Lauetta investment in InspiraFarms technology reports successful first export
Blueberries have become popular as a healthy and easy-to-snack fruit. Consumers in Europe are increasing, with strong demand in the United Kingdom and Germany. According to the CBI, Europe’s import of blueberries has increased from 37,000 tonnes in 2014 to 81,000 tonnes in 2018. The market volume went up by 22% from 2017 to 2018. There is expected further growth of blueberries throughout Europe, which is opening more opportunities for increasing supply.
In the last two years, we have experienced fast-expanding imports from new countries where production is rising everywhere including counter-seasonal Southern African and South American countries.
Following this market opportunity, Lauetta Farm, an agribusiness In Zimbabwe, about 40kms outside the Harare, started venturing into blueberry export with great success, even with the difficult climatic conditions. As the first time growers of Costa genetics in Zimbabwe, they are exporting to markets in Europe and the far East.
Lauetta investments started a completely new, green field project in 2019. The shareholders look into producing blueberries for the Costa Group. The decision was made to start with an investment in 20 hectares of production with a start-up cost of approximately $120,000 per hectare resulting in a $2,400,000.00 start-up investment for production alone.
If the project was considered successful after the 2020 export season the shareholders would further invest in another 15-20 hectares of production. The key indicators of success would be in the delivery of class 1, premium quality fruit to final markets and in turn a premium return on investment.
A critical component to these key indicators is the performance of the cold chain and post-harvest practices to guarantee that quality is maintained up till delivery to the final market. The farm in Zimbabwe would have to maintain this quality to markets in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Far East with a transit journey of up to 13,000km, 72 hours by air freight and 35 days by sea freight.
Managing Director of Lauetta, Allistar Campbell says that, “what’s critical for us as Lauetta is how quickly we get the temperature down to cool temperature because the sooner we do that the more the shelf life for that particular berry. We concentrate very hard on making sure that from picking it field gradient we get it to the pack ship as quickly as possible.”
The need for world class packshed and cold rooms was very apparent. As this was a green field project the investors had no previous experience or knowledge of what was required. The team of experts at InspiraFarms guided the Lauetta investors to make the right considerations and completely understand the importance of the cold chain.
Firstly, that the cold chain infrastructure should be as close to the areas of production as possible. Every 45 minutes out of the cold chain results in the loss of one whole shelf life day. Due to the distance to the final market fully appreciating this fact was important.
Secondly, understanding the importance of step down temperature maintenance in the post-harvest handling and packing process. Supporting this is the understanding that after cooling rises in temperature of the product should be avoided.
Thirdly, the effect of dehydration during the cooling cycles while removing field heat and while reducing product temperature of the finished goods, packed for export.
“When picking the berries at twelve in the afternoon, the berries can get up to 45 degrees and we have to make sure that we get that down to 8-10 degrees as quickly as possible. It’s important that the cold chain that we have is up to scratch making sure that within 45 minutes to an hour, we can get the berry down to that temperature,” says Alistair.
During the design process the InspiraFarms team takes the time to get a very detailed understanding of the farm activities. Considering harvest volumes per day, how often and in what volumes are deliveries made to the packing house.
What is the expected volume in year 1 and the peak production years. In addition, Lauetta creates jobs in the rural area of Zimbabwe employing 50 workers for each of their InspiraFarms’ pack houses that are mostly occupied by women. The team considers how many employees will be inside the packshed at any one time. It is critical that there is a balance between farm activity, the blueberries and the hardware (the cooling infrastructure).
The InspiraFarms technical team came up with a design for a 240 square meter facility which included 2 pre-cooling rooms to remove field heat, a temperature controlled packing room and a finished product room with forced air cooling to bring final product temperature down to 0-1 degrees. The facility included special add on features of humidifiers to reduce dehydration and remote monitoring technology.
Following the detailed design process are the stages of production, shipping and installation. The entire facility including all panels, cooling equipment, pipes, cables, doors, lights, sockets, every nut bolt and rivet was packed into 2x 40ft containers.
From arrival of these containers the InspiraFarms project team lead by Heather McSorley handed over a complete turn key facility in only 21 days. Following handover time was spent in training the Lauetta investments team not only in the operation of the facility but in cold chain protocols as well.
The Managing Director says that, “what is becoming increasingly evident is that the better your cold chain, we are able to improve on our gross to net ratio as far as pack out is concerned. The future is bright, we want to expand. The world is loving blueberries at the moment as it is a super food with any good qualities. We have to make sure that we supply the best and we can only do that with world class infrastructure. I’m glad to say that we are very happy and wholly satisfied that we have received just that from InspiraFarms.”
Lauetta investments have since reported a very successful first export season. Their berries were able to access premium markets in Hong Kong, Europe, UK and the Middle East based on the size of their berries and quality on arrival in the market due to premium cold chain infrastructure and protocols. The shareholders are now planning on expanding production to a total of 40 hectares by the end 2021.