HORTÍCOLA ESMA is a family business with a history dating back three generations. Today it is among the biggest carrot processors in Spain. It has a tradition of good practices to offer customers food they can trust. To ensure the quality of its product, it takes on the full process – from the original seeds all the way to the supermarket shelves. The company grows and processes potatoes, onions and carrots. For the latter, its star product, it has acquired the Halo optic sorter, which is highly effective in detecting defects.
HORTÍCOLA ESMA has a consolidated leading position in the sector. It manages the entire carrot process from beginning to end with 40 employees. In 1965, the Escribano Mato family, grandparents of the current owners, started their operation, growing, washing and marketing carrots. “Back then, washing the produce was done with a bag in the river,” explains Sergio Escribano, the company’s joint manager with his brother Javier. Those were the company’s early days, but a promising future was awaiting. In the following years, the excellent work of Benjamín Escribano sets a solid foundation and, in 1995, HORTÍCOLA ESMA is founded and begins its expansion. Four years later, in 1999, the company inaugurates its processing plant in Villanueva de Duero, in Valladolid, and adds potatoes and onions to its product offering. It is worth highlighting that all its products are certified to Global G.A.P Integrated Farm Assurance standards and bear the ‘Tierra de Sabor” label that ensures the Quality of agrifood products produced or processed in the Castilla and León region.
Sergio outlines the company pillars: “Quality and continuous technological innovation are the hallmarks that make us stand out from the competition. To ensure our success and our company’s growth, we have proceeded step by step, starting from the field. We introduced the best agricultural machinery. We periodically acquired more land. Having consolidated this part of our business, the following step was to introduce the sorter.”
“The TOMRA Food Halo has enabled us to increase our production by 20%. This would have been unthinkable without it. Our productivity has increased, and we have reduced rejects – which we usually give to livestock farmers – to a minimum,” adds Sergio.
COVID-19 was a watershed moment. “In the early days of the pandemic, we were worried. On the one hand, it affected manpower, while on the other, demand from supermarkets shot up by 20%. Thanks to the Halo, we were able to cover this peak in demand, and now we have been able to consolidate the order volumes from supermarkets – particularly the Spanish ones.
Our strategic objective is to continue to increase HORTÍCOLA ESMA’s presence in supermarket chains and central markets nationwide. In contrast, our exports have increased by 20% and are concentrated in markets such as Portugal, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.”
Employees at the plant have also noticed the difference with the Halo sorter. “Before we had the sorter, the team worked very fast, and by the end of the day, they didn’t know if they were rejecting good or bad product. Now they work with peace of mind that the machine won’t make mistakes. We have increased our profitability. Now, for every incoming truckload, we always save produce that in the past would have been rejected because the workers were tired, and we have reduced our rejects to a minimum.” In addition, the integration of the Halo sorter has enabled us to move 4 people from the sorting line and redeploy them to other parts of the processing line.
Halo: high precision in defect detection and ease of use
At HORTÍCOLA ESMA, the process is carried out from beginning to end. “We grow the carrots in our farms. We harvest them with our equipment, and we ship them with our trucks. All this happens prodigiously fast. It takes just 24 hours for the carrots to go from field to supermarket,” explains Sergio Escribano.
Once the dirty carrots arrive at the plant, they are cleaned of extraneous materials, wood, etc., in water tanks. Then they go through the “stone removal” and “grass removal” stages, followed by the Halo. This is where the carrots with defects are sorted from the good ones, which are then brushed and cooled. The final step is grading; identify the ones of the size set in the program.
The Halo is perfect for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. “For carrots, the Halo sorter enables us to achieve the Quality required by supermarkets. Its front and rear color cameras, pulsed LED lighting, and NIR sensor for infrared spectroscopy detect the most common defects: small, cut, or malformed carrots; brown, black, red or green blemishes. At HORTÍCOLA ESMA, they have programmed double rejects, and the Halo identifies defects to perfection: carrot pieces to one side and blemishes of all types to the other,” states Alejandro Palacios, Sales Manager TOMRA Processed Food at TOMRA Food for Spain and Portugal.
In addition, it is an easy-to-use machine: “We think that the Halo is very intuitive to operate. I program the adjustments myself on the screen, according to the different batches that arrive,” says Sergio.
HORTÍCOLA ESMA: a satisfied customer becomes a TOMRA showcase in Spain and Portugal
“We met in October 2019, when we traveled to Germany to visit a TOMRA customer. We were able to see the Halo working with an organic product that arrived in a rather bad condition. We quickly saw the good yield it achieved. As soon as I arrived at the airport after the test, I spoke with Benjamín, my father, and then with my brother Javier. I told them: we have to purchase this machine because, if it works in these conditions, it will work well at our plant, no doubt. And so it was,” he recalls.
Indeed, the Halo makes all the difference and increases productivity, even with bad harvests or plots. “A year ago, we had a plot with terrible Quality. We were going to plow it over, but then we decided to see what would happen if we processed the produce. We managed to get 30% production - a volume we never expected to achieve. This confirmed we had made the right decision. It’s the difference between having this machine and not having it.”
Since then, HORTÍCOLA ESMA has been a magnificent showcase for TOMRA Food. “The Escribano family has allowed us to bring several potential clients to see it, and we have already sold four sorters to people who traveled from various cities in Spain to see how it worked,” says Alejandro Palacios.
“We recommend TOMRA Food without reservation. For us, it has made all the difference in production and yield,” concludes Sergio Escribano.