Bühler facilitates Chinese market expansion for Royal Quinoa processor

Bolivia-based Andean Valley Corporation attributes its entry into the Chinese market to its investment’s in Bühler’s Sortex optical sorting technology. The company has also seen a more than two-fold increase in its processing capacity, as well as ongoing expansion of its product portfolio and an improvement in its colour sorting.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies conducted around the world have shown a rise in depression and anxiety levels. Medical professionals suggest physical activity and lifestyle changes as a first resort, including an increased intake of complex carbohydrates, fibre and protein-rich superfoods such as quinoa.

Superfood benefits
Quinoa seeds contain all essential amino acids, iron and B vitamins, in addition to magnesium – known to enhance levels of serotonin, or “the happy chemical”, in the brain. Their slow releasing energy and low glycaemic value ensure optimal blood sugar, while the presence of sleep-including hormone melatonin helps to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Javier Fernandez Villalobos, CEO, president and owner of Andean Valley Corporation, said: “Our black Royal Quinoa is particularly rich in lithium, which can help to regulate depression.”

Royal Quinoa is dubbed to be the “highest quality of quinoa”. At quadruple the size of other quinoa varieties, it contains a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals, as well as a nutty flavour.

Enhancing capacity
Since COVID-19 pandemic began, Andean Valley has experienced an increase in demand for its Royal Quinoa, recording its highest sales in the company history.

“With our Sortex technology we have been able to meet this rise in demand,” Fernandez explained. The company has more than doubled its processing capacity, from two to five metric tonnes per hour.

He continued: “Prior to investing in Sortex technology, if we wanted to ensure a high-quality end-product we had to significantly reduce capacity, this was costing us a lot of time and money. With Bühler, we’ve been able to improve our quality and capacity, without sacrificing one for the other.”

With its expandable and modular structure, Sortex optical sorting technology enables higher product throughput without compromising on the accept product quality, Bühler claimed. Additionally, the flexible configuration allows the product to have multiple passes, enabling Andean Valley to obtain a much more concentrated reject. Subsequently, it is reported that the company has been able to recover approximately five metric tonnes of accept-quality quinoa every month.

Expanding portfolio
Established in 1998 and as one of the companies to be certified organic in Latin America, Andean Valley is committed to producing, processing and exporting organic food made with Royal Quinoa. The company is on track to process over 5,700 metric tonnes of quinoa by the end of 2020, with the help of almost 500 farmers and 147 employees who work across three processing facilities located in La Paz.

The company has developed a range of 50 organic, gluten-free and non-GMO red, white and black Royal Quinoa-based products. Fernandez explained: “One of the most important elements that has helped us in our product development, has been the support of companies like Bühler in furthering our technological development. By enabling us to perfect our de-stoning and cleaning of the grains, we can trust that we are producing the best quality in the market, so we are able to think bigger. The unmatched technology gives us the support and confidence that we needed.

“As a result, our sales channel has evolved from supplying bulk containers of Royal Quinoa to companies, to now providing restaurants, cafes and supermarkets with high quality, ready-to-eat Royal Quinoa-based products.”

Improved colour sorting
The main challenge that the company faced prior to its Sortex investment was detection and removal of immature pale green and overly mature pale pink grains, which are both very similar in colour to the main white quinoa.

With Bühler’s RGB camera sensors, Andean Valley is now able to detect “very slight colour” variations, with a clear image. The algorithm allows the operator to select which defect to remove, without touching any other colour. Moreover, the Sortex machine continuously tracks the product colour, enabling automatic calibration of camera gains and background references.

The Supper’s Programme
The improvement in colour sorting aligns with Andean Valley’s Supplier’s Programme, wherein the company purchases locally cultivated quinoa from almost 500 small farmers, most of whom lack advanced farming management. Subsequently, their grains often contain defects, which would not be accepted by other quinoa processors in the region. However, with its Sortex technology, Andean Valley is able to handle lower quality input material, and so can support its local farmers and provide with a steady income.

“We set up our Suppliers Programme so that small farmers are in a position to leave their businesses to their children, safeguarding their land and produce for future generations. This also involves strengthening their skills in pest control, sustainability and soil conservation,” Fernandez elaborated.

The Chinese market
Not only has Sortex colour sorting supported small farmers in Bolivia, but also Andean Valley’s export markets. Currently, the company exports its Royal Quinoa to 13 countries. However, without Sortex technology, Fernandez stated that it would have certainly “failed to enter the Chinese market”.

He said: “The Chinese market demands a stringent separation of black, red and white quinoa; thanks to Bühler’s advanced colour sorting we can ensure that. Today, we are able to comfortably fulfil our existing demand and also demand from China.”

The combination of the ejector system teamed with Bühler’s developments in digital image processing gives Andean Valley confidence that their Royal Quinoa will continue to meet the export requirements.

Fernandez concluded: “With our Sortex stamp of high quality, we are looking to further expand into new markets that have an organic, high quality food interest. Additionally, we are in the finishing stages of installing our first gluten-free pasta line and a smoothie line.

“We are also very excited to be improving our sales potential with a new R&D department. Our aim is to continue developing our product range.”