Articles and events from Berry Alliance
Introducing Berry Alliance, a mutually beneficial solution to dealing direct
By Pascal Simian, Director of Berry Alliance
The supermarket price war is one of the biggest challenges facing the fresh produce sector right now. With the price of fresh fruit plummeting on supermarket shelves, retailers are under pressure to protect their margins. To this end, there’s a growing trend for retailers to cut out the middleman—in this case the importer—and buy direct from growers. But what might seem like a cheap solution can be laborious, wasteful and, as a result, costly.
With a combined 40 years in the sector, there’s not a single challenge my colleague Steve Sadler and I haven’t seen, at both ends of the supply chain. I’ve been importing berries for Wellpak for over 20 years, and I’m delighted that Steve’s joined me from a six year stint as Senior Berry Buyer at IPL, ASDA’s sourcing and procurement arm. Together, we understand the efforts growers go to gain access to the UK market as well as the pressure that retailers are under to keep costs down.
Fresh produce is a fast moving market and it takes agility to keep pace. Watching retailers struggling to source direct from growers and knowing we had the knowledge, relationships and experience to provide a solution, it was instinctive for us to embrace the change.
After 18 months of careful research and refinement, we’ve honed a solution that’s mutually beneficial to all parties—Berry Alliance, a not for profit (NFP) company that supports growers throughout the world to supply direct to UK retailers, and for retailers to deal direct with growers.
Unlike an importer, the contract to supply is between the grower and the retailer, not with Berry Alliance. As an NFP, Berry Alliance can’t make a profit. It does not own the fruit and all supply chain savings, which are significant, are passed on as better prices to the retailer and enhanced returns to the grower. The model is entirely transparent, with the progress of orders and every penny in the process accessible to both parties, at all times.
Consultation was crucial in building Berry Alliance. We’ve learnt that, aside from the time it takes to develop relationships with growers, retailers’ biggest problem is importing. It takes time to ship fruit—anything from a few days to five weeks depending on the type, transit and origin—so retailers that buy direct from growers can’t respond fast to consumer demand. If sales are down, they can’t order less or return it. Anything surplus to demand or poor quality is wasted, as are the opportunities to source and sell more when sales are up. Buying direct can be an uneconomical exercise in which the retailer takes the financial hit.
Berry Alliance solves this problem by working with stock holdings in the UK that are based on retailers’ forecasts. If these change, it has multiple options to source additional produce and multiple outlets through which to sell surplus, so there’s no financial loss to the retailer be it through missed opportunities or excess supplies. And in Berry Alliance, growers have a sustainable route to retailers that allows them to be more flexible in their pricing.
Berry Alliance can also provide a seamless solution. It sits at the heart of an established ecosystem of independent but complementary companies that can be combined and configured to provide a unified service. This service ecosystem includes two highly automated fruit packing services (Ackio and Elision), which can both pack the fruit and monitor its quality. It also includes Wellpak, a leading supplier of fresh produce from around the world that is well placed to trouble shoot for the retailer if the need arises.
We’re confident that, in Berry Alliance, we’ve developed a solution that is robust and accessible to both ends of the supply chain. It’s supported by an established infrastructure, with the right growers already engaged and on board. Through Berry Alliance, we can get the freshest fruit at the best price for the retailer, while removing the cost and effort involved in managing the process.
To find out more about how Berry Alliance can benefit you go to www.berryalliance.org.uk
Partner Company Ackio now offers the most advanced cherry line in Europe
By Rachel Carson, Customer Services Manager, Ackio
Identifying new opportunities and devising technological solutions to meet them has always been at the core of Ackio’s strategy. In 2011, we spotted an opportunity to pack South American blueberries in bulk and configured a highly specialist machine that was the first of its kind in the UK, and that’s when we started Ackio. We have since continued our restless search for new technologies; always seeking the next advance or a new way to apply existing applications, from wherever they may be found. We’re currently in the process of introducing robotics from the automotive industry, for example.
Now we’ve added the most advanced cherry grading machine in Europe. It uses white light and cameras to grade cherries by any number of criteria, giving our clients greater choice and more exacting standards over the final product.
Cherries have a very short growing season and summer’s the peak season for cherries in Europe, North America and Canada, so the addition of a cutting edge new grader comes as we’re gearing up for this year.
Ackio will take cherries direct from growers—we’re working closely with Worcestershire-based West Growers, for example—as well as packing on behalf of retailers and other suppliers.
The process cherries go through when they reach Ackio direct from the grower will vary depending on the type of intake and the customer’s final product specification. We have several highly automated production lines that suit different types of fruit. This includes two grading lines for handling cherries. These are configured to grade cherries from 15mm to 40mm and will reject anything that falls out of this specification.
The first line will give the cherries an Aqualutions wash, a natural and environmentally friendly way of cleaning and sanitising the fruit. It will then optically grade out the cherries based on quality and size. They’re then ready for the second line, which utilises our new grader. This will optically—and exactly—grade out the cherries to the customer’s own criteria, based on any number of detailed specifications. From here, the final product is automatically weighed and packaged into the choice punnet and either flow wrapped or top sealed. All the products go through a secondary Checkweigher to ensure we’re maximising the customer’s yield.
The new cherry grader will not only give clients great choice and ultimately a better quality product for the consumer, but it will also increase productivity and precision here at Ackio.
By allowing the technology to do all the work, we’re not reliant on additional methods of manual quality control. Imagine watching tens of thousands of cherries rush past you as you judge by eye what needs plucking off the production line. After several hours of this you’ll become blind to those with defects (or ‘cherry-eyed’).
Our new grader’s cameras take 50 frames per second of each cherry and passes over a thousand cherries per minute. By using white light, it allows us to detect faults in even the darker fruits and it eliminates human error, meaning quality control is at its optimum. Automation means a higher quality yield at lower cost.
Both customers and growers can get a better return on larger cherries, which we’re able to grade out rather than classifying all the fruit as one size. And because our technology can detect defects that might be difficult to see with the human eye, customers can run later into the season when fruit is on the edge of quality.
All of Ackio’s operations and services capabilities are custom designed and configured to the meet our customers’ individual demands. As well as being able to give our customers complete control over the quality of their final product, we also have the foresight and agility to be able to predict and respond to their ever-changing packaging requirements. We’re seeing consumers add super fruits such as blueberries into their daily diets so we’re producing more kilo packaging for these berries. Snack pots that give retailers added value and a competitive edge are also on the rise, as are resealable punnets. Ackio has been offering both of these since 2015. Looking to the future, we wouldn’t be surprised to see retailers specify products based on their flavour, and we’re prepared to configure our sorting lines to accommodate this.