Benito, you started your career at Citrosol and you will end it here – your professional life has come full circle! Can you tell us about the early days when the company was created?
Benito Orihuel: We started life as part of Electroquímica del Serpis, a local manufacturer of detergents and cleaning products. Together with two chemists who were also professors at the nearby Technical Institute of Gandía, the company decided to develop coatings for the citrus sector after spending a lot of time researching fruit coatings and citrus rot. In the 1980s, the post-harvest arm was separated out and Productos Citrosol was created. Today the company is the leading supplier of postharvest solutions for citrus in Spain and probably in Europe.
Tell us about some of the highlights of your career?
BO: What we have achieved at Citrosol during these last 12 years has undoubtedly marked the culmination of my career. I’m not just talking about the signifi cant increase in turnover, but about the improvements we have brought about in postharvest practices. The development of more sustainable coatings and application systems has resulted in spectacular reductions in energy, product and water consumption. Our Zero Waste System, for example, was the fi rst example of bringing a circular economy to postharvest, while products such as Fortisol Ca and Citroprotect control or reduce rind disorders in citrus.
And our Citrocide Systems converts the washing process in vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes into a Critical Control Point (CCP) to enhance food safety, and extend the shelf-life of the product, while reducing water consumption.
Additionally we are introducing the concept of precision agriculture in the postharvest practices with the development 4.0 application equipment.
I am also immensely proud that we have developed the first plant coatings certifi ed for organic farming use, Citrosol AK Bio and Citrosol AK V Bio, which reduce skin damage caused during coldstorage and refrigerated transportation, and greatly increase the shelf-life of the fruit.
Finally, I believe the postharvest technologies and processes developed during my time as quality manager at Anecoop helped contribute to the commercial success of the Kaki Persimmon sector.
The commercial landscape has changed enormously for fruit and vegetable exporters since the early days, hasn’t it?
Absolutely. Fruit and vegetable consumption has increased almost continually throughout my career. Even today, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, consumption levels are still rising.
At the same time, even greater demands are being placed on pro-ducers in terms of shelf-life, reduction of food losses and waste. But they have to achieve this in a sustainable way – not only in terms of food safety, but also regarding the environment, reducing energy and water consumption. I am very wary of the sudden proliferation of new coatings on the market that claim to be wonderful but require a lot of energy for their application and drying. Personally, I don’t think they will succeed.
What, in your opinion, has been the most important achievement in postharvest in recent years?
Undoubtedly the greatest advances have been in the ability to reduce food waste caused by weight loss, fruit rot or fungal pathogens during coldstorage and transportation. Secondly, I’d say the development of postharvest fungicides such as Imazalil, and finally the development of waxes and coatings.
How do you envision the future of postharvest treatments?
The trends we see nowadays will go on; with the use of green chemistry, chemicals either residue free, i.e. our Citrocides, or that leave on the fruit skin minimal quantities of GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) chemicals, introduction of safe natural compounds, physical methods, and biological control.
A more difficult prediction is whether the treatments will take place in gas form, fogging or smoke generators, etc., or if water will continue to be the more common vehicle for application. Additionally I think postharvest chemicals and coatings will be used even more since per capita fruit consumption should keep increasing along with the global trade in fruit.
Will you find it difficult to pass the reins to others?
No. On the one hand I believe that the company is in good hands, and on the other I think that I can be satisfied with what has been achieved both at Citrosol and in postharvest in general. I am truly satisfied with what I have contributed to my employers and to society, and it is now time to give up the responsibility of being CEO. Time passes and energy levels are no longer the same!
Is there something that you have not achieved throughout your career that you regret?
Well, there are always new ideas to develop, or to finish developing. But time is limited, it is the only thing we cannot buy, and we also owe our time to family, friends and other personal interests.
Finally, what are you going to do with your newfound free time?
I will continue collaborating part-time with Citrosol as a senior postharvest advisor, but I will be able to dedicate much more time to my sports and cultural hobbies, as well as to family and friends. I’m also considering getting involved in an open innovation project.
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