Sorting and packing strategies for fresh fruit markets are always evolving, with any additional time saved in the supply chain leading to efficiency gains and less wastage. Logistical handling of fruit – from the initial point of harvest to its arrival at stores for consumer purchase – varies based on the variety.

For fruit like apples and pears, managing incoming inventory to a packhouse tends to be pretty similar, until it’s time for it to move from controlled atmosphere (CA) storage to its next location. It’s at this point that packing practices diverge, with commit-to-pack and pre-sorting approaches filling orders. Adopting new computer visioning technologies, like Croptracker’s own Harvest Quality Vision, can refine your procedures by providing more inventory clarity with less effort.

Utilizing a commit-to-pack workflow

A commit-to-pack strategy (also referred to as direct packing) is focused on moving fruit on to the next customer quickly, with less emphasis on sorting. When growers sell fruit to warehouse distributors, packhouse crews typically pack fruit obtained through contracts as the bins are emptied. This means that the clock starts sooner for when fruit is ready to head out the door, because the packaging stage is already covered and a buyer of a particular grade can then be matched with what’s available. 

apples being transfered into bins

But if a buyer is not available on short notice for the inventory you have, the time gains made are quickly lost. Packed fruit might need to be unpacked and placed back into bins and sold for processing, if there are no takers during the most appropriate window of time. Lots may need to go through the packline again, increasing the chance of bruising.

Aggregated sizing info without the warehouse footprint

With a packline prepped in advance, there’s greater opportunity for an efficient inventory packout. Knowing what’s about to come down the line optimizes the throughput and operational flow can protect the quality of the fruit, and the marketing team can find buyers faster. Optimizing a commit-to-pack workflow with a portable 3D visualization tablet tool like Harvest Quality Vision helps execute better on all of these fronts.

Gathering sample insights from an incoming lot for a commit-to-pack strategy usually means hand inspecting a small fraction of pieces to represent what’s likely included from a particular grower, relying more on intuition and less on hard data. Since Harvest Quality Vision functions much like a portable, “virtual” pre-sorter, capturing a scan of a bin to discover the size distribution of its contents offers a significantly larger sample size within seconds. Obtaining greater sample size data in a shorter amount of time provides opportunities to refine staffing numbers for packing, and arranging the right drops to get fruit arranged appropriately for its destination with fewer interruptions for course correction. These insights can be gathered and used all without physically touching inventory, which is particularly ideal for fragile fruit at high risk of damage from bruising.

Using a pre-sorter

Pre-sorting on arrival is a lot of additional work on its face, but its thorough results can yield an efficient order fulfillment process during the busy harvest season. When a packhouse utilizes a pre-sorter in its workflow, this system requires a lot of physical space for the machinery involved, with many lanes needed to direct fruit into size categories. Once fruit is sorted by an optical pre-sorter, it’s all returned to bins, and is placed in CA storage until there is a market need for that fruit.

apples being packed into a tray on a line

Pre-sizing better allows for combining fruit lots from different growers (known as pooled grower lots), since having a detailed breakdown and organization by size means each CA room can be readily known of its contents, i.e. Door 1A has apple sizes 88s 110s. It’s important to keep careful records when produce is pooled together to maintain high safety standards required, which can also be labor intensive.

Add a virtual packline lane with Harvest Quality Vision

There always could be another lane added for better pre-sorting. But packhouses already have to manage within the realities of time and physical space constraints as it is. Harvest Quality Vision can fill in the gaps with a comparable value of an additional lane with comprehensive reporting immediately uploaded and accessible through Croptracker’s cloud platform. Sample bins right off the truck before they enter the packhouse to determine grower payouts and sorting priorities with speed and accuracy. Marketing and sales teams can connect with buyers on a better informed basis, refining the packing logistics for orders before a full pre-sorting run is completed. Integrate your storage data from Harvest Quality Vision with Croptracker’s inventory traceability reporting, and your operation is on the way toward auditory compliance.

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