Equipment & Technology

Sortex Optical Sorters Vital at Vitafoods to Maximize Fruit Flow 

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Vitafoods, born from a recent merger between frozen fruit product specialists Hortifrut and Alifrut, has extended its relationship with Bühler by investing in Sortex FA equipment to enhance processing operations. The plug-and-play optical sorters with advanced definition color defect detection and foreign material (FM) removal technology have placed the Chillán, Chile-headquartered company on track to hit an ambitious target of 30 million kilograms of export volume in 2021. This will include 14 million kg of frozen blueberries and 16 million kg of frozen raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and cherries.

Since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic (SARS-CoV-2) that spread from China in early 2020 to infect virtually the entire world, emphasis on healthy eating has risen globally. In particular, sales of easy-to-prepare frozen fruits with extended shelf life have increased significantly among housebound consumers. This trend is expected to continue even though lockdown restrictions have eased in many countries. Indeed, the frozen fruit market is predicted to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.58% from 2020-25, reaching an international market size of US $5.510 billion in 2025.

In seizing the moment during this opportune time, multi-product frozen foods processing company Alifrut and frozen berries specialist Hortifrut, joined forces to merge their frozen product operations, including five production plants and corresponding assets in Europe, Asia, the USA and Oceania.

Drawing on Experience 

When deciding which technology to invest in to ensure the highest quality of frozen berries, Vitafoods drew on its past experience with the Sortex FA2 optical sorter installed previously at Hortifruit’s Molina facility.

“Back in 2019, when operating as Hortifruit, we invested in the Sortex FA2 predominantly for our frozen blueberries and for small quantities of strawberries and blackberries,” said Vitafoods CEO Fernando Larios. “The stability and durability of their systems and the way that their technology met all of our required parameters and incorporated the vital component of food safety made it a simple decision for us.”

He continued: “As Hortifruit, our main problem before investing in the sorter was that we lacked confidence when it came to foreign material removal. As soon as we started using the Sortex FA2, our confidence was restored. From then on, we could be sure that whatever problematic foreign material would come through our process – mainly plastic but also wood, sticks and stones – would be rejected.”

Bühler’s PolarVision technology also proved very useful in terms of foreign material and quality defects removal of dehydrated blueberries and blueberries with attached stems. Another advantage was the LED lighting system, which enhanced contrast depending on the product, without needing to change any part of the machine physically.

Color Defects and Production Consistency 

“Additionally, we wanted better definition of color defects and the Sortex FA2 allowed us to precisely adjust parameters to our specific needs. For example, 100% blue on the accept or a little more purple, without having to sacrifice our good fruit in the reject,” stated Larios. 

As a result of the installation Hortifruit was able to ensure consistent production around the clock, running the machine for 16 hours a day. The company also increased its capacity by an average of 5%. This was not just because of the defect removal, but also thanks to the reduction of good/bad ratio in the reject.

Owing to the impressive performance of the Sortex FA2 for Hortifruit, Vitafoods decided to invest in a second optical sorter for its frozen berries. 

“We chose the Sortex FA1 because we knew it would allow the greatest flexibility for our operations. After running tests with Bühler, we decided that it would be a great addition to our line, in conjunction with the existing FA2, to run different types of berries,” said Larios. “We needed to be able to clean products with varying levels of contamination and the FA1 seemed up for the challenge. It’s given us peace of mind that our quality specification and market-specific export requirements will always be met and that our finished product will be free of FM.”