After energy use, other costs of ripening are being tackled

“We’ve seen that there’s more willingness to invest within the sector,” says Chris Maat from Interko. Because it’s going better economically, companies within the sector now have money to invest in, for instance, new ripening chambers. “Generally, it’s going well on the market.”

In the Netherlands, it’s mostly the outdated ripening systems that are being replaced. “For example, we realised a decrease of 60 percent in energy use compared to 20 years ago,” Chris says about one of the improvements from recent years. “We now have an energy use of less than 100 watt per pallet.” How much a company actually saves is also dependent on the choices made. “Some companies want to sail close to the wind, others put stability of the system first,” he gives two options. “We move with demand from the customer, and adjust the product. That’s why we transferred our engineering department to sales a few years ago.”

In addition to energy-efficient installations, more attention is also paid to other cost items within ripening, including cleaning and maintenance. Now that energy costs can be considerably lower, it’s becoming more appealing to tackle these factors. Interko is therefore researching the application of anti-fungal coatings in systems, for example.

Ripening exotics is pioneering work
The large orders for ripening chambers still come from banana ripening plants. Ripening mangoes, avocados and pears is increasing, but much is also still pioneering work, Chris explains. For example, for bananas, it’s practically standard to build a three-storey ripening chamber, with the top storeys being inaccessible to people. In past decades, much knowledge about ripening bananas has been gained, so that it’s no longer necessary to access every pallet to monitor the process. “For exotics, ripeners want to be able to monitor everything, that’s why every pallet has to be accessible,” Chris explains. “As a ripener of exotics, you want to see what’s happening.” Chris explains that ripening bananas is like a railway. The systems have been developed in such a way it’s entirely known what will happen at each stage of the process. Ripening exotics is more like a motorway. “You can swerve to the left or right, and there are more accidental things you have to consider during the process.”

As said, that’s less important for bananas. The ripening systems have been so well-developed a ripener no longer has to keep an eye on all pallets. Although a large number of experienced ripeners is reaching the pensionable age, Chris doesn’t expect systems to completely take over the ripening process. He uses a metaphor to explain: “We supply a car with every feature, but we don’t give driving lessons and the self-driving car hasn’t been invented yet either.” Yet he doesn’t think it would be surprising if ripening systems took over the work in future. “If we can make a car drive independently, it should also be possible in ripening. On roads, children can accidentally jump in front of cars, but ripening is done in a controlled environment.”

The European sector has been consolidated considerably. The number of small players is decreasing more and more. “This year, we built 150 ripening chambers for three different players in Germany,” Chris says. “Efficiency is tricky when it comes to a small amount, and fluctuations on the market are then easily noticed.” There’s much demand for new ripening chambers abroad, mostly in Asia. The challenge in that is the manner in which the rest of the logistical supply chain has been developed. “We can build a beautiful ripening chamber, but if the bananas are then transported on an open lorry, it wouldn’t be very useful,” Chris says. “That’s tricky, because we are dependent on how the rest of the supply chain moves. For that matter, sometimes something goes wrong in the chain in the West as well, but if logistics are good, our systems are an important addition to quality of the fruit.”

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Chris Maat

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