Transatlantic Growth

April 8, 2013

If you didn’t know what the Sormac company does, its name provides a clue.
“Sor” for sorting and “mac” for machines is at the core of a company that has a 90-year history in vegetable processing. Known throughout Europe and North America for its onion peeling technology and cucumber grading installations, the company has also built a niche with its experience in processing potatoes, carrots and salads.
Sormac is constantly working to perfect and adapt the machinery in its extensive portfolio, said Area Sales Manager Robert Heckathorn. Purchased by current owner Bert Haffmans 10 years ago, Sormac has focused in the decade since on customer service and growth through Europe and beyond.
It’s an approach that has worked, with Exhibit A being the company’s expansion amid a worldwide economic downturn. The company has added about 8,500 square feet at its headquarters and production facility in the southern part of the Netherlands near the German border. Last year, Sormac did about $20 million in sales.
Specializing in potatoes, carrots, onions and leafy vegetables along with various other products, Sormac offers the technology for everything from a stand-alone machine to implementation of entire production lines.
“We sell our equipment not only to processors, but also to people who are growing and need a stand-alone machine or small line,” said Kim Suntjens, Sormac office manager. “In Germany, we have some very big leafy vegetable processors who also want a complete line. So, we do both.”
Sormac just completed installation of a new processing line for Dole Europe, in Finland.
The company prepares and sells more than 70 fresh-cut salads and vegetables to the retail and foodservice industry. It was a first-time collaboration, and included a custom-designed weighing system.
It also incorporated Sormac’s SC-940 centrifuge dryer that provides even distribution of lettuce leaves in the drum and is set at an angle to prevent excessive pressure on leaves during drying.
“We installed a completely new salad line, all the way from the trimming to the bagging,” said Stefan Grahn, speaking on behalf of the Dole project. “Sormac supported everything from the trim including the wash line and the dryer. We have a much better performance than the one we used before – very good quality.”
That kind of feedback is music to Sormac’s ears.
“The focus has been to build on the strong relationships with the customers,” Suntjen said. “We wanted our customers to be happy and know that we were listening to them.
“We try to make the solution they wanted.”
Heckathorn said Sormac has been getting more requests from customers in Europe for drying tunnels instead of centrifuge dryers. The process results in lower residual moisture, which in turn enhances shelf life as well as cosmetics.
“Our drying tunnel is a thermal processor,” said Heckathorn. “There’s no excessive movement.”
The company is also focused on efficiency in its products.
“Especially in Europe, we have smaller fields of products,” Heckathorn said. “The carrot fields here might be one-tenth of something in the U.S. for a single farmer. They have to make the most money out of that, and not have too much waste.
“Our machines get the most yield out of the same carrot.”
Sormac’s MS-20 Combi, which peels potatoes prior to processing, also minimizes waste.  County Farms in Mars Hill, Maine, is among the companies that have purchased the MS-20 Combi, which removes flaws before the potatoes go to the processor. That, in turn, reduces the rejection rate. And besides creating a smooth finish, the technology minimizes cell damage to prolong shelf life.
“It’s like a hand-peeled finish,” Heckathorn said. “It’s about aesthetics – like you do it at home.”
Going forward, Sormac plans to increase market share in North America. With a network of sales agents all over the world, it’s a logical next step – especially with the explosion in convenience and fresh-cut products in the United States.
“We have been in the U.S. for 20 years, but our focus on the U.S. has grown because we see the potential there,” said Heckathorn, noting that Sormac is looking for a technical field engineer to be based in the U.S. and service customers there. “We want to focus on the U.S. and North America.”

By Lee Dean, editorial director

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