Growing soft fruits presents many challenges. Packers and growers who decide to start or expand production must bear in mind several important aspects. Constantly changing weather conditions, fungal diseases and pests, or lack of workers are key issues they have to face.
Soft fruit market
There is a steady increase in blueberry production in Europe. Spain remains the leader in this market segment, followed by Poland, Portugal, and Germany. The consumption of these berries is also increasing in line with production. While blueberry consumption in the United States has been steady at around 1.5 kg per person, in Europe it is still a growing segment, and it currently reaches less than 0.5 kg per person.
A significant decline in 2020 strawberry production was observed in Europe. However, it is still a very strong segment of the soft fruit market. The main reasons for the decline are changing weather conditions and a shortage of workers in harvesting and packing fruit. The production companies and growers increasingly decide to partially automate their production lines, which can significantly reduce the number of employees and the production costs of these fruits.
Investments in evolving technologies
Daifressh, a fruit and vegetable producer and distributor, combines state-of-the-art technology with traditional cultivation methods to increase their productivity and efficiency. Their crops are located in Spain, Poland, and Morocco, which allows them to supply most of their products throughout the year.
Crops in Poland include fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. In 2020, the company started cooperation with Milbor PMC, an integrator of machines for packing and sorting fresh fruits and vegetables. We contacted the company’s Regional Manager in Spain and had our first meeting, during which he explained the specifications of the machines and the way Milbor works. He came up with the perfect solution for our needs, says Eva Gil, a consultant at Daifressh. Based on the producer’s needs and problems, a complete 3-step solution for blueberries was designed. First, the fruits are sorted based on two categories: colour and softness. The well-selected blueberries are then weighed and packed into various types of containers using a fully automated packaging machine. The final step is labelling the packages. The line has been designed in such a way that it can be connected to an already standing Traysealer. The integration of the machines undertaken by Milbor allowed the producer to preserve the previously purchased equipment and reduce the cost of the next investment. The dedicated blueberry line has provided Daifressh with greater flexibility in the production process and the ability to pack fruit in a variety of conditions and packaging. In addition, the latest technological solutions allow to take care of the quality of the final product, radically reduce the number of operators in the packing area, and gain full control thanks to the applied automation, which allows to manage the entire line from one place.
Innovative solution for strawberries
In 2021, Daifressh decided to develop another production line – this time for packing strawberries. The partnership and fruitful cooperation prompted the producer to contact Milbor PMC again. We offer complex lines, but we are also able to customise the right solution for the customer. In 2020, Daifressh invested in a complete line for sorting and packing blueberries. During our next collaboration in 2021, we helped the producer find a solution for other soft fruits. We provided Daifressh with a tailor-made strawberry packing line – we proposed a solution to suit their needs based on the problems they presented, explains Maciej Chmielewski, Fresh Produce Sales Director at Milbor PMC. The innovative conveyor system is the first such investment in Poland. Equipment capable of checking the weight of individual packages and correcting them at a later stage significantly speed up the production process and reduce the number of employees needed in the packing room. The large investment in specialised machinery is a response to the growing demand of our customers. We chose the solution proposed by Milbor PMC in order to optimise our packing processes. The advantages of a custom strawberry packing line include, among other things, a significant improvement in productivity and a faster production process. In addition, by eliminating the human aspect, we avoid any possibility of the customer rejecting the product due to incorrect weight, explains a Daifressh consultant.
In soft fruit production, growers also increasingly decide to invest in growing in tunnels. This brings many benefits, the most important of which are the ability to obtain accelerated harvests and to protect the fruit from many weather factors. Last year, we saw a big increase in the sales of strawberries in Poland and abroad. Fruits from our production in Poland are exported mainly to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. This year, our company decided to invest in growing strawberries in tunnels. With this type of solution, we will be able to produce more fruit. We estimate that our production volume may even double, informs Łukasz Niechaj, technical specialist at Daifressh. The producer’s investment last year in a dedicated strawberry production line allows for packing more fruit in less time, thus reducing production time and associated costs. Our packing room would not be able to accommodate enough people to pack products without the support of machines. We have a limited working time in which we must complete orders. The machines are faster, thanks to which we save time, space, and the number of people working on a given product, continues Niechaj.
The consumption of fruits and vegetables in Europe is increasing. This was mainly due to the change in the eating habits of Europeans, the health benefits of consuming these products, and the increased awareness of the threat of climate change. The pandemic also had a significant impact, providing an impetus to improve the daily diet. Despite many factors driving up the prices of fruits and vegetables, the consumption of these products is expected to continue to rise in 2022.