Improving The Accuracy Of Fresh Fruit Processing

Abbotsford Growers is one of North America’s largest fruit processing companies processing blueberries and raspberries.

During the harvest months, June through to September, Abbotsford Growers employs more than 200 people and produces between 5 and 10 million pounds of blueberries. 85% of their production is devoted to processing fresh and frozen blueberries and 15% to raspberry puree, all sourced from the Fraser Valley.

The production plant has three departments, one for freezing, one for packaging with three lines and the last is dedicated to puree. The company purchases fresh blueberries from local farmers and utilizes a ranking system to determine the use of the fruit, with blueberries ranked from “fresh” to grade A+, A, B, C.

The fruit rated as “fresh” is packaged and sold to supermarkets, grade A+, A, and B are processed as frozen blueberries, and grade “C” blueberries are sold to juicing companies. Blueberries are purchased as fresh at a premium price, with adjustments made as the product moves through the packing process and are deemed to be of a lower grade.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect before the training but knew Lean manufacturing was something I wanted to introduce into our facility. We learned a lot that will really benefit our operation. The team did a good job of learning our process quickly and then applying knowledge to what we do here. It was a really successful project.”

- Colin Hutchinson, General Manager


$300,000 in cost avoidance


2.9% margin increased for fresh blueberries


Out of 10 million pounds of blueberries bought per season, the 500,000 lbs downgraded represents only 5% of the overall volume;

Improving The Accuracy Of Fresh Fruit Processing


Out of 10 million pounds of blueberries bought per season, the 500,000 lbs downgraded represents only 5% of the overall volume; with a $0.60/lb price difference between fresh and frozen blueberries, the correct grading of fruit would lead to an improvement in margin of 2.9%.

ROI 35:1

Implementation of visual management system to track downgrades

Improving The Accuracy Of Fresh Fruit Processing


Due to gaps within the grading process the reason behind the downgrade would not be captured, resulting in the producer paying higher prices to the farmer than appropriate. In the last growing season, the producer over-paid for 500,000 lbs of blueberries. Based on a price difference of $0.60 per pound between the higher and lower grades, the discrepancy costed the client approximately $300,000.

We also undertook an observation walk across the customers’ site and noted gaps within day to day operations. The inherent seasonal nature of the business creates ambiguity in planning and resource utilization; therefore, we identified a need to improve the way operations are managed.

Improving The Accuracy Of Fresh Fruit Processing


Improving The Accuracy Of Fresh Fruit Processing


To tackle the problem of the blueberry downgrading process, a current state process was mapped in order to identify all the gaps. A future state process was then designed, integrating Lean principles and ensuring the downgrading of produce is consistently and accurately captured with proper pricing reflected. It also included a process to notify farmers of the downgrading and provided the option to recover their product rather than accept the reduced price.

One element of the future state is the use of visual management to track all downgrades individually. A coded sticker system to indicate downgraded product was developed and combined with a standard floor layout with separate areas for this product. These approaches increase the ability of staff to easily see a downgraded product and reduce the possibility of any product being excluded from this process.

In order to better manage the day to day operation, our team implemented a daily production meeting focused on the most important Key Performance Indicators: Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery, and People were displayed in a production board.

We facilitated the identification of the KPIs, supported the development of a board layout for the production meeting, and helped create a plan for the implementation and testing of the new daily production meeting using visual management.