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Bühler facilitates Chinese market expansion for Royal Quinoa processing giant

Quinoa in the process line. (Image source: Bühler)

Bolivia-based Andean Valley Corporation attributes its successful entry into the Chinese market to its investment in Bühler’s Sortex optical sorting technology

The company has also seen a more than two-fold increase in its processing capacity, as well as ongoing expansion of its product portfolio and a significant improvement in its colour sorting.

Since the COVID pandemic began, studies conducted around the world have shown a significant rise in depression and anxiety levels. Medical professionals suggest physical activity and lifestyle changes as a first resort, including an increased intake of complex carbohydrates, fibre and protein-rich superfoods such as quinoa.

Boosting capacity

Since the COVID pandemic began, Andean Valley has experienced a drastic increase in demand for its Royal Quinoa, recording its highest ever sales in the company history. “With our Sortex technology we have been able to meet this rise in demand,” said Javier Fernandez Villalobos, CEO, president and owner of Andean Valley Corporation. Indeed, with the highest capacity optical sorting solution for quinoa in the market, Andean Valley has more than doubled its processing capacity, from two to five metric tonnes per hour.

“Prior to investing in Sortex technology, if we wanted to ensure a high quality end product, we had to significantly reduce capacity, this was costing us a lot of time and money. With Bühler we’ve been able to boost our quality and capacity, without sacrificing one for the other,” added Fernandez.

With its expandable and modular structure, Sortex optical sorting technology enables higher product throughput without compromising on the accept product quality. Additionally, the flexible configuration allows the product to have multiple passes, enabling Andean Valley to obtain a much more concentrated reject. Subsequently, the company has been able to recover approximately five metric tonnes of accept quality quinoa every month.

Fernandez said, “One of the most important elements that has helped us in our product development, has been the support of companies like Bühler in furthering our technological development. 

“By enabling us to perfect our de-stoning and cleaning of the grains, we can trust that we are producing the best quality in the market, so we are able to think bigger. Unmatched technology gives us the support and confidence that we need.

“As a result, our sales channel has evolved from supplying bulk containers of Royal quinoa to companies, to now providing restaurants, cafés and supermarkets with high quality, ready-to-eat Royal quinoa-based products. 

Improved colour sorting

The main challenge that the company faced prior to its Sortex investment was detection and removal of immature pale green and overly mature pale pink grains, which are both very similar in colour to the main white quinoa.

With Bühler’s RGB camera sensors, Andean Valley is now able to detect very slight colour variations, with a clear image. The patented algorithm allows the operator to easily select which defect to remove, without touching any other colour. Moreover, the Sortex machine continuously tracks the product colour, enabling automatic calibration of camera gains and background references. 

The supplier’s programme

The improvement in colour sorting aligns perfectly with Andean Valley’s Supplier’s Programme, wherein the company purchases locally cultivated quinoa from almost 500 small farmers, most of whom lack advanced farming management. Subsequently, their grains often contain defects which would not be accepted by other quinoa processors in the region. However, with its Sortex technology, Andean Valley is able to handle lower quality input material and so can successfully support its local farmers and provide them with a steady income.

“We set up our suppliers' programme so that small farmers are in a position to leave their businesses to their children, safeguarding their land and produce for future generations. This also involves strengthening their skills in pest control, sustainability and soil conservation,” Fernandez noted.

The Chinese market

Not only has Sortex colour sorting supported small farmers in Bolivia, but also Andean Valley’s export markets. Currently, the company exports its Royal Quinoa to 13 countries. However, without Sortex technology, Fernandez stated that it would have certainly failed to enter the Chinese market.

“The Chinese market demands a stringent separation of black, red and white quinoa; thanks to Bühler’s advanced colour sorting we can guarantee that today we are able to comfortably fulfill our existing demand and also demand from China.”