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Magnets Deliver Safer Product, Boost Sales

February 27, 2008
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With offices in Burlingame, CA, and La Paz, Bolivia, Andean Naturals bridges the gap between small Andean farms and the booming organic food market. Andean Naturals, founded in 2004 by a group of Bolivian entrepreneurs, works with more than 180 indigenous family farmers in the Andes Mountains, producing 2.6 million lb of quinoa per year. Quinoa is a tall crop plant that is cultivated in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador for its small, ivory-colored seed that is used as a food staple.

Eriez RE Magnet grates in the housing

Andean Naturals’ specialty is organic royal quinoa, which grows at the shores of the Bolivian salt flats located at an altitude of 13,000 ft. While the area’s rich mineral soil and arid conditions produce quinoa seeds that are one-third larger than those produced in other regions of the world, the growing conditions also require that stones be removed from the seeds.

A Pesky Problem

One of Andean Naturals’ customers is Indian Harvest Specialtifoods Inc. (Colusa, CA), which processes and sells rice, grains, and legumes to top restaurants, caterers, and culinary institutions. In 2006, Indian Harvest complained that the red quinoa they purchased from Andean Naturals contained small pumice-type rocks. Explaining that this red quinoa comes from an old volcanic area and is cultivated by indigenous farmers, Sergio Nunez de Arco, General Manager of Andean Naturals, said, “These rocks are very close in weight to the quinoa and therefore impossible to eliminate with gravity tables or sizers. Further compounding the problem is the fact that the rocks float, so water flumes cannot eliminate them either.”

View of the RE magnets after passing 2000 lb of product
Volcanic rocks and sand stick to the RE Magnets.

Indian Harvest told Andean Naturals that it had found a method for eliminating the bothersome iron-bearing rocks: powerful rare-earth (RE) grate magnets. Indian Harvest purchased the grates from Erie, PA–based Eriez Magnetics, a company known for its state-of-the-art magnetic, vibratory, and inspection equipment offerings. Indian Harvest reported that the Eriez magnets performed well and effectively removed the rocks. After seeing the magnets at work in their client’s Colusa plant, Nunez de Arco was convinced. “We immediately contacted Eriez and began the purchasing process.”

Andean Naturals bought two grate magnets that were custom-made for small seeds. The magnets have grates that are offset so that each grain of quinoa touches a magnet. The equipment was shipped to Andean Naturals’ production plant in Bolivia where it was installed at the end of the production line in a chute after the gravity tables, sizers, and optical selector. The powerful magnet tubes effectively collect the iron-rich rocks because of their magnetic nature.

Powerful, Permanent Magnetic Protection

Eriez’s line of grate magnets provides powerful, permanent magnetic protection against fine- and tramp-metal contamination. Designed for simple installation in steep-sloped hoppers, oddly and irregularly shaped hoppers, floor openings, vertical closed chutes, and ducts, the magnets offer many advantages, particularly for applications in which high purity is essential.

Magnet grates in their housing at Indian Harvest
Quality control records and samples from Indian Harvest

RE Magnets solve many very fine or weakly magnetic iron contamination problems. Their magnetic strengths fall in the medium intensity range: 4000 to 11,000 G. Previously, this magnetic strength could be delivered only by high-intensity electromagnets, which are bulky, expensive to purchase, and expensive to operate. The use of electromagnets is often difficult to justify since the high cost of electromagnetic separation is unnecessary or its cost exceeds the value added to the product or process. RE Magnets represent an economically feasible option for ferrous contamination problems that are too tough for low-intensity separation but not tough enough to require high-intensity separation.

Properly designed RE magnets also have high magnetic gradients and greatly increased holding force. This means that they can reach out and attract weakly magnetic or very fine iron contaminants and hold them so tightly that washoff during product flow is virtually eliminated.

Dave Heubel, Eriez’s national sales manager, is not surprised by Andean Naturals’ success with the RE grate magnets. “After listening to and understanding Andean Naturals’ problem with rock contamination, we were confident our grate magnets would be the solution they needed,” he noted. “The fact that Indian Harvest recommended the magnets to Andean is something that we can truly be proud of.

Water flumes at the processing plant in Bolivia, the first process in cleaning the quinoa

A customer referral is the highest compliment and validation you can receive as a company.”

Powerful Results

The magnets are now an integral part of Andean Naturals’ complex quinoa process flow. After being threshed and selected, the quinoa is taken from the field to a cleaning facility in La Paz. There, it is rubbed to remove the bitter saponin coating and then washed. After drying, the quinoa passes through a line of destoners and color sorters. Before being weighed, packed, and prepared for shipping, it encounters the RE grate magnets. Andean Naturals is proud of its strict quality assurance program, boasting a purity rating of 99.99%.

Nunez de Arco notes that there are only two quinoa facilities in the world that use magnets, but with increasing food safety regulations, he expects them to become a standard feature of quinoa processing operations. The presence of magnets in Andean’s process flow has provided the company with a competitive advantage over other quinoa wholesalers, boosting sales by 100%. Most importantly, the RE magnets enable Andean Naturals to offer a safer, metal-free product. “We’re able to get these pesky stones out that no other piece of equipment could get,” says Nunez de Arco.

Andean is so pleased with the results that they are considering acquiring another set of magnets for their sesame processing plant. In addition, the company has decided to become an Eriez distributor in Bolivia.

For more information on Eriez and its products, call 888-300-3743, e-mail eriez@eriez.com, or visit www.eriez.com.