This is how Dr. B’ optimizes throughput, quality and shelf life of blueberries
About Dr. B’s
Dr. B’s is a blueberry farming organization that was created by a group of individuals with significant industry experience. From the ground up, Dr. B’s developed a new blueberry operation that included an impressive growing and packing facility located in southwestern Washington state.
Processing large volumes with great throughput
The company owns more than 1,000 acres of land and packed around 7 million pounds of blueberries last year. In the next 3-4 years they will further grow to an amount of 16 million pounds. The packhouse is located directly next to the growing fields. That’s convenient because the fruit exits the field and within 1,5 hours it goes through the sorting machines according to Sukh Bubra, the owner of the company. Fruit processing is done at high speed with an average capacity of 7 tons per hour.
Serving premium quality and the finest jumbo size berries
Dr. B’s serves only the highest quality blueberries to premium markets. Their main focus is North America, but the fruit is also exported to growing markets such as Japan, China and Malaysia. They pack various sizes clam shells, but the most appealing to retailers are the jumbo size blueberries (18mm+) with the finest quality.
Dr B’s needed to be more efficient while expanding
As Dr B’s expanded their acreage and production capacity, there was a critical need to improve operational efficiencies. At the same time they wanted to be sure that they were delivering the necessary product quality to continue to meet their customer’s expectations. “We want to deliver a consistent product that looks good, tastes good, and can travel.”
Main Goals and challenges:
- INCREASE THROUGHPUT: “Given the short season (10 weeks) and the limited space in the packhouse we need more throughput to sort and pack the blueberries.”
- IMPROVE QUALITY CONSISTENCY: “We want to get the best quality out of the sorting machine. Every year the fruit is different and extreme weather conditions have a big impact. When the fruit quality decreases, we still want to create the best possible clam shells.”
- OPTIMIZING SHELF-LIFE ALLOCATION: “Our biggest shelf-life challenges are in the trips through hot areas (fe. Arizona and Texas) and overseas (6-7 week shelf life needed). We need to pack blueberries that can withstand the travel and have a better shelf life.”
“We especially weighted our decision on throughput, quality and shelf-life optimization” – Sukh Bubra
Rejections, loss of value and reputation damage
“Previously, the sorting capabilities were not yet at the right level. In a good harvest year this was not a problem, but in worse years we struggled to accurately detect all defects including shrivel, softness, stems, scars, tears, etc. You must sort out the quality every year (the good from the bad), otherwise the whole batch could be rejected by the retailer. Then we talk about 25.000 – 30.000 pounds of fruit rejection, that’s a major impact if that happens. You have to rework the fruit or sell them at a lower grade and price. When this happens with export, your hands are tied. You can do nothing when it’s rejected all the way in Malaysia. That’s why the entire quality of the clam shell is important. You want to keep your reputation at high standards” according to Bubra.
Choosing the right sorting machine & technology
Dr. B’s team spent a significant amount of time evaluating technology to meet their operational and quality objectives. “We visited several packinghouses and talked about their approach and machines they use. Then we talked to a lot of the suppliers’ owners in the blueberry industry and tested the machines thoroughly. “We especially weighted our decision on throughput, quality and shelf life” says Bubra. Ultimately, Dr. B’s selected an Ellips – Elifab Berry Class grader to address their requirements.
What are the main motivations for choosing Ellips Elifab?
- Highest throughput in the market (most important!)
- The ability to optimize shelf life for long distance travel and export, because of the gentle handling and the precision of detecting every type of defects
- The highest accuracy and great flexibility to guarantee consistent quality
Other motivations were also that the footprint of the machine was very good, the high standard of service and support, and cleaning of the machine was easy and takes little time.
” The combination of the aspects from Elifab and the Ellips software was outstanding. We were up and running within one week. Sam and John of Elifab & Ellips have been excellent in this process” – Sukh Bubra.
Bubra summarized it as follows:
“We ensured that the quality of the clam shell is consistent at the highest level. It grades very well and is very flexible and user friendly. We ensured ourselves that if the quality goes down, we still can detect defects and guarantee consistent premium clam shells”.
- We have the ability to export long distances and overseas, because we can optimize the allocation of shelf life.
- In addition, the throughput was amazing, and it exceeded our expectations. Because the quality control is so accurate, we don’t need people for manual inspection with the Elifab machine. This has reduced the labor requirements and associated costs in the packhouse, according to Bubra.
- We minimized the risk of rejections from retailers and the Ellips software is the reason why. “When people realise the quality of what you are able to deliver, people knock on your door.” The ability to guarantee consistent quality and sort jumbo size blueberries is what makes retailers happy. More customers trust us because of our enhanced reputation. We are very pleased with that.
The future for Dr. B’s
We want to have even more throughput in the near future. We intend to grow even further through the years because as we deliver at a higher standard nowadays we’re getting more demand from the market. We want to grow with Elifab and Ellips because they help us to reach the best possible quality for our clients. We’re very grateful for that