Wellpak has a long tradition of working with growers who produce the finest quality fruits, grown in ideal conditions, and harvested when perfectly ripe. By working with growers all around the world – shifting continents and countries depending on what’s in season – Wellpak can supply the freshest of produce from regions that naturally bear the best fruit.
One such grower is Spanish farmer Roberto Arnal Müller. Roberto works for the TILLA Group, which has been growing and exporting fruit since the late 19th Century.
For over a decade, Wellpak’s Pascal Simian has been working alongside Roberto to source blueberries each year, from when the season starts in April until it finishes at the end of June.
Roberto manages two farms – El Majadal and Molino San José – in the province of Huelva in southwest Spain, where the full sun and well-drained, light and sandy soil provides the ideal environment for blueberries to flourish.
On the Molino San José farm, 15 hectares of manicured blueberry plants stretch out under polytunnels as far as the eye can see (the El Majadal farm is 20 hectares). The plants, which can grow to up to 8ft tall and produce fruit for decades, become productive from their second year after planting.
The health benefits of blueberries are widely reported. They contain the highest antioxidant capacity of all commonly consumed fruit and are rich in vitamin C. They help to improve brain function, including memory, and reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Blueberries also reduce stress and help to prevent aging.
Blueberry bushes are beautiful all year round. The buds swell in January and break into white flowers by February. Once the petals have fallen, early green fruit emerges. The young berries pinken through the spring and deepen in colour by early summer, when they’re ready for harvest. The harvest is spread across several sessions – typically five – to allow all the fruit to ripen and only the most perfectly ripe berries to be picked. Each plant produces between three and five kilograms of berries per season. Roberto’s farm yields an average of at least 450,000kg of blueberries per season. He is also planning to increase the size of his crop from 35 to 50 hectares in the next few years.
The blueberries are transported loose, in bulk, and by road to Ackio UK, Wellpak’s partner company, which is also based in Evesham. Ackio provides a highly automated packing service, capable of packing up to 100 million punnets a year.
The blueberries face stringent quality tests on arrival. Air pressure and vision-based systems examine individual berries for softness and colour, automatically rejecting those that don’t make the grade. They are then weighed and packed into punnets or snack pots, with different sizes according to Wellpak’s requirements. These are the punnets that appear on retail shelves, ready for pouring into breakfast bowls, snacking, or popping into children’s lunch boxes.
Meanwhile, back in Spain, fall’s foliage is beginning to form on the bushes. When the leaves fall, Roberto and his team are busy pruning the plants’ colourful winter branches ready to bear next year’s fruit.
Roberto says, “The harvest is a little later this year. We had a delay of around 10 days, but we’re already starting to have more volume and are hiring more staff. Next week we'll be harvesting with 100 people on the farm.”
Pascal says, “Since 2003, when I first started work with Roberto’s father, our relationship and the quality and the volume of fruit he supplies us has gone from strength to strength. This is a testament to how growing the best fruit is a family tradition, and it certainly runs in Roberto’s family.”