The demand for year-round availability of out-of-season vegetables in Western European has prompted the establishment of large vegetable growing and convenience packaging businesses in countries such as Kenya, where the climate is more amenable for mass cultivation.

AAA Growers is a Kenyan-based horticultural firm that farms, processes and exports a wide range of vegetables and flowers for the European, South African and UK markets.

AAA Growers houses

The company has four pack houses on three different farms all equipped with greenhouses and drip irrigation.

Three of the pack houses are for premium vegetable products and the fourth for the preparation of specialised ready-to-eat products.

The first and second pack houses are incorporated in the company’s Hippo pack house which is located in Thika. The pack house contains a premium and high-risk unit or prepared unit. The premium unit packages chillies and French beans and the high-risk unit produces a wide variety of ready-to-eat products. The high-risk unit has a daily capacity of about 10mt of prepared foods.

The third pack house, the Turi pack house is located in Nanyuki. The factory is dedicated to packaging premium vegetables such as fine beans, mange tout and sugarsnaps. Extensive quality checks are undertaken at the factory to ensure that the products are disease and insect free.

“The company harvests, packs and delivers products within 24–48 hours.”

Chestnut pack house is the fourth pack house of the company and is located in Naro Moro. The factory packages BlMl and runner beans and has the capacity to process 15mt of premium foods daily. It houses two cold rooms to store the produce. The factory is also equipped with a high-speed blast chiller to cool the produce quickly after being picked. The pack houses are accredited by the British Retail Consortium to ensure that the products are of the highest quality standards.

The company harvests, packs and delivers products within 24–48 hours. The pack houses pick the produce and cool it within few hours after which AAA’s cold chain management provides the produce with a reliable shelf life.

The waste from the pack houses is utilised in the company’s farms. On an average about 5mt of waste is generated daily, which is composted and turned into the company’s farms to increase the organic content of the land.

PA182 twin station system

In March 2007, the company purchased and installed a PA182 tray sealer from the UK’s Packaging Automation (PA). The PA182 is a semi-automatic, twin station system designed to allow tray size changeovers (heat sealing tool changeover) in under two minutes, reel changes of film without tools, and easy cleaning with no areas for detritus or insects to accumulate.

“The machine is a single-operator, hand-turned rotary table heat sealing machine that can package at a rate of 5,400 packs per hour.”

The machine is a single-operator, hand-turned rotary table heat sealing machine that can package at a rate of 5,400 packs per hour (43,200 packs per day). The machine weighs 435kg with a footprint of 1,520mm × 1,030mm × 1,770mm.

The machine is able to seal and trim film from a reel onto trays of up to 100mm deep composed of various materials including CPET, polypropylene and PVC at a rate of 15 cycles per minute using a compressed air pressure of 80 psi. Packaging Automation has been implemented, continuously upgrading and modernising the stray sealer. The PA 182 is also available with modified atmosphere packaging with gas flushing, which helps in improving shelf life. Other optional features that can be included in the PA 182 include a date coder, printed film registration, foil crimping and pre-cut lid sealing.

AAA Growers use the new tray sealer to pre-pack fresh produce such as peas, sweet corn, and other vegetables. The tray sealer helped in increasing the capacity of the company and enhanced its operational efficiency. It also helped in improving the company’s product presentation.