Although grocery retail sales for fresh products have remained steady during the COVID-19 crisis, the practicalities of dealing with such an emergency have created problems across the fresh-cut, ready-to-eat sector, largely as a result of worker absences and labor shortages. JBT’s FTNON business unit – a global leader in technological solutions for fresh-cut and other industries – is well placed to help companies cope with such difficulties, thanks to ingenious systems that can dramatically reduce the amount of manpower needed.
While grocery sales started strongly at the beginning of the crisis, the situation has stabilized and demand for fresh and Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) remains consistent, according to FTNON Sales Manager, Joost Lotgerink Bruinenberg. However, a combination of workers returning to their countries of origin as lockdowns have taken effect and the need to send employees home if they develop symptoms has increased pressure on food processors.
This situation, says Bruinenberg, has created an opportunity for FTNON, which provides automated systems covering everything from prepping and trimming for fresh-cut to blanching, cooling and steaming for IGF and ready meals.
“For iceberg, romaine and all kinds of lettuce, we can trim or de-core automatically, so no people are needed to do that job,” he explains. “For example, one person can trim on average 150 kilograms of iceberg lettuce in an hour and if you have 1000 kg, you need around seven or eight people. We can cut it down to two people: one who is feeding the line and another carrying out manual inspection. The rest is done by the FTNON system.”
The need for such automation is going to become more important after the crisis is over, predicts Lotgerink Bruinenberg, driven by greater awareness of food safety and traceability.
“The industry is going to become more data driven,” he says. “Who grew it, when it entered the factory, what the temperature was when it reached the production area, which store it went to; these kinds of things will become more and more important.”