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Technology delivers optimal results


Four years ago Piñata Farms introduced Australian-designed technology to track the temperature and location of premium berries and mangoes along the supply chain.

Gavin Scurr and Luke Wood of Escacox

As a result, it has more confidence than ever in the quality and integrity of fruit despatched.

Piñata Farms is a known adopter of new technologies to enhance its operations and maintain its industry standing for producing premium lines. In 2019, it began working with supply chain specialist Escavox to initially measure the temperature of berries throughout the supply chain via smart trackers so it could have visibility of fruit at any given time.

“This was information previously unavailable to us. We now have smart trackers in every berry consignment leaving our main packing operation at Wamuran, south-east Queensland and every mango load leaving three farms in the Northern Territory during mango season,” Piñata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr said.

“We have gained complete visibility over our consignments and can effectively share this information with customers at any time. We could have 30-40 consignments on the road right across Australia at any time and need to know that temperature has been maintained throughout and that the consignment is on time to meet delivery timeslots.

“The system gives us transparency and eliminates innuendo. If there’s product loss, the system provides an indisputable record of what has happened and who is liable.

“We have achieved two significant benefits since implementing the Escavox system. Now that everyone along the supply chain (including drivers and distribution and ripening centre personnel) knows the temperature is being monitored, they try harder to get it right. It puts accountability into the hands of all involved in getting fruit to the shelf. There’s now a sharp focus on temperature.”

Temperature information includes whether produce is too hot, too cold or exposed to too much light, humidity or movement, based on what the category requires to retain optimal quality and freshness.

If the temperature was compromised for any reason (such as truck breakdown or equipment malfunction), drivers could take action to rectify the situation, Mr Scurr said.

“Secondly, the system’s GPS function ensures we know where loads are at any time. If a consignment is running late, due to the many variables that can happen on Australian roads, we can tell our customers exactly where the load is and its estimated time of arrival. This is key when distribution centres operate in 10-minute timeslots. Previously, we’d contact the freight provider, who’d track down the driver and get back to us with the location, which we’d then communicate with the customer. Now, we can see in real time, where the truck is and share the information in an instant.

“It makes our supply chain processes more efficient. The trackers ensure we have an improved chance of delivering optimal quality of fruit, every time.”

A layer of assurance for specific categories

Mr Scurr said Piñata Farms used the Escavox system in berries and mangoes because both were highly perishable lines with specific, critical cool-chain needs.

A quick-chill cool room at Piñata’s Wamuran packing shed used the latest technology to take field heat out of berries faster, before packaging in heat-sealed punnets – additional steps adopted in recent years to ensure freshness and prolong shelf life, he said.

“With mangoes travelling across Australia from the Northern Territory over several days, it is crucial fruit is loaded at the right temperature and that the optimal temperature is maintained throughout their journey – as mangoes generate heat as they ripen."

The devices, about the size of a mobile phone, are placed by Piñata Farms in a carton or container on loading and are retrieved by Escavox for reuse after the consignment’s arrival.

Escavox founder and chief executive officer Luke Wood said the ability for Piñata Farms to see its supply chain in real time allowed “simple” solutions such as rejections and handling errors to be fixed quickly.

“We give suppliers the information they need to improve their supply chains. Our data tells them why things might be going wrong or going well so they can take the best action. Over time the data becomes an operating model that gives producers confidence to move towards more strategic investment such as developing cool-room technology and key partnerships along the supply chain,” Mr Wood said.

“In working with Piñata Farms, we are working with people at the very forefront of the industry. This lets us see what good looks like and keeps us current. It gives us confidence that we can operate at the very highest levels across the industry. Horticulture in Australia is developing fast and is some of the most advanced in the world. We need to be at least aligned, if not ahead, of this evolution.”

Piñata Farms is now at the peak of its winter berry production with both Piñata strawberries and BerryWorld raspberries grown and packed at Wamuran, south-east Queensland and available at leading outlets along the eastern seaboard.