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‘Pluckr’ automated grape picker wins top processing innovation award

Fresh grapes and berries are tasty and healthy, and increasingly popular as snacks around the world. But picking them manually takes a lot of time, making it very cost inefficient. Enter Pluckr, an automated plucking machine that has won Holland’s Food Valley Award 2014, an annual competition and expo that recognises innovative agri-food products, technologies or concepts.

The new grape de-buncher or picker, created by two Dutch companies, JFPT/foodlife and TOP, is a compact piece of equipment featuring 3-12 heads, each of which consists of a small, stainless steel gripper and a vibration system.

It uses ultrasonic vibrations, combined with multidirectional drive technology, to rapidly de-bunch grapes without damaging them. Depending on the number of heads, Pluckr can de-bunch 300-600 kg of fruit per hour without damaging it. By comparison, the top speed of manual de-bunching is 20 kg per hour.

Grapes are gently shaken off their stems and stay whole, while on existing systems the fruit suffers damage from being ‘massaged’ off the stalks.

An additional benefit is that the machine can easily be combined with another new technology for packaging the loose grapes in a modified atmosphere that extends their shelf life to three or four weeks.

A prototype is now in use and proving its value on site at a large fruit processing plant in The Netherlands.

“Winning this prize is fantastic,” said Patrick Jansen of JFTP/foodlife. “It’s a real perk to continue to innovate. Launching a new technology and finding markets for it is quite a challenge. No doubt winning the Food Valley Award is going to make a difference.”

Wouter de Heij of TOP adds: “We are incredibly proud of the fruit of our partnership. Winning this award is the cherry on the cake. And it shows that innovative technologies can help increase profit margins in the sector. We are happy to be contributing to that.”

In its praise for Pluckr, the Food Valley Award judges’ panel said: “We are impressed with the amount of research and development that went into this innovation. Thanks to their intensive collaboration, JFPT/foodlife and TOP successfully developed and combined new technologies into a single machine. We believe the de-stemmer has considerable market potential because of its wider applicability and offers great benefits to the fruit and vegetable processing industry.”

The other nominees considered for this year’s prize were the biodegradable, isothermal champagne packaging developed by PaperFoam and Veuve Clicquot; and fresh, chilled, pressure-treated baby food by Pit-Foodconcepts.

Food Valley Awards: Read more here

View the Pluckr in action here – it’s brilliant!

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