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While perishability is in the nature of fresh produce, some products are more perishable than others and therefore require extra attention and innovation to ensure that its shelf-life is as long as possible, and that the product arrives to the customer with the best quality achievable. This is something with which La Corsaria is very familiar. To ensure that their products are as fresh as possible upon arrival, this Colombian herb grower and shipper invested in an innovative vacuum cooling system.
La Corsaria grows many different herbs, including rosemary, chives, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, tarragon and basil, but the majority of their production centers around mint. “We have about 26 hectares of total production and around 80% of that is dedicated to mint,” says Ricardo Angel. To ensure the optimal freshness of their herbs, La Corsaria ships all of their product by air. “The United States is our biggest market, but we also sell to Canada, Europe and the UK. We have a very fast turnover time with the airfreight, and are able to supply year-round,” Angel shares.
Due to the pandemic, the demand for fresh cut herbs has taken a hit. “Compared with 2019, the demand in 2020 was down around 30%. This has mostly been due to the closures of foodservice. The horeca sector is very important for mint, so with foodservice functioning at reduced capacities or sometimes even being closed completely, our demand has been down,” Angel explains.
Fortunately, La Corsaria has been able to continue working and growing without any major hitches. “We have continued growing without any major challenges and feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to continue on with our full staff without having to downsize. We try to have as positive a workplace as possible and also believe that our quality is one of the reasons for our success,” says Angel. In their search for continued innovation and improvement of their quality, La Corsaria decided to invest in a vacuum cooling system designed by Dutch company Weber Cooling.
“We received the machine last year and have been using it for about seven months now,” Angel says. “We are always investigating ways of further improving our product and our quality and we realized that the cold chain is one of the main pieces of the puzzles that can cause challenges which can affect the overall end-result. So, we wanted to strengthen our cold chain by incorporating this vacuum cooling machine.”
The vacuum cooling method works to ‘pre-cool’ products prior to adding them to the cold chain. The produce is cooled down through the evaporation of moisture from inside the product itself, which takes energy away from the product in the form of heat. “The machine cools our herbs very rapidly, and we get down to about 2 degrees Celsius within 15 minutes, which is the perfect temperature for the herbs,” says Angel.
The way in which the machine cools the product – by evaporating some of its moisture – has benefits too. “Normally, you’d think that drying out the product would be negative, but it actually helps to further elongate the shelf life. The capillary water inside the plant causes condensation during the cold chain process, which can raise the temperature in the surrounding area and affect the arrival quality. By removing the excess water and slightly drying the product, this isn’t an issue anymore, and shelf-life is extended,” Angel explains.
In addition to the extended shelf-life delivered by this drying process, the rapid efficiency of the vacuum cooling also helps to extend the product’s shelf-life, while simultaneously conserving energy for the company. “When we use our normal refrigeration system, it takes anywhere between six and seven hours for the herbs to reach the desired temperature. With the Weber Cooling vacuum cooler, it only takes about 15 minutes. This means that we use our energy much more efficiently, which reduces operation costs. Additionally, we are able to buy ourselves a whole extra day of shelf-life because we don’t have to wait those hours for the herbs to cool down,” Angel shares.
“We always strive to deliver the best product to the client and want to work with cutting-edge technology to do so. It’s an investment, but the vacuum cooling machine makes us more competitive in the market, reduces risk and improves our arrival quality, allowing us to provide the best product and service to our customers,” Angel concludes.