Originally published in Prodindustry, October 2019

The Dmitrovskie Group is Russia’s oldest supplier of vegetable products for the domestic retail market. In recent years, the company has actively driven forward its vegetable processing business and expanded its range of pre-packed sliced vegetables, salads and cooked vegetable products.

In order to increase the competitiveness of the rapidly growing, family-run company, the owners decided to focus on the automation of the production processes and concentrate in particular on the filling and packaging operations. MULTIVAC was selected as the strategic partner for the packaging technology. Ivan Filippov, Development Director for the Dmitrovskie Group, reports in this interview on his experiences in the mutual collaboration with the experts from MULTIVAC.

Mr Filippov, your company’s range of activities includes not only the cultivation and supply of vegetables, but also the processing of these into vegetable products.

That is correct. We now feel rather misunderstood, when we are described as farmers. The Dmitrovskie Group has actually been involved in food processing for about a decade now. In 2009, we were the first company to launch washed vegetables from our own production onto the market. We are now the market leader in this sector.

About one and half years ago, initially as a trial operation, we started to produce cooked vegetable products, i.e. pasteurised and sterilised. It took a whole year for us to master the new production process for the vegetables so their vitamins and micro-nutrients could be retained, while at the same time providing the shelf life for the product without the addition of preservatives. Today we are able to offer potatoes with and without skin, as well as beetroot.

It takes only a few minutes to cook these products since they just have to be heated in the microwave. Thanks to our new production line, we can now offer high-quality products as healthy convenience foods to consumers who have too little time or inclination for cooking.

Are the processed products packed on an industrial scale?

Yes. The expansion of our product range to include those with a greater degree of processing required a rethink on our part, involving a completely new approach to packaging. By investing in new packaging technology, we also set ourselves the aim of automating the production process as completely as possible – right up to the filling of the finished product.

By completely automating the packaging process, we also wanted to ensure our products would meet the strict hygiene regulations. At the same time, our intention was also to increase the productivity and efficiency of our production by reducing the number of workplaces for less qualified staff. Another benefit of introducing a new packaging solution was a longer shelf life for our products, which would further consolidate our customers’ trust in our branded products.

Which packaging technology did you decide upon?

We currently use several thermoforming packaging machines from MULTIVAC.

Why did you decide on this company?

Two years ago we decided to automate our packaging line − and unfortunately we purchased our first thermoforming packaging machine from another supplier. To our great regret, however, we soon encountered difficulties. There was a complete lack of support, which we urgently needed. We therefore ceased our involvement with this supplier immediately.

A year ago we were faced again with the urgent task of optimising our packaging line for pasteurised vegetables, and in particular to meet the demand for higher output. And so we contacted the specialists at MULTIVAC. They were very ready to help us with this project and, following an in-depth evaluation, developed a suitable solution for us.

How were the products packed previously?

Before the thermoforming packaging machines were introduced, we had to fill the vegetables by hand. We used chamber machines for the vacuum packing, as well as manual weigh feeders with pedal activation. But there was simply too much labour required to operate these effectively. By purchasing MULTIVAC technology, we have now finally got away from inefficient manual processes. After just one year we have been able to double the output of our packed products.

Which criteria applied when selecting the new partner, given the unhappy experiences with the first supplier?

Our Group includes the DmitrovAgroResource company, one of the oldest sales firms for agricultural technology in Russia, which has traditionally specialised in the sale of tractors and combine harvesters. We, therefore, know exactly how one has to sell technology and equipment − we are not just selling our customers the individual machines, we also see ourselves as real suppliers of solutions. In addition to the particular vehicle, we also offer servicing and technical support. A trusting relationship with our business partners is very important to us. The result of our work depends precisely on how successful this is.

We therefore applied the same criteria to the supplier of the new packaging technology, as those that apply to ourselves. This includes the manufacturing quality of the products, the level of technical support and the availability and delivery of spare parts. If the supplier can guarantee the required spare parts can be delivered to site on any day of the week, including weekends, this is for us an important factor when making the purchasing decision.

When choosing technical equipment, the evaluation of the supplier by other companies, who already have experience with this technology, also plays a significant role. If the opportunity allows, we will travel to these companies and ask them all the relevant questions regarding the equipment, particularly about the reliability of the technology and the technical support offered by the supplier.

Surprisingly, the price as a selection criterion is not even worth a mention by them …

That, which is good, can not be cheap. Quality has its price.

That means you were prepared to accept the price level of the market leader for packaging technology in Europe?

Essentially, it comes down to evaluating the price correctly. Here, it is a question of considering not only the initial investment, but also much more the total costs of ownership, in other words the total cost of the investment over its entire lifespan. Ultimately it is also about the certainty that the technology is future-proofed, and that there will be no problems with it over the next ten years. Given these preconditions, we were prepared to pay the appropriate price for the MULTIVAC packaging machines. And I am absolutely convinced that every single rouble was well spent. We also conducted extensive research in the market for packaging machines, during which we spoke to a large number of our Russian and European partners, before we entered into the collaboration with MULTIVAC.

And after one year of cooperation there is presumably no reason to doubt the correctness of your decision?

I can say with complete conviction, that we have found the right partner for long-term collaboration. We are completely satisfied with MULTIVAC in every respect. This means not just price but also servicing and the assistance from MULTIVAC’s local specialists.

Whenever the operating data from the machines is assessed, we always receive the technician’s recommendations on how the operation of each machine can be optimised. With MULTIVAC, one never buys a “pig in a poke” as the expression goes. I always like to use the opportunity of getting information, for example, about a new model from MULTIVAC on the market. This means I am always kept up to date. Sometimes we can see or even test such models.

And last but not least, it is very important to us that we can order any spare part directly by phone. Spare parts are always delivered to us very quickly and can be fitted on the same day, at or latest, the following morning.

How would you assess the project management by the technical people at MULTIVAC?

I can perhaps best answer that with a typical example. We recently had a project for packing a new sliced vegetable product and we originally intended to purchase an additional packaging machine. After the specialists at MULTIVAC had examined the User Requirement Specification, they suggested we should retrofit a new die set to the existing thermoforming packaging machine, rather than invest in an additional machine. It is perfectly clear that with such a simple solution, we have not only saved money but also been able to use our production area more effectively. I will leave you to judge whether another supplier would have been able to resist the temptation to sell us an additional machine. This is further proof of the value that MULTIVAC staff attach to the brand and the company, and how they see their relationship with the customer.

We have a motto here that the best partner is the one whom we never ask about the price. And who never asks us when we will pay. The MULTIVAC company has proven to us that it is such a partner. And today when I give my colleagues in the sector advice about packaging technology questions, I always recommend to all of them that they opt for MULTIVAC as a supplier. Yes, it is more expensive in the initial investment, but ultimately it pays off since over the long term many unnecessary problems can be avoided.