Innovation and efficiency takes produce from farm to fresh food aisle

Innovation and efficiency takes produce from farm to fresh food aisle

Supply-chain management in the fresh produce industry needs to be efficient and innovative. Industry professionals are finding innovative ways of dealing with the three main challenges facing the sector: ensuring lower costs for businesses, sustainability for society and quality for the customer. 

By Gerhard Stander, agricultural director at CHEP South Africa.

The power of pooling

Though balancing these three considerations is precarious, the sector has been highly adept at doing so. One of the ways they are managing it is by opting for a share and reuse model that enables growers to transport their product from the farm to the fresh food aisle, on a single shipping platform.

Shipping platforms most often used within the fresh food industry include foldable plastic bins, captive bulk bins and collapsible crates that can now replace costly and ineffective carton boxes. Because these containers are reusable, they allow for significant cost savings, protect the cargo and also have a far smaller environmental impact.

A reusable plastic container is manufactured once, and it can make a myriad of trips over its lifespan, which most often lasts decades.

Growers often opt for bulk bins. As the name implies, these bins transport produce in bulk, while ensuring the highest integrity and food safety. Today, for instance, apples or pears can be harvested directly into bulk bins. They are transported to the grower pack houses, where they can be decanted and washed and selected for export or the local market.

A foldable bulk bin, measuring 1m x 1.2m, can hold freshly harvested fruit, transport it to retailers and then function as a display platform. Then from the retailer, it can be folded down and returned to CHEP, conditioned and be re-issued to the grower.

This type of solution drastically reduces the handling of fresh produce, which has a direct impact on the aesthetic appeal and lifespan of the produce. That makes a pooled shipping platform the ideal vessel to move fresh produce efficiently from the farm to the fresh food aisle.

The real logistical challenge then becomes managing the movement and return of the containers to ensure optimum efficiency.

Today supply chain companies, like CHEP, are establishing service centres at the premises of large growers, centralising and aligning the management of produce and containers, to ensure efficiency and comprehensive tracking throughout.

The challenges of ensuring returns of containers across international borders, means that the reuse of plastic containers across export markets is still developing. However, the system is well established in domestic retail markets.

A quality export market built on trust

South Africa is known as a significant global produce exporter. It is for instance, one of only a handful of countries that produces citrus without black spot, making our fruit highly sought after in European markets. Gold-standard supply chain management is necessary for the country to convert this advantage into export successes.

What truly distinguishes and benefits the local agriculture and fresh produce industry, is the high level of trust that exists between players. Growers, distributors, import / exporters and retailers have built relationships that go back decades, and which are supported by collaboration and understanding. To this day, deals are sometimes struck on the strength of a handshake.

This underscores the need for industry-wide collaboration. Growers, customers, supply-chain providers and logistics firms must work hand in hand to meet the quality standards of the international markets, while not compromising on cost and sustainability.

Such collaboration is fostered by logistics operators that embed themselves in the communities they supply to. Supply chain managers negotiate with growers according to crop sizes, which is in turn affected by climate changes.

The value of industry bodies

When it comes to building trust and collaborating within the industry, it is worth recognising the value of an industry body such as the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). It provides the perfect networking platform for agriculture and fresh produce players, because it includes growers and retailers not just in sub-Saharan Africa, but also around the globe. Its local country council includes senior leaders from across the industry, facilitating discussions around industry affairs, talent management and sustainability. It allows supply chain solutions providers, growers, distributors, exporters / importers and retailers to collaborate to find industry wide solutions and opportunities.

Finally, it’s crucial that we close the loop and pass on these financial, efficiency and environmental savings to the customer. The entire process is for the customer – the most important trust relationship in the entire supply chain.

It’s about getting produce from the farm to the fresh food aisle in the most cost-effective, efficient way, while minimising the impact on the environment – for everyone’s benefit. We need to work together to achieve that.

Source: alive2green

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