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If you’re British you’d be forgiven for thinking BBC Technologies has something to do with that age-old broadcasting institution. There’re probably not many Kiwis who know that the letters BBC actually stand for Blue Berry Country either, and that the firm’s origins date back to the late 1990s, when the Furniss family, owners of New Zealand’s largest blueberry farm Blueberry Country, realised that automation was needed to reduce labour on sorting lines.

The farm was set up by Geoff and Alison Furniss in the early 1990s, and the couple has been involved in the blueberry growing industry since the late 70s.
The first solution, the Color Sorter, went into development in 1996 and three years later the first sale was made to a US buyer.

Since then export progress has been swift. The US office was opened in 2003. By 2004 additional hi-tech solutions had been developed to form full turnkey blueberry packing lines.
In 2007 BBC Technologies launched its FreshTracker traceability and management software. 2008 saw the introduction of its 10-Head Fill-By-Weight (FBW) machine, capable of sorting for clamshells, punnets, cups, boxes and bags – along with the Color Sorta with Defect Recognition. The MIRA-360 Cherry Sorter was added to the line-up three years later.

There have been many accolades, awards and achievements; the most recent being a #72 ranking on the TIN100 – its second highest new entrant ever. (The annual Technology Investment Network TIN100 report provides analysis of New Zealand’s largest globally-focused companies in the hi-tech manufacturing, biotech and ICT sectors.)

BBC Technologies now has offices in Chile and the Netherlands, and thanks to an IGF grant from NZTE, it will open an office in China later this year.
The company’s focus has always been on the sorting and packing of small fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, cherries, grapes, cranberries, cherry tomatoes and other delicate products such as olives and mushrooms.

“New Zealand is very, very small in these commodity spaces, so exporting our machinery is a must,” says BBC Technologies’ sales and marketing manager Jason Walker. “Currently around 97 percent of our turnover is through export sales.”

Walker says patience and due diligence are key when tackling export sales. He says both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ marketing are part of their strategy, and international trade shows such as Germany’s Fruit Logistica and PMA (Produce Marketing Association) events also play a key role.

At the recent 2015 Fruit Logistica, held in Berlin from February 4th to 6th, BBC Technologies had six representatives at its booth, reflecting its renewed commitment to the European market. One of those reps was the new regional sales manager for Southern Europe and the Middle East – an appointment which confirms demand for the company’s technology in those regions.

Geoff Furniss, CEO of BBC, is excited about the prospects in Europe. “Around 75 percent of the world’s cherries are grown in Europe. Countries like Turkey, the world’s biggest producer of cherries, are actively seeking our turnkey solutions to help them make the most of the market opportunity.”

At Fruit Logistica, BBC showcased its MIRA-360 machine, which sorts for colour and identifies and removes fruit with defects, such as cracks and splits, soft rot, wrinkles, bruises and insect damage. The equipment can also sort in multiple streams by size, which gives customers the ability to comply with standard industry sizing bands.
BBC exhibited alongside one of its partners, Automated Packaging Systems, developer of the novel FAS Spring Revolution bagging system which has been incorporated into BBC’s FBW machine.

Fast filler
Fruit Logistica was also a venue for BBC to introduce its very latest achievement to Europe: the brand new CURO-16 Filling System which has been proven to consistently pack up to 240 clamshells per minute; significantly more than competitor products which claim packing rates of up to 180 per minute.

The CURO-16 was showcased for the first time at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Georgia in January this year – an event which brings together US growers, vendors and suppliers.

BBC Technologies’ New Zealand based sales engineer Troy Cleaver says the machine has all the flexibility of BBC’s existing 10-head Fill-by-Weight technology but it’s even more efficient at switching between different sized packing options and simpler to operate.
“We looked at all aspects of our equipment and have incorporated every recent technology advance in the CURO-16, thereby ensuring precision control at each stage of the filling process.”

On the eve of the CURO-16 launch CEO Geoff Furniss said buyers will enjoy his company’s superior service and track record for working closely with customers and continually evolving and adapting its offering to suit their individual needs.

“Keeping ahead of the industry by being regularly first to market with innovations that anticipate what customers want, is a cornerstone of our business. It is a significant milestone for BBC Technologies to be launching another far-reaching technology advance which will help our customers achieve their goals.”
Today, with 117 staff and its advanced sorting technology solutions in 25 countries, BBC Technologies is building on a stellar 2014. Now housed in a new head office next to Hamilton airport, and with an image rebranding underway, the company is on the front foot.

Furniss puts the growth curve down to a range of factors, including BBC’s commitment to superior service and its reputation for reliability.
“Our philosophy is all around certainty; something that resonates with customers,” he says. “They need reliability, high quality and to know they are benefitting from the latest innovation – all things that are hallmarks of BBC.”

 

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