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Birds Eye, United Kingdom

TOMRA Sorting, exclusively represented in the UK by Stein Solutions, has supplied two BEST Helius™ free-fall laser sorters to Birds Eye’s Lowestoft factory in order to provide greatly enhanced quality checks for the company’s market-leading frozen peas.

31 March 2014

Birds Eye is unique in the frozen food category. Its leadership position, strong brand equity and scale enables continued investment in product innovation, with a focus on modernising frozen food to meet the needs of today’s consumers. The business has a strong track record of bringing innovative products to the market that transform the way people cook and enjoy frozen food.


The company’s product range includes iconic family favourites such as fish fingers and frozen peas along with innovative new ones such as ‘Bake to Perfection’ and ‘Rice Fusions’. All of these meet consumer needs for great tasting, healthy, convenient and sustainable food that minimises waste and supports changing lifestyles.

This same commitment to investment and innovation characterises its production facilities with the installation and continual upgrading of equipment that delivers maximum speed and efficiency while maintaining and further enhancing the company’s reputation for quality. Birds Eye says that the new sorters are allowing a far greater number of contaminants to be detected and removed - up to 99.5 percent efficiency for most defects - while reducing the overall yield loss of each production run by as much as 50 percent. In addition, overall throughput has risen by 33 percent.


The Birds Eye factory processes and packs 36,000 tonnes of peas each year. The peas are frozen within two and a half hours of being picked and then called into the factory as required for cleaning, grading and packing. Typical contaminants that need to be removed include caterpillars, snails and stones from the soil, and pods and other parts of the pea plant.

The Helius™ uses laser technology to detect all types of colour and structure defects in a stream of good product. In addition, thanks to its patented FLUO™ technology, the machine is also able to spot contaminants by assessing biological characteristics that are invisible to the human eye. For the sorting of peas, it can detect the slightest shades of chlorophyll to distinguish between good products and defects. This makes it far more sensitive and accurate than the camera-based systems using UV light that it has replaced. “Caterpillars were a major weakness with our old system,” explains Quality Assurance Manager Paul George. “Not only are they a pea shade of green, they have a tendency to roll up into a ball making them pea-sized as well. Similarly, small parts of the pod could be missed as they were very difficult to distinguish using colour recognition alone.”

“The Helius™ sorters, by comparison, have an efficiency rate of 99.5 percent for caterpillars and minerals, and 98 percent for pods. This level of accuracy means we can harvest more of the crop initially. Equally important, the reject system is more accurate so that we lose fewer good produce during the process. This has allowed us to increase the quality of the product while also increasing the overall yield.” The two Helius™ machines have replaced four of the older models from a competitor and this has freed up staff to carry out other duties on the line. “Our old equipment needed regular monitoring but the Helius™ sorters are far more reliable,” confirms George. “We also find the free fall sorting system works better than a belt in achieving more accurate rejection rates.” In addition, the Helius™ laser technology provides a more consistent operation compared to fluorescent tubes which can deteriorate over time. Equally important, the machines can continue to function in both extremely hot and cold environments.

The Birds Eye Lowestoft factory processes and packs twelve tonnes of peas per hour into a range of pack sizes from 400 g to 1.37 kg, as well as smaller 286 g bags of Petit Pois, working 24 hour shifts, five days a week.

“Thanks to the efficiency of the Helius™ sorters cleaning is no longer an issue in terms of packing speeds,” says Manufacturing Manager Ashley Skelly. “Indeed, we could run the machines faster but final throughput is now governed by the speed of some of the equipment downstream of the sorters.”

The installation of the equipment went smoothly. Full training was also provided for operators at TOMRA Sorting Food’s headquarters in Belgium.


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