Located in the Niedersachsen region, east of Hannover, Groka is a cooperative enterprise specializing in growing, grading and packing onions and potatoes. This region serves as a significant hub for onion and potato production in Germany, accounting for over 50% of the country's total output. Groka has a substantial market share, contributing approximately 20-25% of the onion production in Niedersachsen.
All of Germany is served by Groka
Groka is serving both the discount market and the premium market in Germany. "We prioritize offering competitive price-quality ratios. While Groka packages about 20% of the onions we handle, the majority (around 80%) is sent to other packaging companies across Germany, allowing us to serve the entire country. We also export a portion of our produce to the Polish market. Our annual production includes approximately 6-8 thousand tons of packed onions, with an additional 35 thousand tons supplied through collaborations with other packaging companies", tells Managing Director Volker Peters.
Searching for the right solution
In 2016, Peters' predecessor began exploring optical-electronic grading technology. This involved looking at what was happening outside Germany in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Through a collaboration with Hörnschemeyer M.H., a packaging and installation engineering company, Groka discovered Ellips-Elisam. "In 2021, we visited TOP the Onion Group to witness a live demonstration of the Elisam GranTorino grading machine. Following this demonstration, we were thoroughly convinced of the capabilities of this grading technology. Consequently, we decided to adopt this method for grading and sorting our onions, with a target volume of approximately 35,000 tons per year."
Groka has set ambitious goals to double its capacity within a span of 5 years. However, achieving these aspirations comes with its fair share of challenges.
- Finding labour is difficult, and the costs are constantly rising.
Humans are less productive and make unintentional mistakes during a shift.
- Manual sorting processes sometimes led to inconsistencies in product quality, which at times resulted in rejected deliveries.
- Throughput per hour is not sufficient to handle the potential volumes of the Niedersachsen region.
- Groka could not detect the internal quality of onions. Moreover, it had difficulty in dealing with quality differences due to seasonal conditions.
"The Elisam GranTorino grading machine has become the focal point of our operations, enabling us to unlock new possibilities. With this advanced technology in place, we can effectively meet the demands of retailers, handle larger volumes, and eliminate concerns about labor availability."
Improved quality consistency
Since implementing the new machine, we have received consistently positive feedback from our customers. The improvement in quality has been outstanding, with zero batches being rejected by our retailers."
"The implementation of Ellips grading technology allows us to identify internal defects in the onions using advanced cameras. We can now effectively detect and sort out issues like sprouting, fusarium, bulb rot, and neck rot. Additionally, the new machine enables us to package and sell 50% of the lower quality batches, generating extra income. Previously, we experienced a waste rate of 10%, but thanks to the software, our waste has been reduced to only 2-3%, and we are confident that this is real waste (not saleable). The remaining produce can still be sold, that was previously unavoidable."
Increased throughput and reduced labor dependence
With the implementation of automation, our dependency on labor has significantly decreased. Previously, our sorting operation required 10 people, whereas now only 2 individuals are needed—one operator and one post-checker. Automation has enabled us to grade our produce at a much faster pace compared to manual sorting. This improvement has boosted our efficiency and reduced labor costs. Human workers were only able to work effectively for around 5 out of the 8 hours dedicated to manual sorting. In contrast, a machine can operate at full capacity for the entire 8-hour duration. The Elisam grader runs very well and is reliable. On rare short moments it has been stopped briefly. For the rest, it runs constantly at full power. Currently, we are able to sort 25-28 tons per hour, and we are extremely satisfied with the results. Next year we will be able to say whether we have achieved the 10-20%.
Full control and flexibility to adapt to demands.
"The Ellips software is very user-friendly, our operator was able to fully control the machines individually after only 3 days. In addition, we are very satisfied with the flexibility of the system and the opportunities it offers to differentiate our offering. Basically, we already had good prices for our onions. Only for the highest quality onions we now receive an extra price, bonus for the quality we can now guarantee with the new machine."
New revenue opportunities
The of Ellips grading technology has opened up new market opportunities for us. The ability to differentiate our products using this technology has presented us with exciting perspectives. On one hand, we are now able to supply premium onions (at the best prices) to retailers and the Hanover Gross Market, which further distributes them to restaurants. On the other hand, the new technology has enabled us to establish connections with the processing industry. From next season, we will be able to offer naked and half onions to the peeling industry, creating an additional source of income.
Visit Ellips on the Fruit Logistica, Hall 6.1, stand A-20