Greefa's head office is in Tricht, in the heart of Betuwe, the Netherlands. There, grading and packaging solutions are thought up and produced. We spoke to sales representatives Otto Klop and Sander Reukers, who discussed trends in that field and Greefa's response.
Otto, who has been in this sector for a long time, says that 30 years ago, vegetable growers could make a decent living on a few hectares. There are a few exceptions, but most have expanded dramatically. Fruit and vegetable marketing and trading houses have followed suit. Production companies rarely still do their own sorting. For Greefa, that means fewer but bigger customers.
"Thanks to our collective expertise, we can handle that up-scaling just fine. We've adapted our shopfloor to that. We test every sorting line before delivery, and for that, you need space and a lot of it. We have that. We regularly add room so we can confidently deliver our tested lines to our customers," begins Otto.
"That means we work differently than before, too," adds Sander. By that, he means Greefa sees large orders as projects. The project manager is their first point of contact. Sander and Otto remain involved, though the technical execution does not lie with them but with Greefa's project managers.
Otto Klop and Sander Reukers at a line that is being built.
Greefa offers labor-saving grading and packaging solutions. With labor shortages and its rising costs per hour, automation is quickly becoming interesting. Greefa has the technology to automate almost all human work in a sorting/packing process. In particular, automated packing solutions have taken off. In the post-harvest sector, that is where the most people, by far, are needed.
Packaging material is a hot topic, and consumers would prefer zero plastic. "However, considering sustainability, plastic remains the best option because of its low per-unit cost and environmental footprint. It's a very dynamic discussion with many potential future developments,"
Greefa, too, uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) primarily for product quality detection programs. Fruit and vegetable defects can be detected very well using AI, and with the latest techniques, those flaws can also be better distinguished from each other. That information is invaluable to growers. And it will get increasingly better.
The more data comes in, the better the results. The Law of Large Numbers will then come into play. "AI makes so much more possible," says Otto. "The current technology is really only in its infancy. I think AI is a catch-all term: AI doesn't actually exist. It's far more absolute than human intelligence. AI sees no nuance."
This line addresses the food safety trend. The machine's stainless steel construction is left open as much as possible. It can be entirely cleaned, so microorganisms cannot accumulate, also because of all the inner sloping surfaces.
Cameras and sensors
Greefa is continuously looking for the latest camera and sensor developments. These are essential components of their products. Sander mentions looking at multiple wavelengths of light images means so much more can be detected.
Each wavelength helps to see defects. "Using multiple colors is now standard at Greefa. Exactly how many are chosen depends on the fruit. Thanks to this technology, we can, for example, detect blossom end rot (fusarium) in bell peppers. Other systems don't do that well (enough)," Sander explains.
Greefa uses sensors to, say, determine kiwis' firmness. Or they shine a light on a fruit and measure how much it allows through. That says something about the product's quality.
" We try to stay a step ahead," Otto continues. "We do so by developing much ourselves, by offering students interesting graduate projects, and by giving our people room to work with high-quality technology. Greefa's people are loyal. That says something, I think."
Otto with 'The Top,' a simple grader that small companies used to, and sometimes still, use.
"The Ukraine/Russian war shook up the export market considerably. We no longer do business with Russia. When the war broke out, we had quite a lot in the pipeline for the Russian market. The boycott didn't cover our sector, but we decided against doing business with Russia anyway. We also refer our Russian customers to a Russian service agent," Otto concludes.
The war-affected countries (and thus Greefa clients) used to sell a lot to Russia. Serbia, for example, is not involved but is feeling its effect. Greefa notices that that uncertainty diminishes the willingness to invest there.
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