HIT Tomato relies on Colt for its technological transformation

The Portuguese company HIT Tomato has an extensive history in the food processing sector. It is the result of the merger of two factories, Italagro and FIT, located near Lisbon, which process more than 340,000 tonnes of tomatoes annually. Since 2012, the company has been part of the Japanese group Kagome, a market leader internationally, and is following an ambitious technological transformation process.

Its factories, which have been operating in the sector for 50 years, have had to address issues relating to obsolescence. They started the technical transformation of processes and equipment in 2014, with a view to the IoT (Internet of Things) and Industry 4.0.

As part of this process, the company has relied on Colt’s Dedicated Cloud Access for its migration to the cloud. “The transformation became more effective last year, when we decided that we would fully migrate to the cloud”, explains Alexandre Nabais, Director of Technology for HIT Tomato. “Then we started to identify a partner ecosystem to help us achieve this and Colt became a key player in the strategy. The transfer and the quality of the transfer were critical for when we migrated to the cloud and Colt fit the bill”.

Nabais, whose role covers all the technological aspects of the business, including production, very simply defines the company’s operations as follows: “Tomatoes go into the factory, and then tomatoes come out”. This deliberate simplification actually hides a complex structure of 200 workers, which increases to 2,000 during the harvest season, in addition to all the engineering and IT systems that ensure the activities operate properly.

HIT Tomato has agreements with the farmers that they buy produce from. The company provides the seeds, which are the result of R&D processes to optimise the tomatoes to enter its factories. During the harvest season, around ten weeks a year in summer, the produce is sent to HIT Tomato’s facilities, where it is processed into tomato paste using techniques such as evaporation. Some of this product is further processed to be sent directly to customers including McDonalds, Domino’s and the Whole Foods supermarket chain, while some is stored.

The company exports 99% of its production. Its biggest customers are in Japan, northern Europe and Saudi Arabia, although the UK and Russia are also major recipients. With 80 million euros in turnover annually, HIT Tomato expects to grow around 3-5% in sales in a sustained manner. Although, it faces the challenge of adjusting its operations to the price of tomatoes, which is not rising as expected.

Furthermore, the processes need to operate with pinpoint accuracy. During the harvest season, if something goes wrong, production is halted, which means losses the whole time. HIT Tomato seeks 100% availability for its systems. “We decided that it was not acceptable to use a standard transfer service”, says Nabais. “Colt’s name came as a recommendation from Microsoft and, when we started to explore it, we knew it could be a good option”.

The Portuguese company works closely with Microsoft. And they have contracted Colt’s Dedicated Cloud Access to connect to the Microsoft Azure cloud. They are using this platform in three areas. Private peering (all its servers are on Azure), public peering (they host their own solutions here), as well as Microsoft peering (the space for Office 365 suite and all its collaboration tools).

Colt had a good approach from the beginning. We had a very aggressive schedule, they listened very carefully to our requirements and proposed a solution that really covered our needsDirector of Technology, HIT Tomato

The implementation entailed an extra degree of complexity since the factories are not located in urban areas, where Colt usually operates. It was necessary to create a system that went beyond the conventional.

The work was coordinated smoothly and installation was carried out within a month and a half. Nabais confirms he is pleased with the result: “Once the hardware was installed, the connection was a matter of one day. I put my virtual machines in the cloud and I have a round-trip time (RTT or network latency time) of about 20 milliseconds; this is like having the machine by my side”.

HIT Tomato’s aim is to migrate from a ‘capex’ to an ‘opex’ strategy. In this way, the flow of financial resources that have to be dedicated to buying and implementing new services each year is curbed. “Having a partner as reliable as Colt, which provides us with a stable transfer, has allowed us to implement this strategy”, adds Nabais. “We will have return on investment by reducing capex investment in the IT area by between 15% and 25% in two years. Our strategic plan is for three years, we have completed one and two remain”.

Colt’s infrastructure offers another future opportunity for HIT Tomato as its geographic distribution fits with Kagome’s centres, particularly in Japan. Although for the time being the Portuguese company is focusing on its local improvements, as part of the transformation, it has started using SAP internally, covering a significant part of its operations. Next year, it wants to integrate this software into the Azure cloud. Some aspects on the production lines, such as monitoring and supervising the equipment, will be outsourced to a partner. But above all, HIT Tomato is looking towards automation in its factories, incorporating smart sensors, as part of the IoT, and data mining.

The plans for next year include migrating production lines to the cloud. At the same time, Nabais’ team will aim to capture more information from factories and warehouses to increase their knowledge on their operations so that more informed decisions can be made. These are necessary steps to expand over the years to come beyond tomatoes and start working with other vegetables.

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