Montague chooses TOMRA Food’s grading technology for its new processing facility

The new packing and distribution facility will increase Montague’s packing capacity to reach more than 40 million kilograms of fresh fruit a year. The leading Australian fresh produce company partnered with TOMRA Food for its state-of-the-art technology’s grading accuracy, capacity to deliver a project on this scale, and collaborative approach.

Montague is a family-owned business founded in 1948 in Narre Warren North, Victoria, where it started as an apple grower. Over the years, it has expanded from production to cold storage facilitation and logistics, growing to become today’s fresh fruit supplier to major domestic retailers, premium wholesale markets, independent retailers and the global export market, with annual sales above AU$150m. It sells its own-grown fruit and as well as product from more than 200 growers from across Australia and holds the exclusive production and marketing license of Jazz™, Envy™, Smitten™, Ambrosia™, Yello™, Eve™, Sweetango™ apples to the Australian market, as well as Croc Eggs™ plums and Montague Tree Stonefruit to the global markets.

Montague Production operates five properties covering more than 500 hectares with an annual production of more than 30,000 bins of apples, 6,000 bins of stonefruit and four million prepack units. It packs its own-grown fruit, provides packing services for affiliated growers, and aims to increase its total packing volume to 75,000 bins within three years.

Careful selection of the partner for this major project

Montague decided to invest in a larger, more efficient infrastructure with higher production capacity to continue on its growth path and achieve its goals. A five-year planning process followed, during which the company consulted with manufacturers and service providers across the world. It conducted an exhaustive process to select the partner for this project and chose TOMRA Food for its technology.

Rowan Little, chief innovation officer at Montague, explained the key considerations made in choosing technology for the project: “First of all, grading technology – we wanted the most technologically sophisticated external and internal grading equipment. Health and hygiene were important factors – the system must ensure the care of fruit through the sorting process to reach the consumer in optimal quality and is safe for human consumption. Efficiency was key – we needed the project to deliver tangible reductions in hours of labour per kilogram of fruit processed. Integration was another requirement – we needed to easily obtain data on fruit quality, volume and traceability from multiple Montague systems. And, finally, value – the total overall cost of the project.”

A world-class facility featuring state-of-the-art TOMRA Food grading technology

In September 2019, it broke ground on its world-class packaging and export distribution centre. The 18,000 sqm facility with a capacity in excess of 40 million kg is one of the largest in the world. It features a six-lane MLS sorting system, five pack lines with scope for expansion, a 50-lane pre-sorter, and an automated storage retrieval system with a capacity of 3,000 bins. All movements from pre-size to finished carton are ensured via robotics in a flow-through design that takes the fruit from the orchard, through the facility, and into storage.

The solution provided by TOMRA Food built on the class-leading performance of the Multi Lane Sorter (MLS) and the Inspectra2, Spectrim and UltraView inspection systems to deliver gentle handling and grading accuracy that helps to reduce food waste and increase pack out. The three grading systems inspect the fruit as it enters the production process to ensure the highest quality of the end product. The Inspectra2 platform detects internal defects with high accuracy using Near-infrared (NIR) inspection to analyse the spectra of light transmitted through every fruit to determine internal characteristics. The powerful Spectrim optical sorting platform uses infrared to identify colour or skin marks and bruises that are not visible to the eye. The UltraView inspection module fitted on the Spectrim system improves detection of difficult defects with cameras positioned to look at the stem and calyx end of the fruit to identify russet or frost rings.

“The grading accuracy of TOMRA systems offers peace of mind and protects the brand, ensuring the highest quality produce, improved hygiene and food safety, and the assurance that the right fruit is always in the right box,” said Paul Slupecki, head of Global Sales TOMRA Fresh Food at TOMRA Food.

Rowan Little had clear expectations of TOMRA’s grading technology: “Core benefits are the ability to grade stem end defects, identify and categorise a wider range of disorders, and the enhanced accuracy and grading fruit for internal defects. The accurate grading of fruit gives us the ability to closely align our product to our customers’ requirements. From a production perspective, the project will give us greater visibility of fruit grade in the process, meaning less fruit in packed cartons in cold storage.”

The digital connectivity offered by TOMRA’s solution addresses Montague’s need for a system integrated with the packhouse’s systems.

“This offers a pathway to become the digital heart of the facility, with the possibility to connect to Cloud data platforms such as TOMRA Insight, enabling better flow of information up and down the supply chain, helping the operation to make data-driven decisions,” explained Slupecki.

Little, added: “The potential to provide timely and accurate data up and down the supply chain will be critical in the longer term. For growers, this will mean the ability to manage orchard activity to address issues that have negatively impacted pack out. For the retailer, it will mean more data on fruit characteristics prior to the raising of purchase orders. This should allow for the better matching of orders to the fruit manifest.”

A successful partnership for a stand-out project

The project for the new facility stands out not only for its scale and state-of-the-art technology, but also for having been completed on schedule during a pandemic.

Rowan Little is satisfied that TOMRA Food was the right partner for the project: “On the whole, we felt that it was of sufficient scale to manage the whole project bringing together a range of experts and technologies to deliver an outcome. The thing that stands out most is the ability of TOMRA Food and their partners to deal with challenges beyond their control. Building a new production facility in the midst of a pandemic was a considerable challenge. They worked diligently to stay on time and within budget despite these challenges.”

He particularly appreciated TOMRA Food’s collaborative approach and determination to deliver the desired outcome: “TOMRA Food embraces collaboration. They actively look for solutions to problems and add resources when issues arise.”