Worldwide Fruit (WFL) is an international fruit marketing and distribution company, sourcing products globally from over 1,000 growers worldwide. WFL’s Appleway facility in Spalding handles 70 million packs of apples, avocados, pears, and stone fruit per annum, with over 40% of said volume being ‘Ripe & Ready to Eat’. Driven by ‘zero waste’ WFL’s aim was to reduce the non-value adding activities within their ripening process and cease dependence on repeated inspection to achieve and assure quality.
WFL’s previous avocado ripening process was designed around removing pressure variability within the ripened material to achieve a tight customer specification. This process contained many elements of inspection (destructive and non-destructive) in the management and conditioning of the fruit to achieve the desired outcome.
Softripe now ensures we have a more consistent, superior product and has enabled us to remove the secondary grading from our processes. Along with the reduced ripening cycles, there are clear benefits to producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers.
Operations Director, Worldwide Fruit
Prior to Softripe, over 489,000kg of product was wasted by destructive testing during the traditional method of ripening and sampling process. Post ripening, fruit was required to pass over a non-destructive grading process to remove the unwanted fruit and to close the range to meet WFL’s customer specification. In a very good season, the grader had a ceiling of 80% accuracy in the non-destructive testing process. The more variable the sample, the less accurate the grader became.
In early 2019, JD Cooling required a partner to develop the Softripe system further in the UK. WFL at the time was looking for a likeminded company that strived to think outside the box to help them to reduce waste within their food supply chain. In mid-2019, WFL partnered with JD Cooling to progress the Softripe system to the next stage for specifically for avocados.
Whilst Softripe system was proven to work for bananas and seemed to offer another level of technology, it was not proven to be effective for the ripening of avocados and other stone fruit, after the long cross sea journey to Europe.
Proof of Concept Room Trials
After visits to a Swiss CO-OP to view the technology working on bananas and then a further development trip to Belem in Brazil to test the technology on stone fruit, JD Cooling and WFL were encouraged by the potential of Softripe for avocados. WFL were keen to support the idea of UK trials, a plan to ripen avocados via the Softripe system was then developed. However, it was clear that significant in-depth work would be needed to allow the technology to work in harmony with the natural characteristics of the avocado.
JD Cooling put together a proposal to build a one-off test chamber at WFL’s Spalding facility to develop the Softripe system on avocados alongside the traditional ripening systems already in place. Extensive trials were carried out during the late season – October 2019 to January 2020.
The main aim of in the development of JD Cooling/Softripe technology was to achieve a tighter range within the raw material post ripening by increasing the volume of ‘in spec fruit’, and to tighten/narrow the range of the outlying fruit to the point that the need for grading post ripening is no longer required. By achieving the desired outcome, JD Cooling were able to reduce the cost per kg to ripen material, reduce the fruit loss (improve yield) by ceasing or reducing the need for inspection via grading and destructive testing.
We were able to prove that we could increase shelf life and remove the consumer dissatisfaction around ‘Ripe & Ready’ on the pack, (hard or black after purchase).
Consumer feedback from the trials were also outstanding, with Softripe avocados testing better than conventionally ripened ones across the board from taste, texture, quality, consistency, and shelf-life.
JD Cooling and WFL have now unveiled the new Softripe avocado ripening facility in Spalding, Lincolnshire for WFL. A total of 132 pallet spaces using Softripe technology are now in operation with fruit arriving nationally in stores in October 2020.
JD Cooling delivered a wholly project managed, end-to-end service from design to full installation, testing and completed system.
Speaking at the official ribbon cutting, John Dye, Chairman JD Cooling Group, said: “It is not very often something comes along in our industry that is game changing, but Softripe is most certainly that, and indeed the biggest thing to happen in the ripening sector for decades. This facility is going to be a total revolution for the ripe and ready marketplace.”
Softripe offers un-paralleled performance in fruit ripening that requires truly gas tight rooms. The six new gas tight chambers are complete with full RibbFill sealed joints between panels and floor. To achieve the level of integrity the chambers also include specialist gas tight drains.
A separate area has been designed for the specialist equipment in addition to the standard chillers. This equipment includes Controlled Atmosphere (CA) absorber, nitrogen generator, CA lungs and ripening gas. The rooms are completely gas-tight, and together with CO2 absorbers and nitrogen generators, the system enables optimum levels of ethylene, CO2 and oxygen all to be fully controlled. This allows the unique Softripe software algorithms to establish the optimum conditions for perfect ripening every time. Softripe effectively ‘listens and talks’ to the fruit through its respiration gases, adapting to its needs during the ripening cycle and guiding it through an optimum organic (biological) ripening process.
The doors are a newly developed gastight CA door complete with a gastight escape window manufactured by Salco. The doors have been specifically developed to allow double level stacking, which thereby provides a higher storage capacity on the same footprint than with conventional CA store doors.
Suction System with Automated Curtains
The racking within the rooms are complete with automated curtains to ensure optimised airflow through the product. In addition, the racking is complete with hydraulic compression dampers to ensure tight seals between the pallet and the racking. Changeover of C2H4/N2 supplied via MCP is automated via a custom-made valve station. Independent pressure of run / standby MCP and system outlet pressure is all visible on the main PC screen.
Plant Room and Chillers
The system provides Coolflow DTX glycol circulation at a temperature around -2.0°C or +32.0°C (+/- 1) to the coolers and around the system and returning at +2.0°C or +28.0°C. This is provided by two chillers.
Primary and Secondary Pump Sets
Two 5.5 kW, duty/standby, fixed speed primary pump sets are each able to provide a flow rate of 56 m3/h with an available head of approximately 186kPa; in addition to two 5.5 kW, duty/standby, fixed speed primary pump sets, each able to provide a flow rate of 50 m3/h with an available head of approximately 189.2kPa.
There are four 4.0 kW, duty/standby variable speed secondary pump sets driven by an inverter – each set able to provide a flow rate of 50 m3/h with an available head of approximately 165kPa
These pumps maintain circulation between the chiller and buffer tanks and are located next to the chillers. Pumps have isolation and check valves connecting them into the system.
Pressure gauges are mounted in the suction and delivery pipework to allow the pumps set pressure to be monitored.
Both primary and secondary pump systems are used to circulate the glycol around the system and maintain the required flow and cooling capacity.
The Cold and Hot buffer vessels stores an amount of cold/warm glycol to maintain consistent operating conditions with load fluctuations, which then gets circulated and used for the ripening rooms. Circulation between the chiller, pump, all coolers, and plant are maintained within two central 2000L buffer tanks. These are manufactured from stainless steel and are fitted with a pressure relief manifold and anti-vacuum valve.
Pressurisation Unit and Expansion Vessel
The system is fitted with a pressurisation unit, this unit is designed to maintain the systems pressure at 1.13 Bar. The system is also designed with a 300L expansion vessel, allowing for the thermal expansion in the system. The systems pressure relief valves will vent out excessive pressure. This is to prevent damage to the system.
Dry Air Cooler
The system is fitted with a 603.0kW dry air cooler consisting of eight fans. This unit is piped to both the chillers, both sets of hot water pumps and the hot water vessel. The temperature this provides in and out of the system is +47°C / +42°C, +32°C ambient design air temperature and fitted with EC variable speed fans.
The air circulation fans are of EC (Electrically commutated) type. EC fans are used to reduce energy consumption and reduce the drying effect (by reducing air velocity when at holding conditions). EC means Electronically Commutated, EC fans use brushless DC motors (but powered using AC supplies) which improves efficiency by around 30% compared to AC fan motors this is achieved as the motor uses permanent magnets rather than using electricity to generate the secondary magnetic field. In addition, the EC fans can also speed regulate with far reduced current at lower speeds (this is the same principle as using an inverter).
Our sister company JD Power played a big part in the delivery of the project for Worldwide Fruit.
As leaders in power systems, JD Power were responsible for the design, project management and overall end-to-end service for the complete electrical work.
- All lighting, control wiring, small power and containment within the ripening facility and plant rooms.
- Fire alarms throughout the facility utilising IP66 rated heat detectors within the ripening rooms and standard addressable devices in other areas.
- Two new TPN distribution boards for general power supplies including six cooling control panels.
- A new 630a MCCB sub panel involving a carefully planned factory shutdown for final connections. The new sub-panel was required to reduce loading on existing voltage optimiser system, which following further investigation was identified as being not adequate for the additional load of the new stores.
- Three 200-amp TP&N supplies for two chillers and an additional 200a MCCB sub-panel.
Positive Outcomes for Worldwide Fruit
A giant leap forward in ripening technology, the industry award-winning Softripe has brought many major benefits to WFL’s operation, including increased yields produced at significantly reduced overall costs. A more efficient, streamlined process – including the removal of secondary handling – resulting in greater consistency and quality of the ripened fruit, coupled with far lower wastage through the reduced need for destructive testing and significant energy reduction. Softripe amounts to an investment that delivers huge benefits for the retailer and consumer, and which will effectively pay for itself.
WFL has already seen:
- Better product for their customers/consumers.
- Improved environmental impact through 40% less energy usage. The only pallet movements are in and out of the Softripe rooms to load and unload (nothing in between).
- Reduced wastage and shortened ripening cycles for greater yields – WFL has gone down to only 1% waste.
- A new level of fruit-quality and shelf life.
- An attractive payback on total investment.
- Upped their packing process by 50% – no need for quality control, no grade or blast chill.
Changing the Landscape for the Ripe and Ready Category Forever
In all, Softripe has transformed the landscape of ripening to an unrecognisable level and 10 years from now will be the “norm” for ripening most exotic fruits that are currently being consumed in the UK, as well as possibly allowing the introduction of some totally new ones in the future.
Neal Collishaw, Operations Director at Worldwide Fruit Ltd, said: “Our key strategic direction is to deliver zero waste in all our processes. Avocados are a notoriously difficult product to ripen in a traditional ripening system. Post-ripening, we still had variability amongst the raw material which can end up on the shelf, leading to consumer dissatisfaction. Softripe now ensures we have a more consistent, superior product and has enabled us to remove the secondary grading from our processes. Along with the reduced ripening cycles, there are clear benefits to producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers.”
John Dye, Chairman, JD Cooling Group, says, “Although we at JD Cooling have evolved our traditional ripening rooms to incorporate advances in technology including our innovative heat recovery system, Softripe is going to be transformative for UK fruit growers and importers.”
John continued, “Innovating with our partners for the benefit of end-users is central to our work and Softripe is another great result of what we can achieve through collaboration. This project is the result of working together with our customer and supply chain partners for nearly two years and with this launch of a commercial scale avocado ripening facility, together we have changed the landscape the ripe and ready category forever.”
Timeline of Events
- 2015 – Softripe’s story began with Brazilian banana producer Carlos Fava, who after many decades in the business felt frustrated with the imprecision and variability of the traditional fruit ripening process. At his wits’ end, Fava approached Brazilian ex-Nasa scientist Dr Valdir de Bortoli with his dilemma to ask if a more accurate system could be developed. De Bortoli believed so, and partnered with Frigotec to develop a commercial solution.
- February 2019 – WFL, JDC & Frigotec first meet to discuss the opportunity of Softripe.
- March 2019 – WFL & JDC visit Swiss CO-OP to view the Softripe system on bananas.
- June 2019 – WFL & JDC fly to Belem Brazil for one week to test avocado ripening potential.
- July 2019 – JDC draw up next plans for a test room at WFL.
- October 2019 – Test room complete (investment with no guarantee of success).
- November 2019 – WFL testing and calibration commences with Chilean avocados.
- January 2020 – Testing completed with fantastic independent consumer feedback.
- February 2020 – WFL board sign off test results and commit to a £2.2m project to build six Softripe avocado rooms.
- September 2020 – Handover and opening ceremony of the six new Softripe rooms.
- October 2020 – Softripe avocados land in supermarkets.
- The Future – Trials of other stone and exotic fruit begin.
“We are excited by the prospect of Softripe and are already planning on continuing our relationship with JD Cooling to trial this innovation on other fruits. So, watch this space.” Neal Collishaw, Operations Director, Worldwide Fruit.