Jürg Knoll, the manager of Fish & More from Friedrichshafen, wants to establish ‘Followfish’ as a consistently sustainable brand in the frozen foods segment. But it is not clear how many of these innovative organic and MSC products he will be able to sell in the launch phase. To get around this problem the trading company decides to do without its own packaging line at first and instead make use of Best Harvest’s new line for top load cartons. “This requirements situation is characteristic of one of our customer groups”, says Best Harvest Manager Axel Dinter: “The client has an idea but not yet the large quantities to support investment in their own packaging line. And apart from that, during the start-up phase they often have enough to do with the product itself, the brand, and its positioning in the market.” And that is where the co-packer from Otterndorf in the north of Germany (ten kilometres east of Cuxhaven) can help. Best Harvest is a subsidiary of coldstore logistics specialist Erwin Gooss and offers far-reaching solutions in the packaging, labelling, coding and frozen storage segments.
Food technology competence
The Best Harvest logo points to the origins of the service provider: pitting cherries. Cherries have been stoned using machines of the Swiss producer Ferrum since 1994. However, this technique is no longer exact enough for the demands of some customers today who want a reliably low stone tolerance. Axel Dinter is thus currently co-operating with Ecoma Maschinenbau, Bremen to develop a new technology for the pitting process. Two prototypes with capacities of 200 kg/h and 1,000 kg/h are meanwhile being tested by Best Harvest which will later work with these machines.
Best Harvest GmbH
Cuxhavener Straße 36
Tel.: +49 (0)47 51 – 9 16 - 200
Fax: +49 (0)47 51 – 9 16 - 205
Business: Service company for the food industry
Owner: Erwin Gooss Tiefkühlhäuser GmbH & Co. KG and Partners
Managing Directors: Axel Stahlbuck, Axel Dinter
Services: Packaging, bundling, labelling, coding
Customers: Food industry, trade
Founded: 1994Certificates: Bio, MSC Chain of Custody
How do the machines work? Every individual cherry is scanned and measured as it enters the machine. This guarantees that only acceptable fruits will be pitted. The pitting process itself is monitored. Before and after the pitting process undesired fruits can be singled out and ejected. The aim is a 100% inline control (i.e. within the production line) that is also documented. The resulting record is the basis for outgoing product control and incoming product control at the customer’s which it can even replace. The technological competence that Best Harvest documents with this example from fruit processing is the same as that which Axel Dinter applies to packing fish products.
Fish fingers in bags
“One of the first jobs that was asked for in the fish sector was to pack fish fingers in bags. That was four years ago”, remembers Dinter. After Frozen Fish International was sold to the British private equity company Permira the Birds Eye/Iglo captain moved its fish finger production to Bremerhaven. During the conversion phase the Bremerhaven company did not have the capacity to pack fish fingers in the bags supplied by the English market and so they turned to Best Harvest. The machine required for this packaging process was not available on the market but had first to be developed. “We had to develop this technique within very narrow time constraints”, says Dinter. Up to this day the fish fingers for Great Britain have been packed in Otterndorf in specially temperature controlled rooms: They are emptied from sacks onto a belt, positioned and grouped in blocks of 30, and then put in a bag. “After we had shown that we could solve this task the quantity was doubled so that today we pack fish fingers in two shifts.”
Carton lines: Top-loading and end-loading
The fish finger packaging line supplies accurate documentation of one of Best Harvest’s strategies. “A big order guarantees a certain basic capacity so that we can then dare to invest in the machine which can be used for other jobs later on”, explains Dinter. Alongside fish finger packaging and a line for bagged products the Ottendorf company recently installed two packaging machines which can pack fish products both in top-load and end-load processes. Whilst the Followfish products mentioned earlier are packed into the cartons from above (top-load), filling gable-top cartons that are filled from the side constitutes a special challenge because the gable has to be erected. Normal block shaped cartons can also be used on this line. The carton packaging lines rely almost fully on German technology.
Grouping products is also asked for as an individual task. The reason for this is that a lot of producers produce only one sort of product, whereas retailers are increasingly demanding mixed cartons. Product grouping is also conceivable in the context of special retail actions. Best Harvest is again a suitable partner here for sorting items into cartons in the required combination or bundling them. One customer from Denmark, for example, arranged for a stop in Otterndorf on the way to the central grocery storage depot so as to have their products bundled there. Careful labelling is necessary for this process: the barcodes on the cartons have to be covered with exactly positioned mesh film so that the three-pack is not scanned as an individual pack at the check-out.
Separation in allergen and non allergen work areas
The fish area at Best Harvest is strictly separate from the second operational division, i.e. the fruit and vegetables department. This is because while produce from the land or from trees is considered “non-allergenic”, fish products contain several allergenic substances: for one thing seafood in itself has a higher allergenic potential, and for another the flour contained in any crumb coatings contains gluten. The processing halls thus have separate entrances with separate hygiene facilities, cleaning equipment and staff overalls are of different colours, and workers are not allowed to move from one department to another until they have changed their clothes.
Trouble shooting: Best Harvest a versatile problem solver
A further service provided by Best Harvest is trouble shooting, for example in the case of problems on which the client cannot spend time for reasons of work efficiency. The possible job spectrum here is wide and it can only be enlarged upon by naming examples. Alex Dinter: “For instance, bags have to be filled with 50 grams more and subsequently no longer fit in the packaging. Or cartons that have spent a night in the coldstore are open the next day because the carton, the adhesive and the cold don’t go together.” The areas labelling and traceability alone conceal a large number of technical challenges today: Do I need a special printing head for an absorbent surface or can I print with a fast drying ink? Some clients want a barcode in addition to EAN codes, and RFID will be a topic that has to be tackled in the future, too.
“A department of our client’s business”
“Before we can make a customer a comprehensive offer was have to ask them a lot of questions. Due to our experience we can clarify a lot of issues beforehand enabling us to avoid unpleasant surprises”, is the reason Dinter gives for a procedure that may seem superfluous to some clients. Best Harvest has established itself at a service level which is more demanding than pure picking and packing. Co-packing is a partnership in which the customer specifies the standards. Particularly with the regular customers in mind Axel Dinter sums up: “Ideally we become a department of our client’s business.”
Erwin Gooss, the parent company of Best Harvest
Frozen logistics specialist for Western and Eastern Europe
The services that Best Harvest offers are closely connected to the potential of the parent company, the frozen logistics specialist Erwin Gooss. Gooss operates three coldstores at the mouth of the River Elbe: one at the headquarters in Otterndorf and two in Cuxhaven – one in “Amerikahafen” and the other in the fishing port. Altogether there are 155,000 cubic metres of frozen storage space available plus 600 cubic metres shock frosting space. More than 90% of the 7,600 pallet spaces in the movable racking system are regularly full. At the 600 metre long quayside in Cuxhaven numerous ships with frozen fish, particularly sea frozen Alaska pollack from North America, are cleared. About 150,000 tonnes of frozen products are turned over every year, three quarters of them fish products. The company portfolio includes stevedoring and cargo control, import and export clearance, including customs and veterinary clearance. Gooss Manager Axel Stahlbuck emphasizes that Gooss does not only work for the Bremerhaven and Lower Saxony fish industry but also functions as a hub for Western and Eastern Europe.