Accelerate - September 2013

Cherry picking international profits

Compac Sorting Equipment is reaping the fruit of its significant investment in R&D, with several new international contracts and a significant boost to its reputation as an innovative and leading fruit sorting company.

Compac Sorting Equipment is reaping the fruit of its significant investment in R&D, with several new international contracts and a significant boost to its reputation as an innovative and leading fruit sorting company.

The company that started out as a university project in a kiwifruit orchard in Kerikeri now boasts the most advanced blemish sorting technology in the global fruit sorting industry and employs over 300 people.

“Compac excels at sorting produce like kiwifruit, citrus and apples, but we wanted to move into a new market – smaller fruit such as cherries – and needed to bring something new and innovative to the market,” says Compac R&D Manager Nigel Beach.

The ‘something new and innovative’ was technology that would grade and sort the fruit through 3D imaging software and specialised sorter equipment.

With the help of two government grants: one technology grant ($1.6 million) and an R&D project grant ($3.3 million), Compac was able to perfect their ideas and put them to the test.

“The R&D grants were critical to develop the technology that runs these machines. It allowed us to make a big investment in R&D by taking out some of the financial risk. It also enabled us to work closely with outside research institutes to speed up our R&D. With this funding we have grown faster and taken on more staff to expand our product development,” says Beach.

As a result, Compac has secured the business of the largest cherry packer in California, Prima Frutta.

Lawrence Sambado, owner of Prima Frutta, has high praise for the new fruit sorter from Compac.

“The 36 lane Compac grader sorted 50,000 cherries every minute for 18 hours a day. Not only did the machine sort the fruit, but it also scanned and graded the fruit. This meant a 40% labour saving that, I believe, will increase as we get our systems structured and perfected,’ he says.

Sambado goes on to say that the new sorter has given them a significant competitive edge in the market. “I think it will take two to three years for other packers to catch up with our optic sorting system and most packers will have to change or they will not be able to compete.”

As a direct result of winning the Prima Frutta contract, Compac sold another machine to a fruit company in Chile, and a smaller optical sorter to Monson Fruit in Washington State in the US.

The optical sorter had a dramatic impact on Monson Fruit’s efficiency, resulting in a 60% reduction in their labour costs.

“These machines have created a new export market for us, but the greatest benefit for us is having the Prima Frutta machine as a showcase for the rest of the cherry industry, as they look to upgrade their packing facilities with newer technology,” says Beach.

“Over the next two years we’re expecting to see some significant growth in our sales in the cherry market.”

Updated: 7 September 2015