McCall Farms has been growing and canning vegetables in South Carolina, USA, since 1954 – yet it was in an astonishingly short timeframe, and very recently, that this 70-year-old business ramped up production volumes 16-fold.
In the years up to and including 2018, McCall Farms typically produced 18 million cans of green beans per year. By 2022, however, McCall’s output had skyrocketed to 304 million cans per year. A big reason for this giant leap forward was McCall’s acquisition of a state-of-the-art TOMRA 5B optical sorting machine. Investing in the sorter has also paid back by significantly enhancing product quality and reducing problematic dependence on manual labor.
Sorting was previously slow and inconsistent
McCall Farms has come a long way since, as a family business with a 2,000-acre (809-hectare) farm, it switched from growing tobacco to canning vegetables when a new law required tobacco products to be labeled with health warnings. This move turned out to be very good for the business’ own health: today, McCall Farms is one of the USA’s leading providers of farm-fresh canned vegetables and fruit, producing 235 different products at its 93,000 square-meter facility in Effingham, South Carolina, on the northern banks of the Lynches River.
McCall Farms’ wide variety of Southern-style products – all grown in South Carolina and neighboring states – are sold under four major brand names across the USA. The business has now been family owned and run for six generations and employs more than 1,000 people.
It was difficulties such as recruiting and retaining people, however, which prompted McCall’s owners and managers to look for a new way to sort fresh vegetables, including green beans. McCall’s Maintenance Superintendent, Amanda Salisbury, explains: “It’s getting harder for businesses like ours to find and keep people for production line work, particularly for tasks such as sorting. We were having issues with keeping a large enough crew to keep the product free of defects. And even with a large crew of hand-sorters, we weren’t able to keep the product sufficiently defect-free for Grade A product. We needed to shift from manual to automated sorting.”
McCall Farms’ first move was to acquire sorting machines for its green beans, fresh cut for canning, from a manufacturer other than TOMRA. But this brought disappointment. Amanda said: “Those machines didn’t perform at the level we expected of an optical sorter. This left us vulnerable and scrambling to make up the difference with hand-sorters. Because we couldn’t always find enough hand sorters, we had mechanics and managers helping with the sorting. To facilitate optimal sorting of the product, we had to slow down production and had to reject loads that we couldn’t clean up sufficiently by hand.”
None of this was acceptable, of course. For one thing, food waste costs money. For another, McCall Farms has always set itself the goal of high product quality. “Whether it’s green beans or sweet potatoes or spinach or peanuts,” Amanda says, “our main goal is always quality. We want to offer the highest quality product on the market. This means we need consistency in our sorting. We want to eliminate critical FM [foreign material] contamination and we want the same high-quality results even when the raw product changes.”
It was clear to the Effingham plant’s managers and line operators that a more effective sorting solution was needed – and that perhaps the answer was staring them in the face, because the plant’s two TOMRA Sentinel II optical sorting machines were working well. The Sentinel II is a cost-efficient machine, simple to operate and maintain, which outperforms similarly-priced competitors in sorting ability, capacity, and durability – but now McCall Farms wanted something more, to handle greater quantities with even greater product quality. Discussions with TOMRA’s experts quickly identified that the best solution would be the TOMRA 5B.