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Argentina: Cutting edge technology to select melons

Embedded technology allows producers to select and sort melons by color, which allows them to standardize their offer. The goal is that every box should weigh 14 kilograms. 

The melons from San Juan reached the markets about 20 days ago. 

This campaign, La Niña Bonita, a company of the Barcelo family, incorporated a modern sorting and packing line for this fruit with national cutting edge technology. 

Local newspaper, Diario de Cuyo, was present in one of the sorting and packaging line's first working days in the town of Carpinteria, within the department of Pocito, where the owner, Carlos Barcelo gave them a tour of the facilities. 

"We are processing this year's first melon production," stated Barcelo, who also owns a prominent space at the Central Market of Buenos Aires. 

"This is the Dulce Crem variety. This year's harvest started 10 to 12 days before time with this variety. The average calibre is currently only at 1.4 kilograms, but we expect to have higher calibers next week so the consumers can have the quality melons they deserve at their disposal. We started on November 22," said Barcelo said. 

"It is a very good looking melon. It's very soft to the touch, it has a very strong and intense aroma, and a marked sweetness. Our goal is that the consumer chooses the best fruit for consumption based on how the fruit looks and on its aroma," he added. 

"Thanks to the existing financial support at the national and provincial levels, we've been able to incorporate the technology and improve our work with a selection and packaging line," Barcelo said. "It is about 40 meters long and it has a bin dumper and a washing area. Then the fruit is dried with cold air, selected by color and size and packed." 

"After the melon is dry, it is spun in a cubicle where it is photographed 20 times in a few seconds so that the machine can determine its color and know what its final destination will be."

"The melon is also weighed, and with that data, plus its smell and and weight, producers can create uniform boxes according to the customers' tastes. For example, there are regions of the country that prefer them with a lower Brix level (sugar content), and that's why we we classify them. Others prefer them sweeter to consume them faster," he added. 

"Our main objective is to standardize production so that the customer can always have the same box with the same product without differences in size, or color." 

"We also aim to streamline the process for a fruit for which there is no cold chain. Shortening the time between harvesting and the consumer's table is key. We are in the initial stages of using the machine and will be conducting the appropriate adjustments. Some fruit has already arrived at the market in the correct sizes and selection and there's been a very good consumer acceptance. 

It is worth recalling that Prodol SA is a national company with subsidiaries in Brazil and Chile and that the machine was engineered in Argentina and that a Chilean engineer is currently giving us technical assistance and helping us to fine tune it. It is a long term, 3 million dollar investment." said Carlos Barcelo. 

The program
Barcelo said that, this year they had "12 hectares of Dulce Crem, then we have Baby watermelons, Sundew Melons, and we're preparing some late melon. The idea is to avoid the peak season by marketing early and late varieties so that we have a lighter market to offer our products." 

"La Niña Bonita manages its own marketing and tries to integrate all the processes, including production, transport, and sales. We send this production to supermarket chains and to our own marketing store in the Central Market of Buenos Aires. There currently is a lot of product supply and the climate has advanced the domestic production by some 10 to 12 days in the north and center of the country," he added.

A brand for more than 50 years
The La niña bonita brand has been sold in the country's markets and has given prestige to San Juan's fruit and vegetable offer for more than 50 years. The company was created by Geronimo Barcelo Gil, and continued by his son Geronimo Barcelo Femenía and it is currently run by brothers Gerónimo, Eduardo, and Carlos Barcelo Femenía. Carlos's children have also joined the company, Pablo Alberto and Carlos Andrés." 

"We sell our melons through our La Niña Bonita brand in 14-kilogram box presentations. We plan to launch a promotion in the super and hyper markets with a product brand recognition trial by doing tastings," Carlos said. "If its delivered under suitable conditions, we can place a desirable product on the market regarding its maturity, aroma, brix and fruit presence." 

When asked about distribution, he said, "we are in 50% of the country's markets. We still need to work more in the south of our country, but we have a very good presence in the country's major cities, such as Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Cordoba, for example." 

He added that "this investment is part of a work program that includes not only the funding, but also marketing shares, and customer loyalty in the markets and on the shelves. We also work with tomato, baby watermelon, muskmelon and escrito melon." 

"We will make a joint venture in Spain. The leading brand of melons in that country will visit us in January to see if we can market our piel de sapo melon in 2017's counter season with the support of the seeder," he said. 

It's also worth noting that, thanks to the Media Agua-San Juan Melon Geographical Indication obtained in the 2014-2015 campaign, shipments to the Central Market of Buenos Aires have recovered. 

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