Lauetta investment in InspiraFarms Cooling technology drives 20 ha production expansion.

The blueberry fruit is increasingly experiencing fast growth in demand and prices, with its promise of high revenue returns. It has now become among the top preferred fruit traded in international food markets by many African producers. Demand is predicted to keep growing, led by the increasing consumption from the far east, especially in the United Kingdom and Germany. In Africa, Zimbabwe is increasingly moving towards blueberry production and export, with a competitive advantage of having excellent climate conditions and off-season production.

Due to its delicate nature, the fruit requires significant investment in post-harvest management through pre-cooling and efficient cold chain infrastructure to obtain export-grade quality. Pre-cooling is an indispensable first step for exporting blueberries in regions like Europe, thanks to the region’s strict standards around quality and shelf-life. To meet these export standards, Zimbabwean growers and exporters are heavily investing in post-harvest cooling infrastructure to meet food safety standards and quality requirements. This is the case of Lauetta Investments, an export agribusiness located about 40kms outside Harare, that started venturing into blueberry export with great success in 2019.  

In 2019, InspiraFarms Cooling designed and delivered a 240 square meter facility which included 2 receiving pre-cooling rooms to remove field heat, a temperature-controlled packing room and a finished product room with forced air cooling to bring the final product temperature down to 0 -1°C. The facility included special add-on features of humidifiers to reduce dehydration and access to real-time data for remote monitoring. They have since reported a very successful performance, with their berries able to access premium markets across Hong Kong, Europe, the UK and the Middle East, based on the size of their berries and quality on arrival in the market due to excellent cold chain infrastructure. 

Successful first export in 2020 after investing in InspiraFarms Cooling technology 

In 2020, InspiraFarms Cooling highlighted Lauetta’s successful first blueberry export to Hong Kong, Europe, the UK and the Middle East. In brief, the enterprise started off with 20 hectares of production and by 2021 they had begun their expansion to 40 hectares under production. Since the start, they had, as a priority to build a cold chain infrastructure as close as possible to their production areas, setting a world-class performance cold chain and post-harvest practices that guarantees the delivery of premium quality blueberries. 

“We started with a 240sqm, enough to cater for about 300 tonnes of blueberries. Since our expansion, we have now progressed from that, and added another 340 sqm, with additional pre-cooling units that now cover just over 600sqm of pack shade space. With this expansion, the vision was to be able to accommodate between 800 – 900 tonnes of blueberries, which we target to reach by next year. This year we might end at 450 – 500 tonnes, with the vision being going to 1000 tonnes in 2025.” says Alistar Campbel, the Managing Director of the farm, Lauetta Investments. 

a packhouse by a blueberry exporter in Zimbabwe

20 Ha expansion in production and packhouse in 2021

Thanks to the return on investment on its first facility, Lauetta Investments, expanded their production operations by 20 Ha and resulting cooling capacities. Their expansion packhouse is rigged with the latest state-of-the-art cooling technology from InspiraFarms Cooling, and includes 120sqm for receivables and a pre-cooling area, with 4 independent pre-coolers; 200sqm of the finished product area, with forced air-cooling to bring final product temperature down to 0-1 °C before dispatch. Additionally, it has a new dispatch area of 50sqm, with a loading bay and a pallet holding cold room to keep fruit at an optimal temperature while loading.

Export-grade blueberries require high-level, state-of-the-art pre-cooling and cold chain technology. Without such efficient technology, it is close to impossible to penetrate this market since a few hours of delay in precooling might result in losing over 40% of the harvested value to deterioration, dehydration and mold, all common causes of spoilage and rejections.  

Thanks to the efficiency in their cooling investment, the enterprise has received outstanding performance with low claims. With total control around key cooling aspects such as temperature and humidity, their post-harvest systems are fully reliable, and have allowed them to reduce their OPEX by reducing their use of airfreight by 40% and shifting to the cheaper alternative of sea-freight. 

According to Atherton Squire from Lauetta, like their first cooling facility, their new cold room also has remote monitoring facilities, alongside and app that he accesses both on phone and computer. This comes alongside a set of valuable hardware consisting of IoT-enabled sensors, including intelligent sensors, loggers, and electronics, that allows him to generate the key data they need to optimise their cooling and track their energy consumption.

“I can monitor every part of the pack shade from the precoolers, the maintenance room, into the pack shade and the storage room. For us, temperature and humidity are extremely important, parameters that we need to track, particularly when I am offsite. Through the app, I can simply monitor that these are being maintained throughout the pack shade, even when I am away.” 

What is the ROI of pre-cooling and cold chain in blueberries? 

With the high and rising cost of airfreight, which has almost doubled within three years, the ability to shift to sea-freight represents significant savings for Lauetta Enterprise. Thanks to their excellent pre-cooling systems, they now have the necessary shelf-life required to travel around 25 days by sea, while still delivering excellent display quality to their destination on shelves. In a 2020 case study, Alistar expressed that investing in world-class cooling infrastructure for their post-harvest management and cooling was a worthy investment. As he could see in their blueberry enterprise, it paid for itself with the savings they obtained in reduced losses, claims, rejections, and a cut down in operating cost.  

For Alistar, it was important that they got this process right, from the precoolers to the holding room and into the pack shade. Moving forward, the enterprise is planning on loading its own reefers to go to port for its sea freight containers. This way, they would need to design a loading bay for their own truck and reefer. Luckily, the modular nature of the InspiraFarms Cooling machine means that they can accomplish this expansion and load their truck between 25 – 30 minutes (16 skids) on their own truck and a reefer that can accommodate up to 24 skids to be loaded in 45 minutes. Thankfully, the modular design of the facility has allowed them to have a smooth and well-planned expansion to accommodate their double capacity in production.

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