How citrus cans can improve profitability with state-of-the-art sorting and grading solutions

press release

The fact that consumers are becoming more choosy about citrus fruits has consequences for bottlers. Whatever the type of citrus, the risk is the same: If the fruit disappoints the buyer, the food brand or retailer that sold it could lose sales in the future. This means that retailers increasingly expect their suppliers to provide perfection – not easy for packers because incoming fruit is variable and outgoing fruit must meet many requirements.

Initially, the condition of the fruit’s skin, color, shape, and size affect shelf appeal. Then the eating experience can depend on the fruit’s hardness, texture, and sugar content. Complicating matters, consumers’ preferences for fruit color and sweetness differ from one export market to another.

The packing houses have always kept their customers satisfied by packing fruits they are sure will meet quality requirements and rejecting fruits of borderline quality. But this often leads to fruit “giveaways” that hurt the profits of the packers. More money can be made if the packer finds a way to deliver the desired quality and quantity of product while simultaneously increasing returns: a balancing act that requires precision.

As packers tread this tightrope, the stakes are staggeringly high. Global exports alone are worth more than $7 billion annually – and rising. In established markets, more consumers are turning to foods that are healthy, natural, and rich in vitamins, making citrus fruits more popular. In emerging markets, more and more people are earning middle-class incomes and spending more on food. Citrus fruits are used more for flavoring and coloring in bakery products and fruit drinks. For these reasons, citrus sales are expected to continue to rise in value at a compound annual growth rate of 4% so that by 2030 the value of exports will reach about $10 billion.

This does not mean, however, that increasing the profitability of bottlers will be easy. In fact, the industry is facing headwinds.

Facing future challenges

For farmers, perhaps the strongest headwind is climate change, causing increased seasonal variations in crop yields and quality. In many areas, there is also the threat of citrus greening (also known as HLB or yellow dragon disease), which turns the fruit bitter and kills affected trees within a few years. In the early 2000s, HLB destroyed many citrus plantations in Florida, and the disease killed millions of acres of citrus trees worldwide. Preemptive countermeasures can be effective, but they require constant vigilance and reduce yields and increase costs.

As for filling and refilling, the headwinds are also coming from different directions. While quality expectations are rising, increasing crop variability is pulling in the opposite direction. Sorting and grading the fruits well is vital, but every year it becomes difficult to recruit and retain people to do so. The costs of labor, energy and other essential resources are also rising, which increases the need to maximize returns and profits. It’s more important now than ever to put the right fruit in the right package at the right time.

For retailers, there is an increasing need to differentiate through product quality. With consumers becoming more selective, only export markets will pay top dollar for higher quality. Retailers are also under increasing pressure from consumers to take sustainability seriously. This requires, among other things, an active approach to reducing food waste – another commitment passed on to the packers.

The good news is that bottlers can weather these headwinds. Answers to many of today’s packaging challenges are provided by state of the art optical sorting and grading machines. These automated solutions are more accurate and consistent than manual sorting and grading. It enables packages to meet required standards, regardless of the quality of the incoming fruit. They open doors to new clients with high quality requirements. And they put an end to the extravagant habit of distributing fruit.

The best solutions available

TOMRA Food is the leading manufacturer of optical sorting and grading machines for the food industry. The unparalleled effectiveness of Tomra’s solutions results from the company’s continued significant investment in research and development, a deeply rooted culture of innovation, and decades of working closely with food manufacturers and packagers resulting in a deep understanding of the unique operational challenges they face. TOMRA views customer relations as a collaborative process involving processors and packers in designing new solutions.

In the citrus industry, TOMRA Solutions operates in the USA, Europe, Australia, South Africa, North Africa, South America and Asia. In California alone, the company typically installs up to 200 new tracks in citrus packing crates annually. However, although the company is globally active, it is focused on providing best-in-class customer support on a regional level. And although TOMRA provides solutions for the industry’s biggest players – including the world’s largest citrus packing operation, which has more than 200 lanes – it also works with many smaller companies with only one or two lanes.

Three solutions from TOMRA are perfectly suited to citrus fruits: the Spectrim sorter and matrix, long recognized as one of the standards in blemish-grading vision systems; Inspectra², a non-invasive solution for internal gradients; and the fruit industry’s most advanced sorting platform, the TOMRA 5S Advanced.

Sorters and graders specially designed for citrus fruits

The Spectrim Spectrum Sorter and Sorter is the world’s most powerful fresh produce grading platform, with consistent illumination, powerful imaging, two infrared wavelengths, and machine learning. Spectrim sorts and grades small and large defects, including surface defects, insect damage, misshapen fruit, bruises and abrasions, and can identify hard-to-find product defects, including obvious mold. Gradation sorting parameters can be configured for different levels of defects, giving line operators the control to match product grades to different markets.

Many filling centers around the world benefit daily from using Spectrim. One such company is Agricola Cerro Prieto, which exports fruits globally from Peru. The company’s COO, Riccardo Asha, said: “Technology is extremely important to us, thanks to the continuous developments [made by TOMRA]We can process larger quantities. With Spectrim, we’ve nearly doubled in size.”

The Inspectra² internal defect classification platform uses near-infrared spectrometers, mainly to detect brix, but also to provide valuable information about other characteristics important to citrus growers and packers. These detection capabilities keep bad fruit out of the good box, ensure preferable-tasting fruit gets to the right market, and help growers adjust their practices in the field to improve the quality of indoor fruit.

“Spectrim and Inspectra² have opened up new opportunities, particularly brix classification using Inspectra²,” says Peter Nortei, owner of the Citrusrand citrus plantation, which stretches 60 kilometers along the Sundays River Valley in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Getting sorted is pretty good and there’s very little machine downtime, so you also get consistency on delivery. TOMRA machines are essential in putting the right fruit into the right carton with the right tracking system. ”

The TOMRA 5S Advanced, launched in 2021, builds on the class-leading performance of the Compac Multi-Lane Sorter (Compac was acquired by TOMRA in 2016), but has been redesigned from the ground up. In addition to screening with unparalleled accuracy, this is the industry’s thinnest fruit sorting machine, and it’s exceptionally easy to clean and maintain. This machine’s specialized software—with programs for ingredient mixing, precise fill optimization, and yield control—provides optimization and efficiency across the line. All of these features can be easily controlled via the sorter’s intuitive GUI.

The TOMRA 5S Advanced also features a Dynamic Path Scaler that ensures even distribution of fruit across all aisles of the sorter. It requires no input from the operator, and this continuously makes automatic, data-informed adjustments from its interface with Sizer. Without a dynamic path balancer, nearly every machine would have less cup fill in the outer lanes; With that said, there are significant increases in throughput on the same number of lanes compared to other systems.

Among the many processors for which the TOMRA 5S Advanced has seen improved productivity, as well as product quality, is Turkish citrus exporter Ozler Tarim. The general manager of the company, Özbek Ozler, said: “We expected that we could invest in our second project [TOMRA 5S] machine after two or three years, depending on the results achieved by the first machine. But we were so satisfied that we ordered the second machine after only three months. Thanks to the investment in TOMRA technologies, we doubled the capacity of Özler Tarim, which has a history of 35 years, in just one year.

The combination of two machines can have the effect of “one plus one is more than two”, in the experience of Chinese citrus producer Xiangjia Juyou. The Hunan-based companies installed two Tomra six-lane sorting and packing lines in 2021, striving to increase productivity to 100,000 tons of citrus per year and target the products to markets with different expectations for quality. Jia Kaijun, Director of Fruit Management at Xiangjia Juyo emphasized: “Externally, the fruits are evaluated according to color, blemishes, and skin defects caused by diseases and insects. Internally, the fruits are sorted by level of sugar and acidity. This careful sorting enables targeted sales strategies to be developed.”

The future looks bright

Another state-of-the-art technology solution that unlocks efficiency improvements is the TOMRA Insight cloud-based data platform. First introduced to processing and packaging lines in other food categories, it is expected to be deployed in citrus packaging boxes within the next two seasons and has the potential to make sorting machines the digital heart of processing and packaging processes.

One of the advantages of device data accessed by TOMRA Insight is that it opens a traceable path from one container to another. Another is that machine operators can easily and instantly respond to live data to improve line efficiency. Another reason is that analysis of historical data can lead to further gains in efficiency on the line and in the supply of raw materials. Package companies that rely on hard data, rather than just experience and instinct, make better informed operational and strategic decisions. This, like the best sorting and grading solutions, enhances the competitiveness of the packing complex – and increases progress even when there are headwinds.

About Tomra Foods

TOMRA Food designs and manufactures sensor-based sorting machines and integrated post-harvest solutions that transform global food production to maximize food safety and minimize food loss, by making sure every resource counts.

The company has more than 12,800 units installed in food growers, packers and processors around the world for confectionery, fruits, dried fruits, grains, seeds, potatoes, proteins, nuts and vegetables.

These solutions include advanced grading, sorting, peeling and analysis technology to help companies improve yields, gain operational efficiencies and ensure a safe food supply.

TOMRA Food operates centers of excellence, regional offices and manufacturing sites within the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Follow TOMRA Food on Facebook @TOMRATwitter @employeeInstagram @employee and on LinkedIn at Tomra foods.

TOMRA Food is a division of the TOMRA Group. TOMRA was founded in 1972 that began with the design, manufacture and sale of Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) for the automated assembly of used beverage containers.

Today, TOMRA is leading the resource revolution to transform how the planet’s resources are obtained, used, and reused to enable a zero-waste world. Other business divisions of the company include Tomra Recycling Company, Tomra Mining and Tomra Group.

TOMRA has approximately 100,000 facilities in over 80 markets worldwide, with total revenues of approximately NOK 10.9 billion in 2021. The group employs approximately 4,600 globally and is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. The company is headquartered in Asker, Norway.

For more information about TOMRA, visit