Recently we announced the acquisition of BBC Technologies, a New Zealand-based company specializing in precision grading systems and filling solutions for blueberries and other small fruits. The Packer spoke with Mike Riley, Head of TOMRA Food Grading, to gain more insight on the reasons behind the acquisition and the value this move brings to the supply chain market.
Why did TOMRA acquire BBC Technologies?
As we saw the blueberry space growing in the fresh segment, we’ve undertaken monumental R&D efforts to revolutionize technology in miniaturizing the way we handle small fruit and berries. BBC has built a technology that fits this purpose. We really respect what BBC has done in terms of developing technology. What TOMRA brings to BBC Technologies is the ability to get that technology into global markets and accelerate its growth.
How will TOMRA's recent acquisitions benefit the industry?
In a market that’s becoming more and more consumer driven, we need to assemble a more complete battery of grading and detection capabilities. We want to be a “one-stop shop” for all sorting and grading technologies. We want our large corporate customers to depend on TOMRA – to know that we’re making the right investments in R&D, knowing all our equipment can be quickly deployed, monitored and serviced through a common vendor and a common platform. It’s time for that to happen in fresh technologies. We already have a rich offering of sorting and grading technologies. The acquisition of BBC Technologies fills a gap in our fresh grading capability. It helps us fulfill that “one-stop shop” promise. Many of our growers are expanding into the small fruit and berry segment, so this allows us to support their needs without them having to go out and forge new relationships.
What other opportunities are TOMRA exploring?
There are a lot of opportunities for innovation in internal inspection. For example, avocados – it would be great if we could predict with more accuracy the ripeness of an avocado, to make sure the consumer gets the fresh, ripe product they are expecting. When you look at the technology required to do that type of internal inspection at production speed, we’re not there yet. So, this is one main focus. The second focus is in gathering data to improve the supply chain, to improve efficiency, to reduce waste and to improve yield. The sorting machines we supply gather huge amounts of data in real time. That information can be of immense value throughout the supply chain, from informing the grower how the crop looks when it came from the field, to informing the supply chain of the quality of the product on its way to market, when it’s best to market it, when is it going to be perfectly ripe, how is it going to travel, how it was shipped, what were the results and what can we do to improve. TOMRA Food is forming cross-industry working groups to accelerate this development of digital standards and data sharing for the Food industry, with the first meetings to be held in Q4, 2018.
Where do you see the future of the fresh produce supply chain?
This is one of those classic points in time where enabling technologies, plus a more consumer-driven retail environment, is causing a massive disruption in the traditional supply chain. We’ll see significant changes in the technologies used to sort and grade at all points in the process. We should see a reduction in waste. The other aspect to automation is how do we deliver all of this to consumers where there are fewer and fewer people available to do what has been done manually. We need to bring automation to parts of the world where they don’t have the labor resources to do the job.
How important is R&D?
It’s a technology arms race – and this race is only going to be won by the fittest. Our customers expect, demand and deserve a high level of R&D. That ongoing commitment to large-scale R&D investment, to continue to help to facilitate the disruption and the consolidation of the supply chain is not for the faint hearted. That’s what is going on at TOMRA food.
What other key trends do you see in the industry?
Grower consolidation is a big trend. Growers are working out how to produce certain brands or varietals of consistently high quality. Once they figure out their “formula,” they acquire more and more land to produce more of a particular crop or varietal. In the packing area, increased automation will be required. Machines that can inspect, weigh and grade the product and even fulfil the product. Our customers have a harder and harder time finding people who want to do this work. We need to introduce technology into those areas of the supply chain.