Perla Fruit set to become Turkey’s leading cherry exporter using TOMRA Food sorting and grading solutions

Perla Fruit set to become Turkey’s leading cherry exporter using TOMRA Food sorting and grading solutions

One of Turkey's leading exporters of fresh fruit strengthening its market position by using technologies from TOMRA Food.
turkey cherries

As one Turkey’s top five exporters of fresh fruit and vegetables, Perla Fruit made a rapid entry into cherry exports when it invested US $10 million in new operations in Bursa, in the northwest of Turkey, in 2019. The company first began packing cherry products here in 2020, achieving high quality and high capacity with the 16-lane TOMRA InVision2 optical sorting and grading platform. 

By taking this big step forward, Perla has built on two generations of experience as a family business which started with the export of fresh figs in 1986. Today, Perla Fruit’s fruit production is 30% cherries, 30% figs, 25% tomatoes, and 15% other products such as blueberries, pomegranates, nectarines, apricots, and peaches. Perla produces 15,000 tons of fruit and vegetables annually, including 5,000 tons of cherries for export and 2,000 tons of cherries for the domestic market. And now that the TOMRA equipment is in operation, there are big plans for growth. 

Perla Fruit’s Board Chairman, Kerim Taner, says: “With the TOMRA machine we purchased in 2020, our goal is to double our cherry processing and packaging capacity in three years. We plan to become Turkey’s leading export company in cherries, as in figs. Moving towards this goal, we do not compromise our corporate values of quality, safety, and sustainability. 

“Perla Fruit has become a robust and reliable brand for fresh fruit and vegetables in both domestic and foreign markets in a short amount of time, but of course, this is not by chance. Years of family experience, the knowledge of our managers and our entire team, and investing in the right technology have paved the way for success. The contribution of our machine infrastructure, from our integrated solution partners TOMRA Food and ICOEL, is vitally important.” 

Before investing in TOMRA equipment, Perla Fruit assessed feasibility by visiting cherry packaging facilities in Turkey, Chile and the United States. Kerim Taner remembers: “During these visits we were very impressed by the success and accuracy of TOMRA’s grading and sorting solutions and the high quantity provided without compromising on quality. It was essential for us to invest in the right optical sorting and grading machines to be a powerful player in even the most demanding markets. 

“We prefer to work with customers who embrace the value of our brand. For this reason, we have customers in our portfolio focused on quality rather than price. We sell 70% of our cherry products to Germany, 10% to Scandinavia, 10% to the Far East, and 10% to other European countries. Germany is one of the most challenging and demanding markets, with acceptance rates below those of other European nations, and the Far East is as sensitive. But with the TOMRA grading machine we are able to offer a risky product such as cherries to even the most demanding markets in high quality and high volumes. TOMRA’s contribution to the trustworthiness of the Perla Fruit brand is enormous.

Achieving consistency despite variable incoming products 

The Perla Fruit brand sells 20% of its products in bulk, 20% in bowls, and 60% in bags. The plant in Bursa processes and packs cherry products in one shift per day during June, when 40% of its annual production is processed, and two shifts per day during July, handling 60% of its annual production. In this busy season, the new Small Fruit Sorter InVision2 optical sorting and grading machine, installed by TOMRA Food and its Italian integrated solution partner ICOEL, sorts the cherries according to size, shape, colour, and defects. 

Kerim Taner explains: “Cherries are one of the most challenging fresh fruit and vegetable products – quite variable, small, and risky. Let’s say the smallest box contains 500 cherries: even one defective cherry poses a huge risk. But you need to process products of high quality and at high capacity in a short two-month season. TOMRA’s contribution to the risk management of cherry packaging plants is invaluable. 

“Different cherries are grown in Turkey depending on the region, and these are mixed when processing the product. At Perla Fruit, we produce in five different sizes, in two different colours, and in two different qualities. We offer a total of 12 different product ranges. All this is made possible by TOMRA’s technology. Thanks to TOMRA, we are able to obtain a very clean final product in size, colour and quality. If we were not making use of TOMRA’s technology, we would not have been able to offer any product of the quality we targeted in June, when incoming product quality tends to be extremely inconsistent.” 

Climate change has increased the challenges involved in producing cherries, especially in the last two years. Kerim Taner states: “In 2022, Turkey exported a total of 47,000 tons of cherries. To maintain our strong global market position, we need to be careful not to lose food without compromising on product quality. This is only possible by investing in automation. Manual sorting cannot match the capacities of optical machines. For this reason, it is essential to invest in sensor-based optical sorting and grading technologies. However, the key is to make the investment with the right solutions partner. 

“TOMRA is critical in this sense, not only because of its technologies but also because of its local presence in Turkey. Even if you invest in the best machine, it has to be operated at the optimum level. After-sales technical support is crucial. TOMRA makes our job much easier with pre-season maintenance and calibrations throughout the season.”

Perla is the only fruit exporter in Turkey with its own accredited laboratory – an investment made because of the company’s “zero tolerance” approach to food safety. This, Kerim Taner emphasises, is a key strategy: “We have one of the most ambitious laboratories in Turkey in terms of both accuracy and speed. We get the result of our sample within a few hours and we can choose the products based on this. Last year, we performed 15,000 analyses on cherries alone. We analyze the same growers repeatedly at different times during the harvest. This also helps our growers improve. They strive to meet the quality we expect, despite the challenging conditions. This allows us to select our input products with precision, and then it’s up to our TOMRA sorting machines.”

Industry-leading sorting and grading 

Mustafa Sakarya, General Manager of SARDAS, TOMRA Food’s distributor in Turkey, commented: “TOMRA Food has enjoyed great success around the world as a leading manufacturer of integrated post-harvest packaging solutions for cherry processing applications. Turkey is the world leader in cherry production and a region where TOMRA and ICOEL’s partnership ensures they remain industry leaders in optical sorting and grading systems. As TOMRA team, we always work closely with our customers to help them increase efficiency, minimise waste, reduce labour costs, meet their ongoing challenges, and meet increasing quality requirements.”

With the world seeing a dramatic increase in demand for cherries, market researchers predict that the global cherry market will continue to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5% to 10% over the next five years. Mustafa Sakarya comments: “In the race to meet demand, it is important that we maintain Turkey’s position as the world’s largest cherry producer. Whether for the domestic or international market, consumers expect cherries to have a consistent colour, a smooth, firm, unblemished skin, and long green stems indicative of freshness. Since cherries are vulnerable to transport damage and extremely difficult to sort and grade, meeting such consumer requests is a demanding process. However, it is possible to meet these expectations with the most advanced sorting and grading technologies.” 

Compared to other grading machines, the InVision2’s five-view camera system is located closest to the fruit’s surface and at optimal viewing angles. With LED lighting and superior image quality from the high-resolution cameras, this platform offers unrivaled accuracy in the detection and identification of all kinds of external surface damage.

InVision2 works with TOMRA’s Small Fruit Sorter (SFS), which processes with higher precision than any other technology on the market, using a series of patented systems that carry the cherries along the line in water to the packaging belts in the gentlest way.

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