Fresh Fruits has recently moved into its new, purpose-built premises in the Al Aweer Fruit and Vegetable Market. We spoke to Fresh Fruits Chief Engineer to ask him some detailed questions about the operation.
Good morning, Mr X. It’s a pleasure to be here today to take a tour of Fresh Fruits brand new premises. The first thing that catches the eye, I have to say, has to be its shape. It’s a leaf?
X: That’s right! When we were looking at designs, we asked our architects to conceptualise a building which encapsulated the nature of who we are as a company—but no one could capture just what we were looking for. In the end, the idea came from us! The leaf embodies the true nature of our business, and is the source of the fruit and vegetables that are at the heart of our industry and success. The elevation of the building is a motif of overlapping leaves—and has already become something of a landmark in the fruit and vegetable market! What’s also pleasing is that we used GGPPS concrete, that passes some of the most stringent environmental regulations for new buildings.
Yes, the glass and steel are particularly striking—as is the landscaping. What are the internal features?
X: Yes, the design, look and feel is unique in the region. Let’s go in and take a closer look!
X: As you can see, it’s a state of the art facility that has been fitted out with our employees in mind—they’re the ones who use it every day, of course! We aimed to make it feel light and airy, as well as a warm, welcoming environment with all amenities – including a large dedicated staff car park – so they have everything they could possibly need. We wanted to provide the ideal environment for our people—to ensure their comfort and as a way of saying thank you for their years of great service to Fresh Fruits.
So, here we are in the reception area. It’s truly impressive! Can you show us the highlights of what’s here?
X: As you can see the reception area has been designed to maximise the use of natural light, and, moving on, in this area just over here, we have the auditorium, built specially for media presentations and staff training. It has a capacity of around 75 people and has the latest audio-technology fitted as standard, with acoustics that allow even someone without a microphone to be heard around the room. Presentations can be started from a one-touch console, as ease of use is something we really value.
The interiors seem very modern. Why did you go for that look, rather than something more traditional?
Fresh Fruits is not a company to look backwards. And while the look may be modern, the feel is distinctly one of comfort. We’ve made extensive use of comfortable but stylish Italian furniture. The meeting rooms are spacious and luminous, while at the same time are energy efficient, with the use of the latest materials that reduce our energy footprint. If you look over here you can see the staff cafeteria, which again is built with comfort as priority, and we offer dedicated prayer and ablution rooms. We also have a Wi-Fi network covers the whole building so staff have full access even on their breaks. This is a large building, with a ground and two upper floors. Everything is within easy access—and as well as our regular lifts, we also have a panoramic one, too.
You say reducing your carbon footprint. What steps have you taken to do this?
X: Well, as I mentioned earlier the materials we used have made clever use of their energy efficient features. We also use all LED lights which use a fraction of the electricity and create a fraction of the heat of conventional lighting. In all, our consumption is around 70% lower than it might have been. We also have a specialised central air-cooling system which differs from conventional air-conditioning—and we are superbly cladded, insulated and double-glazed! Add to that the coolness of the marble floors and our water features, and it’s quite something.
How do you balance the idea of a glass building against reducing energy costs?
X: Well, the building has full height tempered glass on all side elevations—and because we use Saint Gobain glass from France, with its particular advantages regarding natural light , and power saving through heat and infra-red light reduction, there is a tremendous saving in AC cooling and a reduced heat load across the building.
What technology do you have working in the building?
X: There is a full voice announcement system that runs through the whole building, and we have set up a top wireless VOIP system that accepts all sorts of wireless devices such as barcode readers. We have the latest in computer and security systems with full CCTV coverage not just of the building, but also of the whole facility here.
That’s great. Can we take a look at the new distribution centre you’ve set up, next?
X: Of course. Please follow me.
So this is your new distribution centre? What can you tell us about it?
X: Well. As you can see the building is huge! It has a state-of-the-art refrigeration system—two systems, to be exact—water and ammonia based. They’re also very environmentally friendly with sensitive leak detection systems across the facility. They warn our key staff, and send notification via SMS anywhere in the world. We are also very well-protected against the threat of fire with B1 rated insulation sandwich panels – these are currently the best in the world—as well as a Siemens VISDA, or Very Early Smoke Detection System. Fresh Fruits is the first in Dubai to use one in a cold-storage environment. Add to this a full sprinkler network which covers everywhere outside the cold store.
Can we take a look at your warehousing?
X: Absolutely, please follow me through here.
Wow! This is enormous!
X: Well, yes! We have seven rooms altogether with storage capacity of up to 5,800 tonnes which can be stored at store at -30oC. This can be used for the holding of meat, fish, ice-cream, or just about any kind of item kept at ultra-low temperatures. They have, if you see, special flooring designed with anti-slip in mind and a dedicated ventilation system beneath that which avoids ice-formation. The doors are specially made with 150mm insulation. Overall, across the facility, we are able to store 13,000 pallets—which is equivalent to around approximately 16,000 tonnes in 24 rooms—all in a prime location right next to Mohammad bin Zayed and Manama Roads. We are lucky enough to have a kilometre of private access road specially designed for both heavy and light trucks with easy access to the ports and the fruit and vegetable market. We are very proud that this facility is the third largest cold store in the whole of the GCC.
Impressive! What about your power usage?
X: We have a 2MW prime generator which can run for a whole month without any problem, as well as the best in weather-proofing and power-saving, that reduces our power impact on the grid, with LED waterproof luminaire lights inside the rooms which not only save power but work down as low as -30oC and as high as 50oC. We run approximately around a 7 megawatt capacity. This is called IP65. We have electric forklifts and hand-jacks, which are rechargeable and have non-marking tyres. And water use too, is important – especially somewhere as dry as Dubai! We have a 400,000 US gallon water reservoir for our own use from which there is a major use of recycling across the system. In wash rooms we have set push-to-use systems with sensors that control water use and reduce it by around 15%. Water recycled in our system is used to water the landscape, so potable water is not used. This comes from Vella USA, and is connected to a recycling tank. We also have an ammonia deduction system. A closed water cooling circle for low stage refrigeration, a closed ammonia system for high stage refrigeration, a water treatment plane (ROU), a suck-away system for drainage which means that we are able to reduce water usage so that there is always more than 250,000 US gallons water available at any time in our reservoir.
What about the automation systems?
X: We fully automatic dock levellers; automatic sectional doors with safety laser sensors; fully automatic and remote-controlled sliding doors for the cold rooms—which are touch sensitive in case someone is coming in when they start to close
It’s noteworthy to mention just how high your stacking systems are. Why did you do this?
X: The high stacks are easily reached by the forklifts, so the ability to be able to maximise how much produce is in a particular area works well at lower energy costs—both for profitability and for ecological impact. With this drive-in racking system and its steel guide-rails we are also able to minimise accidents and improve overall health and safety. The special flooring has also been designed to work up to -30 oC and contains anti-bacterial chemicals additives within it as part of its special double-floor slabs which also act as insulators.
How many loading bays do you have?
X: 29, in total. They have a huge manoeuvrable area, which without any kind of obstruction so all 29 can be used simultaneously, is unique in the Middle East. We have room, believe it or not for over 13,000 pallets based on our current operation, and which will expand in future. In total, this area is able to receive the load of two full container ships at the same time.
What’s this section here located just next to the bays?
X: This is the customer VIP selection room with its own special hygiene room for disinfection and application of hairnets and sterile clothes—no one can enter our facility without going through this section.
X: They have a separate locker and changing room block located nearby, as well as a separate coffee shop and restaurant for their off-duty use.
So how do you conduct repairs at the facility?
X: I’m very happy to say that we have a superb repair capability here – both for our fleet and our mechanical day-to-day needs, which are both separate. We have our own truck workshop which contains all the facilities you would expect for the easy-running of a large fleet of trucks. We have a stock of spares, both for trucks and, in the other unit, for use throughout the plant—such as in refrigeration. We can deal with very day-to-day eventuality here within the working day, so down-time is not an option. Our team of highly-qualified and experienced mechanical and electrical engineers (over 30 of them in fact) with technicians run the facility for over 850 staff and safely run the strict requirements of ISO 22000.
To transport this much produce, you must have a sizeable fleet?
X: We have over 120 reefer trucks currently owned by Fresh Fruits, and we also make use of local logisitcs companies to assist where demand needs. We are ISO 22000 certified—and also cetified by Dubai Municipality.
And your operations staff—where do they work from?
X: Directy above this facility, actually. We have 1700 square metres of office space for operations staff above this loading area. From here they control the whole operation, and have world connectivity as well as direct contact with the management and staff in the bays and the whole of the fleet. We track everything by GPS, so this is one really well-switched on office!
You decided to have your own banana ripening facility. Why was that?
X: Come along and I’ll show you. As you can see, we have 14 banana ripening rooms in total. The ability to ripen bananas on the spot is far better for our flexibility for importing and re-exporting, and also gives us a much better control over the freshness of the bananas we sell. It has been designed, supplied and applied by INTERKO, Holland—the number one supplier of such technology in the world. With two level racks and 3600 cartons per room, we can ripen a very large number of bananas at any one time.
How does it work?
It uses a computerised ethylene gas network where a uniform amount of gas reaches to every part of the room equally, and is technically advanced and completely safe. The fruit is exposed to the gas which speeds up the ripening process.
[Please visit here for more information: http://www.interko-binair.com/wd/pages/produkten/en/bananenrijpsystemen.php]
I know one thing that many people are anxious about these days is the conditions in which staff are expected to live. Can we see your staff accommodation?
X: My pleasure. If you could come this way. Our DIP facilities for our Fresh Fruits staff is something we are very proud of. It’s often said that employees are family—well the acid test is how you treat them. Please let me introduce you to the head of our labour accommodation, Mr Y, who will guide you around this facility.
Y: Good morning, please follow me.
What do you think of the accommodation provided here by Fresh Fruits?
Y: Well, to be honest, some of our staff have experienced other labour accommodation, and they have said that what we provide is ‘5 Star’. We accommodate 750 men here, all of them with TV rooms and satellite access in their various languages—we have a range of various nationalities working for us. There are also common rooms and dining rooms; each block has lifts, outside open spaces that put a little green back into their lives, and often on weekends sees them sitting outside on the grass chatting in the evening. Transportation is available to get to and from work, and for a trip into town on Friday, if they choose. Senior position men sleep two to a room, while junior positions share with a maximum of four to a room. The A/C system is a central cooled chiller system, so the whole building is a delight even in the height of the summer months. Food is served according to national or religious preferences, and I can honestly say that there are very complaints indeed. If there are, we take them very seriously as our responsibility of care for those who work for us.
Y: Don’t mention it.
Mr X. We’ve seen your current facilities here at Fresh Fruits. What are your future plans? Are you looking to expand further from what we see here today?
X: Well, yes, naturally. Fresh Fruits is never a company to rest on its laurels. We believe that we should always take advantage of a market need and continue to build success on success. Our short term plans include opening a presence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which continues to grow apace and offer a great deal of potential in the coming years.
What are Fresh Fruits’ long term plans?
We see expansion in other GCC and Middle Eastern countries as part of our natural growth curve. We have already begun investment in an expansion of our cold store capacity that will mean in increase of around 40% more storage space. We hope that our combination of skill and wise investment will assist us in our future ventures.
Mr X, thank you very much indeed for this opportunity to see ‘beneath the skin’ of Fresh Fruits’ operation.
X: You are most welcome.