With a yearly output of 10,000 tons of raspberries, cherries, blackberries, plums, apricots, sour cherries and vegetables, Elixir Foods is Serbia’s main exporter of frozen fruit and vegetables, with an unrivaled five to ten percent of the country’s exports, depending on the type of fruit. “Export is mainly to EU countries and occasionally Russia,” explains Dragan Petrovic, General Manager of Elixir Foods. It is the biggest fruit cold store in Serbia, containing a large amount of frozen fruit. “The Serbian market is very dispersed, with hundreds of small fruit processors harvesting on less than one hectare. They have to sell through traders, who own sixty percent of the local market and consequently can offer the volume to sell products straight to large end-users. They have high quality demands and impose their own criteria. Sorting with BEST equipment has been instrumental in obtaining the highest possible quality levels. We will be increasing the number of cold sites in the near future and BEST is our partner of choice.”
In 2009, Elixir Foods was looking for a solution to detect pits in cherries. After visiting a processing plant in Poland, and seeing the Ixus™ Bulk x-ray sorter at work, Elixir Foods decided to go with BEST for a trial evaluation of the equipment. After a month, they purchased the Ixus™ sorter - the first bulk sorter of its kind in Serbia. Pavlovic Dragoljub, Production Manager, explains: “We placed our Ixus™ Bulk sorter after the freezing section of the line. With its high precision air valves and accurate foreign body detection, we now have extremely low false rejects, within five percent of output.”
Elixir Foods is now able to charge a premium price for its product thanks to the guaranteed quality output of its production line. With BEST technology, the company can surpass the pit tolerance requirements of its customers of a single pit per ten kilo of cherries. The higher quality of the cherries allows Elixir Foods to charge an added five eurocents per kilo. “This means we tolerate only one pit in 4,000 cherries (or per ten kilograms of cherries), increasing our volumes and turnover,” adds Dragoljub.
After increasing production by fifty percent, Elixir Foods decided to take a fresh approach to automated sorting after experiencing problems with its previous equipment. “We couldn’t get a firm grasp on the old equipment settings. Every change in processing required considerable production stops and it was difficult to make the equipment interpret discolorations. This led to high false rejects and loss of income.”
The experience with BEST’s Ixus™ sorter and the consistent support from BEST technicians and local agent Agrofood soon resulted in a solid relationship, which has grown over time. As a result of this developing trust, Elixir Foods didn’t take long to decide on adding another BEST sorter for its Sabac processing plant.
In 2010, the company invested in a Helius™ Free Fall sorter, which supports a processing line that runs 24 days per month in two shifts. The machine is used for detection of foreign material and defects primarily among frozen raspberries.
By investing in this machine, the problems experienced with the older machines could be avoided. Dragoljub has seen production increase by fifty percent without additional staff to operate the line. “The reject box is the best parameter to judge the sorting equipment’s efficiency. We can accurately adapt the Helius™ sorter’s sensitivity settings to lower rejects and improve our sorting results.”
Efficient communication between sorting machine and operator is key to its ease of use and improved line productivity. At Elixir Foods’ Sabac plant in Serbia, operators rave about the easily adaptable settings of the BEST Ixus™ x-ray sorter and Helius™ laser sorting machines. “It was love at first sight. It literally takes seconds for the unit to understand the sorting requirements entered using the intuitive graphical interface. And by the way, all software is written in Serbian, which significantly facilitates and improves control of the equipment by our operators.”
A partner for growth thanks to both BEST sorters, the quality of the consumer product has improved significantly, resulting in Elixir Foods being able to reduce customer claims in half. “Knowing that each claim costs between 4,000 and 5,000 euros, the importance of this benefit is crucial. Add in the operational advantages and increased quality perception of our customers and you understand why we are extremely satisfied with our decision to select BEST as a partner for growth.”
During a recent visit to BEST’s headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, Elixir Foods’ experts were impressed by the many new technological developments and sorters they were shown. “It’s clear that BEST offers top equipment to the market. It is moving forward and we are happy to be part of that growth. We are sure that BEST will continue building its technological strengths and provide outstanding support from its corporate engineers to local technicians. They are taking good care of us,” confirms a satisfied Petrovic. “We also have a very good relationship with Agrofood, the local representative in Serbia. They recently invested a local Service Engineer who is available for us when needed, speaks our language and has excellent technical skills. We are very pleased with the BEST way of working.”