Compac, part of the TOMRA Food family, and its partners ICOEL and Sardas were confronted with unique challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit just as they were preparing to ship and install three turnkey cherry grading and packing lines in Turkey and a fourth one in Uzbekistan. They overcame the unprecedented situation with countries under lockdown, travel restrictions and disruptions to goods transport logistics to complete the four projects right on schedule. This achievement required all the ingenuity of the teams involved in the installation, who were able to leverage Compac’s global supply chain and extreme operational flexibility. The four lines, equipped with Compac’s InVision2 electronic grading platform, were up and running for the beginning of the cherry season and they performed to the respective customers’ satisfaction. With their new Compac grading and packing lines, Perla Fruit, Karaali, Unifrutti in Turkey and Uz-Segang in Uzbekistan closed the season with resounding success, receiving positive feedback from their customers.
In a cherry season that was like no other before, Compac, its distributor ICOEL and Turkish agent Sardas demonstrated how even the most difficult hurdles can be overcome with good teamwork and out-of-the-box thinking. The major projects they completed in Turkey and Uzbekistan, installing four turnkey grading and packing lines totaling 42 InVision2 lanes during the pandemic, are excellent examples of their resourcefulness and determination to help their customers succeed.
Careful planning and a global footprint for on-time completion
“The COVID-19 pandemic provided an unexpected level of challenge, with significant restrictions on the movement of people and materials,” comments Roberto Ricci, Compac Regional Director EMENA. “In spite of the situation, we delivered in full and on time! How did we do it? First, through careful planning of the logistics with our partner ICOEL, and we leveraged our global supply chain and logistics capabilities.”
All the Compac InVision2 equipment for the four projects was produced at Compac’s facility in New Zealand and at TOMRA Food’s manufacturing center in Slovakia. The company’s global manufacturing footprint, which also includes a plant in China, gives it the scale and flexibility to deliver projects around the world efficiently – even in the complex situation created by the pandemic. All the equipment for the four projects was delivered to each site in time to begin installation and be ready for the beginning of the cherry season.
High quality grading for demanding markets
Perla Fruit, Karaali and Unifrutti in Turkey, and Uz-Segang in Uzbekistan are all big exporters that serve some of the most demanding markets when it comes to the quality of cherries, such as China.
Turkey, the largest cherry producer with just over 25% share of the global market, has made the strategic choice to develop its export market and focus on sweet cherry varieties, which are more in demand. Between 2005 and 2016 alone, its production of sweet cherries increased from 6 million to 21.5 million. Perla Fruit was founded in 2019 by a family of pioneers who put the Turkish cherry industry on the map, closed successfully its first season exporting more than 4,000 tonnes to markets in Europe, the Far East and the Middle East. Karaali, a family business established in 1992, has an annual export capacity of around 3,000 tonnes, the majority of which goes to the Russian market. Unifrutti, a well-known Italian global fruit exporter, established its base in Turkey in 1991 and started operation of its new sorting and packing plant this cherry season processing 3,000 tonnes for the European market.
Uzbekistan is a fast-developing market, which has already risen to be the 5th largest cherry producer in the world. The government is investing heavily and devoting significant efforts to developing its exports of fruit and vegetables. It has recently signed a protocol with China for the supply of cherries to the market and has undertaken negotiations with South Korea to facilitate exports. Its proximity to China, the world’s biggest cherry import market, is attracting the interest of Turkish cherry export companies who see it as a platform to reach a significant pool of new customers. Uz-Segang grows fruits, vegetables and legumes in the very fertile soil of the Fergana valley. It exports mainly to the Chinese market, benefiting from being located just a 3.5-day truck drive away – and South Korea.
The four companies chose Compac for their grading and packing plants because of the high-quality product they would be able to guarantee their customers with its technology. Compac carefully analyzed their respective requirements and developed tailored solutions for each, all of them featuring its InVision2 platform. The InVision2 platform achieves extremely accurate and consistent grading for size, shape, color and blemishes through a combination of powerful imaging using color and infrared technologies, controlled lighting and cherry rotation. With its partners ICOEL and Sardas, it installed a 16-lane system at Perla Fruit, 10 lanes at Karaali and at Unifrutti, and 6 lanes at Uz-Segang.
Remote installation with round-the-clock virtual support
The travel restrictions and countries in lockdown due to Covid-19 presented a challenge not only for shipping the equipment, but also for the Compac team to reach the four locations. Roberto Ricci explains: “We leveraged our remote service capabilities with resources located to cover all continents and time zones. These remote resources allowed us to provide support literally around the clock, 24/7, to the three separate technical teams that were on the ground working to install and commission the four lines.”
“Yes, it was 24/7, because of the time zones” adds Mustafa Sakarya, Senior Director of Sardas, Compac agent in Turkey, who conducted all four installations. Compac managed the four projects from its base in New Zealand, supported by its Assistance teams based in the USA, and its importer ICOEL headquartered in Italy. “It was a difficult year, but we had so many gains. We understood that we can manage the lack of persons on site with a good remote support. We proved that we can complete installations entirely remotely.”
Success also required a close partnership with the customers, who provided fast broadband connectivity in the packhouses. “We also asked them to set up cameras throughout the packhouse so we could follow them round the clock and see the progress on the mechanical and electronic installation,” says Mustafa Sakarya.
“We also used a bit of creativity to overcome the logistic limitations of commercial flights into Uzbekistan,” adds Roberto Ricci. “With the help of Uzbek Ambassador in Rome, Uz-Segang obtained permission to bring ICOEL technicians into the country and chartered a private flight for them – definitely the most exclusive mode of transport that the technical team has ever experienced! The customer organized accommodation and made eating arrangements at the packhouse for the six ICOEL staff, who never left the site in the almost 4 weeks of the project to respect the lockdown and distancing rules.”
The determination of the customer to run this year’s cherry season on the new line was matched by that of Compac and its partners, who pulled out all the stops to deliver the result he wanted. Their efforts were rewarded when the facility was honored with the official visit of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, on June 5th.
A successful cherry season for all
All 4 lines were commissioned on time and were ready to start in mid-May, when the season usually begins. This year, however, the season was a little late and the cherries started to arrive from the field at Perla Fruit and Uz-Segang on the week of May 25th, and at Karaali and Unifrutti a week later.
“The cherry season started, and the customers needed to run their machines, we were working day and night to complete the installation, but everyone had their lines running on time,” says Mustafa Sakarya. All four companies closed the season with success and report superior results compared to other systems with respect to the quality of the pack, and the efficiency of the sort process. “They have received great feedback about the superior quality of their pack compared to other suppliers, coming both from their distributors and retailers as well as the quality inspectors who inspect the fruit at the packhouse before it enters the distribution chain,” concludes Roberto Ricci .