Real value innovation
Oliver North in his book Counterfeit Lies writes, “An easy life is rarely meaningful and a meaningful life rarely easy.” It is a sentiment held by every business owner as they battle the highs and lows of running a business, but what is a meaningful business? Is it one that has change-impact within an industry or sector; a big tech company that has changed the way we compute or bank? Perhaps it is the smaller, unheralded companies whose stories have had just as much impact in industries that we rarely think about.
Take the fruit sorting industry for instance. All many of us know about picking fruit is how we choose our apples, oranges and cherries at the local greengrocer. We expect that the fruit shop owner will have a decent selection of fresh produce to choose from. e rare bad apple may surface, and one may even have trickled down the bay and hit the oor with a so thud before being picked up by a consumer with a slightly guilty look on his or face. Behind the scenes it is much di erent. When my father Geo Payne started GP Graders in 1963, with no formal engineering training, he set out to create machines that would more e ciently sort and pack the fruit that was being produced on the family farm.
As surrounding farms in the region caught wind of the new technology they approached Geo to supply the machinery to them. e business then expanded across country and by the mid-’80s he was providing grading and packing solutions for stone, pome and citrus fruit growers around the nation.
An even bigger break came in 1987, when cherry growers approached Geo to create a machine that would sort cherries. e delicacy of the fruit would make this task a challenge, but Geo was up to it. e machinery, however, was still primitive and accuracy was questionable.
During this time, I was a 17-yearold nishing up school. Yet the family business and culture of innovation was in my blood. When I joined the family business in 1998, I set out to build on the foundations of my father and set a path for further transformation.
I looked at structure, administration, marketing and branding, sta remuneration, dra ing and design. It was a complete overhaul.
By 2000, I had embarked on a path of global expansion. I met agents and appointed them to sell the machinery. e breakthrough came the following year when I negotiated a distribution arrangement with a large French based company. is rapidly accelerated overseas sales and established the company’s brand internationally.
In 2005, with my brother Ian, we identi ed a major future trend in the industry and began the development of a cherry grading line capable of grading produce electronically using cameras.
I was in Spain and the Spanish were talking about moving to electronic sizing and grading of cherries. e technology was in its elementary stages but I became convinced that the future lay in a machine where cherries would pass under a camera system and be electronically sorted on the basis of size, shape and colour.
is new technology would replace the mechanical grading methodology that traditionally had been used for cherry grading. It proved to have immediate success and led to signi cant and sustained growth for the company.
Yet, a major challenge presented itself: cherries are delicate things.
We could never store them or test prototypes in our own facilities because cherries have such a short shelf life. What we did was ask our best customers to become involved in our R&D using their facilities. Once our customers were on board we developed a camera and so ware to make the electronic grader work.
From this came the next big breakthrough. e camera technology was so good that it could identify defective fruit, allowing packinghouses to replace human sorters with more reliable cameras, thereby improving product quality and saving millions in labour costs.
e technology was developed for a Chilean customer called Copefruit. It worked. e reject fruit was ejected and business began to boom with GP Graders securing global dominance.
How to create market dominance
GP Graders machines are now in 20 countries, so it is imperative that the camera technologies we use to grade fruit are the best in the industry. We plough a huge amount of resources into research and development into these technologies, ensuring that our fruit-sorting machinery is second to none.
Any de ciencies in mechanised grading systems will be accounted for nancially by our clients, either through decreased sales or through increased overheads as sta will be needed to rectify the errors. erefore the entire culture of our company revolves around making sure we are on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.
Stuart Payne is the MD of GP Graders the world’s leading manufacturer of cherry sorting and packing machinery.