Multinational kiwifruit cooperative Zespri called on Spark data, analytics and AI business Qrious when it came time to urgently renew its harvesting systems.
Zespri needed a partner who could manage complex back-end data requirements and a statistical analytics layer, while also developing a front-end, web-based application that growers and packing houses could easily use.
The problem was, kiwifruit grow, they mature at different rates, depending on the soil they are growing in, ground aspect and wind and frost exposure. For 20 years, Zespri used a rigorous process to help assess the quality of fruit in a particular area of an orchard and deliver an independent assessment of its readiness for harvesting.
However, by 2020 Zespri had outgrown its existing system and urgently needed to develop a replacement.
The engagement began that June with the next kiwifruit season fast approaching with fruit tests starting in January. Within six months, Zespri and Qrious had its "maturity clearance system" set up and ready to roll for 2021 harvest, which runs from around March to May.
Zespri, which is also undertaking a $160 million transformation of its core systems, exports kiwifruit to more than 50 countries around the world. With long shipping times to get fruit to consumers, it was essential kiwifruit was harvested at the optimum point to ensure they arrived on the table ripe.
The new system automated the process for testing the quality of sample kiwifruit, which included requesting samples from growers; despatch to a laboratory; testing for six qualities, including sweetness, density, size, and weight; sharing results to Zespri and then communicating a final decision back to the grower.
A key step within the process is the calculation of a Taste Zespri Grade (TZG), an objective assessment of the fruit quality and determines its value, for each kiwifruit sample and a recommendation on whether the fruit should be picked immediately, or if harvest should be delayed.
Automating this process meant the calculation could be performed within a couple of hours.
The calculation of the TZG is based on a layer of statistical analysis with insights now available in a range of charts and reports that make it easy for the business to track progress and examine trends.
“Traditionally this process has been quite slow and unstable so now we’re turning to cloud technology to help us automate'" said Dave Scullin, Zespri’s chief digital officer. "The new system has given us scale, throughput and valuable insights to make decisions. We can see trends appearing and address any issues or concerns around quality much sooner.”
The new system is cloud based and server free. Zespri chose to build the system in Microsoft Azure and use Azure SQL for its data store. It uses a range of external and internal APIs to share data with growers, packhouses and labs.
“We feel that we have really future proofed ourselves," Scullin said. "As we grow or shrink our operations, we can scale up or down, without the previous worries we had around performance or stability."
Zespri also see potential to use the tool with its offshore growers. As it is entirely cloud based, that’s now an easy lift and shift.
"We’ve even built multi-lingual capability into the tool so that countries with other languages can easily adopt this new system," Scullin said.
Qrious worked with the Zespri team to define security standards that carefully preserve the integrity of the system. Integration with Zespri’s CRM system means users can only see information that is relevant to their role.
Stephen Ponsford, acting CEO of Qrious, said the project really showed the potential of data when put at the heart of your business.
"You can clearly see how Zespri benefits from its data insights: it is consistently harvesting kiwifruit at exactly the right time," he said. "This leads to higher prices for growers, and higher export prices."