With the top season just around the corner, Berry Packing Services could use some extra hands on the packaging line. That is why the super fast Proseal Case Packer was recently purchased.
'Handle with care' is the motto for blueberries. A fact that Harm Valckx has been familiar with for decades. Since 1997 he has run several companies in the blueberry trade and has been growing the fruit since the 1980s. He now owns 160 hectares of cultivation land for blueberries in the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania, and he owns Berry Packing Services. This is where the inbound, outbound, quality control, sorting and packaging of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries take place.
Into the mix
About 25 million kilograms of fruit are processed annually at the company, which is spread over three locations in Venlo, Limburg – total area: approximately 16,000 square meters. About 85% of processed fruit are blueberries. “Retailers want soft fruit in the mix; that is why we also process strawberries, raspberries and blackberries here. They come in ready-to-sell packages,” says Harm. It serves a large part of the European retail market. The processing industry (including bakeries and juice manufacturers) also purchases fruit from Berry Packing Services. “When the berries arrive, they are first selected for quality, among other things; class 2 goes to the processing industry.”
Harm has seen the popularity of his product grow enormously throughout his working life. The increase has been especially impressive in the last ten years: Statistics Netherlands calculated that between 2013 and 2017, the turnover of blueberries in supermarkets increased by 250 percent. “Consumption in Western Europe is still rising by twenty percent every year. Why? It is of course a super healthy product,” laughs Harm. He is preparing for the busiest season: the winter months: “That is our top season. The fruit then enters the port of Rotterdam from South Africa and South America and is processed here. In the spring, the blueberries come from Morocco and Spain, and in the summer mainly from the region. The berries are often already processed and packaged at the grower.”
The blueberries from South America and South Africa come in containers that have been brought under CA conditions. The temperature is reduced to 0.5 degrees, the oxygen is extracted from the room and CO2 is added. Fresh blueberries can also be brought under CA conditions at Berry Packing Services; they can then be stored for four to six weeks. In the winter period it is all hands on deck. Harm: “All our ten packaging lines will then be running for sixteen hours a day. About 200 people work here every day. Fortunately, there are still enough employees for production, mainly from Southeastern Europe. But sometimes we do run into cultural differences, and the turnover among production employees is high.”
Soft fruit is a really delicate product that quickly has a chance of bruising. When processing and packaging, it is therefore extremely important that not too much time is lost and that the fruit makes few falling movements. In order to continue to guarantee quality and to cope with rising wages, Valckx annually invests heavily in automation and digitization. For example, as an end-of-line solution for one of the packaging lines, he purchased the Proseal Case Packer from Sismatec: a very fast, fully automatic packaging system for crates and boxes. Dianne Bouman, Sales Manager at Sismatec, explains: “The new Case Packer, developed together with Proseal, is the perfect addition to tray sealing machines. The capacity is enormous: the machine can place up to 160 packages per minute in a crate or box, depending on the type of machine and the package size to be processed. In addition, it can process a wide range of packaging formats, such as trays, buckets and sandwich packaging – made of different materials. The user-friendly control panel makes the machine very accessible for operators.” Harm is very satisfied with the machine, which has been running since the summer: “Where previously four people stood on the line to put the filled boxes into crates, now only one is needed. Ideal."
Another advantage is that the Case Packer can work with any tray sealing machine, says Dianne: “The machine can also be fully integrated with box erectors, existing transport systems, labellers and coders. And the supply and removal of transporters can be customised.” Sustainability has naturally been considered, she says: “This machine will last for years and is constructed in such a way that new upgrades can also be applied at a later stage.” Harm expects to purchase more Case Packers in the coming years. He concludes: “Who knows, maybe there will be a robot that places the boxes on the pallet. But we are taking it step by step: first more Case Packers.”