“This modern establishment meets the expectations of the French consumer and the distribution”
The collaboration between Fruidor, Cold Energy and VDH led to the development of a banana-ripening plant in October 2018, equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology. The project was born from an ambition to create a site in compliance with the requirements of the French norms in terms of the environment, food safety, social security and working conditions.
Fruidor took advantage of the move from the previous wholesale market to buy some land and build this new facility. The company wanted to make the banana-ripening plant 50% bigger, from 43,000 to 70,000 square feet, for an annual capacity of 45,000 tons of bananas.
The site is now fully operational, after 15 months of construction, 3 months of operating on both sites to set up the ripening station, and a move which took place without any interruption of the production thanks to a mastery of technology and ripening.
Fruidor in a few figures
Fruidor, company specialized in the import and ripening of fruits, belonged to the Pomona group until 2008.
In 2009, Fruidor became the property of the banana producers of Guadeloupe and Martinique, thus allowing this banana sector to have direct access to the French market in an integrated approach from production to distribution. The company revolves around two activities: the production, import and ripening of bananas (mainly Cavendish, pink bananas and plantains), and a marketing activity of fruits and vegetables from the French territory (asparagus, tomato, potato, carrot, endive, raspberry,…). With 450 collaborators, Fruidor represents 200 million euros [227 million USD] in revenue. The company has 9 ripening sites for a capacity of 180,000 tons, and 6 sites for the fruit and vegetable activity.
A tool adapted specifically to the French market
Benoît Mahy, director of Fruidor in Nantes and Tours and leader of the 2018 ripening station project, explains that the French market is very segmented, with many references. “Each client has its own packing, packaging and palletizing requirements, which can vary greatly from day to day. Additionally, there is no planning of the orders from the distribution. For us, this means a lot of anticipation work for the orders and for the ripening of the bananas. We sell very few full trucks. We mostly prepare specific orders for each client, and the work must be done in just a few hours.”
Because of this specificity, it is essential in the design of this tool to have a “step forward”. The bananas enter one end of the ripening station and exit the other. The products going in do not cross paths with the products going out.
But between the time bananas are placed in the ripening chambers and the time they get out, a lot of re-palletizing work, batch preparation and packaging takes place.
“We change almost all the pallet supports,” adds Benoît Mahy. “The original pallets are not delivered to our French clients because they want lower pallets (5.25 feet maximum) and the preparation of specific and individual leased pallets. All pallets are redesigned and remade. Our characteristic is that we pack the bananas on site, individually, at the client’s request, hence our very large central surface.”
What also makes the tool so modern is that it can de-batch and repalletize the batches as needed, which is now done using a robot, and no longer by hand. “It is the most powerful robot in this sector in France at the moment. It has helped reduce the hard working conditions while increasing productivity and meeting the expectations of the French distributors.” This automation of the tasks took place without any impact on employment thanks to the increase in processed volumes.
Choosing strong partners for an ambitious project
Fruidor has been ripening bananas for over 40 years. With such experience in the field, the company was able to precisely determine what its expectations were for this tool and to establish specifications combining reliability and evolution.
Benoît Mahy explains why the company chose Cold Energy and VDH. “What we liked about Cold Energy was their transparency, flexibility, evolution and the maintenance they offer. We chose them because they are refrigeration experts and they can offer tailor-made products. Thanks to this partnership, we were the first to set up ethylene and CO2 analyzers in order to go from a somewhat empirical ripening system to an accurate tool for the analysis of gas concentrations.”
“As for VDH, we had already worked with them in the past. Their reliability is what made us choose them. We were familiar with the older generations of Proba 3 and 4 software and we wanted to use this company’s experience in order to implement the Proba 5 software, for a reliable and scaleable solution over time. We are in fact among the first in Europe to have set up the Proba 5 software with VDH.”
Today, the three partners continue to work together. “What we are interested in is to be able to further develop and, thanks to permanent exchanges, to build a partnership between operational, development and research, for a continuous improvement of the software and the process.”
A desire to reduce the environmental footprint
The recovery of heat losses at each stage of the process and at all machinery and ventilation levels also played a very important part in the design of the ripening plant.
The goal of Fruidor was to reduce energy consumption by 30%. A partnership with BG Door – Cold Energy supplier – made it possible.
Another objective was to reduce greenhouse gases. The company therefore uses ammonia combined with brine. This has a double effect; a respect of environmental standards, but also an independence of the different substitution channels.
Bananas of Guadeloupe and Martinique: 70% of the volumes sold by the ripening plant
What characterizes this new ripening plant is that it mainly processes bananas from Guadeloupe and Martinique, marketing about 70% of their volumes. The organic production represents 20% of volumes and 10% for the other origins. Fruidor diversifies its origins, working with supplies from Ivory Coast, through some producers of Guadeloupe and Martinique implanted locally. All of this is done while respecting the environment and controlling the chain from production to distribution.
Ripening in France: an urgent need for investment
According to Benoît Mahy, in the current environmental context, banana ripening is going to have to face some major changes. “First of all, using ethylene as a ripening gas is problematic in terms of European regulations. It is the primary problem for all European ripeners. Using cooling gases is also called into question and not everyone can switch to ammonia or CO2, since most of the current facilities are difficult to transform. So the big problem for the ripening sector in France is the obsolete equipment dating back to the 1990s. Today, there is an urgent need for reinvestment and for the design of environmentally responsible facilities, more rational and largely automated, able to meet the expectations of the French clientele while respecting the social and environmental norms…
France is likely to experience quite a significant break in the coming years, contrary to other countries which have already started transitioning. I indeed had the opportunity to visit a few ripening plants abroad. The movement is well under way and most of the ripening plants are modern. That’s the case in Great-Britain, Italy and Poland.”
A new ripening plant within a CSR approach
Fruidor is committed to a CSR approach, one of its objectives being to reduce its waste production. The new ripening station in Nantes will serve as a test in the implementation of a “Zero Waste” approach over the entire Fruidor network.
One of the areas to work on is the use of recyclable materials instead of plastic for the packaging of products. Everything that goes in and out of the ripening plant is sorted very finely, then handed to associations and waste recycling firms that the company works with. The recycling and revaluation of waste concerns both organic waste and packaging.
Additionally, the company focuses on its social aspect, making sure employees work in the best possible conditions. The well-being and hard work of the employees was indeed taken into account in the design of the building. Particular attention was paid to natural light and the environment for example. The company even went so far as to set up an association with other local firms to organize a daycare system between the companies in order to make the site more appealing.