Southern Fresh Foods grows and sells baby leaf salad ingredients such as rocket, spinach and mesculin - along with small vegetables and herbs to the higher-end food service industry. With business booming, the team were working overtime to package up leafy salad materials in 1kg and 3kg bags, and the task was very labour intensive.
Peter Walker, operations manager, knew having workers toiling five days a week to hand pack was not sustainable and making sure each package was accurately weighed was also a challenge.
"We knew we had to reduce labour and get consistency in the packaging," Mr Walker said. "We needed the packaging to be better-looking and professional. Salad vegetables such as baby leaf are very hard products to pack and control. Delivery is also time critical, so we knew that what we needed was pretty complicated."
Peter Walker, Operations Manager, Southern Fresh Foods,
Before doing anything else, Mr Walker began researching companies that could build and supply the automation. Timing was crucial, as the baby leaf product has a 10-to-11 day 'best by' window, and technology was needed to suit the modified atmosphere of the plant - down to freezing - and be able to print date of packaging and 'best before' details, reduce spoilage and increase throughput.
That was where Wedderburn came in. Mr Walker had some knowledge of Wedderburn installations in Australasia and he knew the company had representatives in Hamilton with technicians available at all times.
Vernon Herbert, Wedderburn Managing Director, knew that understanding the operating environment was imperative to finding the right solution. "It is cold and air conditioned, but we overcame any hurdle and started the process of building what Southern Fresh Foods needed."
What they needed was a 5L Multi-Head Weigher and Vertical Form Fill Seal Machine, a set of equipment that could weigh, wrap and label baby leaves using just three employees over the five days of operation each week. Producing 30 bags per minute, the equipment uses conveyors to move the produce up to a central weighing platform 14-head combination scale to ensure accurate weighing.
Cleaning is made easy with tool-less pans, buckets, chutes and forming shoulders, all designed for quick and easy removal. Product change-over is simple and quick which helps increase productive hours per day.
Wedderburn also supplied Southern Fresh Foods with a Thermal Transfer Printer which prints all the necessary information required - such as batch numbers, dates and barcodes. This printer was mounted to the Vertical Form Fill Seal Machine (VFFS) which allows Southern Fresh Foods to use clear and generic pre-printed film in the VFFS machine and still get all the information printed on the bags that they need.
Mr Walker says his company is very pleased with the end result, which has seen the successful automation of a difficult task. "To say it's been successful is an understatement," he says. "In every aspect, our production is streamlined and we can handle an increase in production if we need to. This has been a very successful decision for Southern Fresh Foods."
Mr Herbert says Wedderburn prides itself on delivering reliable and effective solutions as well as ongoing support. "In my opinion Wedderburn has the best service support and nationwide infrastructure to support our customers with their needs. We care about our customers and their businesses. It's as simple as that."