What sort of impact has the coronavirus crisis had on business at Compac?
Roberto Ricci: We thought it might be bad, but in reality there have been both pros and cons. Some customers have been affected negatively and had to delay investments, but in general our customers have seen an increase in demand from the supermarkets, as consumers stay home and do more cooking. Customers who produce long shelf-life foods like apples, citrus, potatoes and onions have increased sales a lot. We have therefore seen service requests increase. This has been a challenge, but we have managed well thanks to our local service provided by our Italian partner Icoel.
Has it been difficult to support your customers during this crisis, especially given the limits on travel?
RR: We offered 24/7 “follow-the-sun” support for all our customers, assisting them remotely, and it has been very successful. We discovered what we were really capable of. In the past, the easiest thing to do was jump on a plane and sort the problem out personally. Now we have discovered another way. This is why it’s hard to see the world going back to the way it was before.
The skill of our technicians and trainers is crucial, but the technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated and, at the same time, easy to set up. We are learning how to offer remote help to our technicians on the ground. Increasingly, customers can even fix the problem themselves after a service call.
Have you had any logistical issues?
RR: We have been lucky. Last year, we decided just in time to switch our production from China and New Zealand, moving some of the parts to our second plant in Slovakia. So we were able to finish the machinery there and do all the transport by truck rather than by vessel or airfreight.
What have been the main successes at Compac over the past year?
RR: We launched a new sorter model, Tomra 5S Advanced, for the whole of Europe. It has been redesigned to make it easier to clean, completely food-safe, more productive and gentle in its fruit handling. We also did an installation last spring at Apofruit, one of the biggest cooperatives in Italy. In their packhouse near Cesena, they have an organic plant, so they chose Compac for a multi-category line equipped with Spectrim, our electronic defect sorting platform. We have been really successful working with them through the summer with stonefruit, and now we just finished the second run of the winter season with kiwifruit. Apofruit also tested some tomatoes and some pears, so it really is a multi-category line.
Do you see Brexit as a threat or an opportunity for Compac?
RR: One of the results of Brexit may be that Europeans living in the UK, especially from eastern and northern Europe, decide to go back home. Indeed, many already have, so we are seeing a trend for more automation, especially from our customers involved in repacking. They don’t want to be reliant on manpower, so this is a good opportunity for us.
Are you looking to 2021 with optimism?
RR: 2020 was full of surprises, but it turned out to be a great success for the company. We were 64 per cent over our sales target and 85 per cent up on 2019’s sales. So that’s a big step up. In 2021, we want to continue on this path, consolidate our position and continue to support our partner, Icoel, in Italy.