons have improved over the years, both in flavor and texture. The trend is increasingly moving towards seedless melons. These are much easier to eat."
"A broad assortment's advantage is that you can use other machines' components. Take the Watermelon Wedger, for instance. We used components from the cabbage corer. It took only about six months to develop this machine. Sharpening, shaping, and assembling the blade took the most time, by far. This affects the fruit greatly, so there's a lot riding on the blade. I went to Germany to see what solutions suppliers had available. But, in the end, we came up with this solution ourselves. It became a great design."
Gilette razor principle
"Sometimes you developed a machine, and it's a good one. But, only afterward do you realize it doesn't meet your target group's demands. That's the case with our Mango Peeler-de-Cheeker 4," explains Hans. "It peels mangos and removes its flesh in one go. You insert the fruit, and the machine grips the mango by the pit. It only releases the fruit once it's also cut out the cheeks. This machine processed 40 mangos per minute."
"But the market wanted a smaller version. We now have a handier machine that peels 20 mangos per minute. It's easier to operate and more reasonably priced. This is also one of the machines in which we expect a boom. Mangos are so fragile; they quickly develop soft spots. The peeling knives are as manoeuvrable as possible. It's a bit like Gillette does with its latest razor blades. That works brilliantly. It's not only great to watch; it also improves the products' shelf life," concludes Hans.