Tough challengesThis sets tough demands on the packaging. Fresh food packaging must withstand harsh and varying conditions from high humidity to a refrigerated environment.
The packaging must also be able withstand tremendous weight. Shipping containers are stacked full of heavy fruits in order to maximise the transportation capacity. If the bottom box fails to support the weight on top, the valuable contents inside will be ruined. And if a shipping container includes destroyed goods, the recipient may return the whole shipment, inflicting significant additional costs to the fresh food producer, who now has to ship the whole batch back to its homeland and get rid of the spoiled products from there.
A common response to these demands on packaging is overspecification: the package is made much stronger and bulkier than it needs to be. It’s important that the package is dimensioned correctly as this will lower CO2 emissions in transport due to lighter weight and reduce waste. It will also result in a lower cost per package. This kind of resource efficiency is central to any good packaging solution.
The primary role of any packaging is of course to take care of the delicate products within despite potentially rough handling. Packing fruits and vegetables is a craft that requires skill and training. The shape of the fresh product is never exactly the same and fitting the correct amount of food in a box can be a challenge. This is still a task that needs to be carried out manually. And then the products need to arrive at the right time and ripen at the right speed during their transportation.
These challenges must be met with the increasing consumer demand to purchase perfectly fresh and unharmed produce in a local supermarket in any city around the world.
Strong solutions with fibre-based packagingFibre-based materials can be made into high-quality packaging that keeps valuable fruits and vegetables fresh and intact all the way from farm to table. Fibre-based packaging is easily recyclable and comes from renewable sources making it more environmentally friendly than most other solutions.
Additionally, high-quality packaging from corrugated board is made from strong virgin fibres and much more resistant to humidity than more traditional lower-quality examples. In other words, it’s possible to use renewable materials such as corrugated board to meet the challenge of protecting fruit under changing circumstances and harsh climate.
Corrugated packaging can also deal with managing a product that ripens during the transport process. Exotic fruits are usually cut long before they are ripe, and the final maturation process happens during storing and transportation.
Since the maturation process depends largely on air circulation, the packaging can either stop or promote the maturation process with specific design choices and ventilation solutions. When the packaging is designed perfectly, consumers will receive their fruit and vegetables, untouched, unharmed and ready to eat regardless of where they were shipped from initially.
Food safetyRenewable fibre-based materials are also effective when it comes to food safety. For the most sensitive end-uses it is important however to use materials from virgin fibres. This kind of packaging meets the most stringent food safety standards. We had webinar about food safety in corrugated packaging in June 2020, and the recording is available here.
Consumer trendsThe desire to live a healthy lifestyle is a trend today that has led to the premiumisation of fresh produce. While the sale of fresh produce has not gone up, fresh fruits and vegetables have been valued higher for their rich nutritional properties. Consumers expect to find fresher, crisper produce found in their local supermarkets.
At the same time as consumers strive for healthier lifestyles, they are also increasingly interested in making more sustainable choices. Consumers want to live in an eco-friendly way and are looking for solutions that have a low environmental impact. Packaging from renewable materials meets this need. It can be recycled, has a lower carbon footprint and is plastic-free.
What’s more, in the fresh produce sector, packaging can help reduce the large amount of food loss and waste. Nearly half of all fresh fruit never makes it to our mouths. It gets lost in the production or transport of the produce or goes to waste after purchase. Safe, resource-efficient packaging solutions are not only good for business, but also for the planet. Consumers are interested in sustainable packaging solutions that are better for the environment: 89% of consumers pay attention to packaging materials in decision-making regularly or occasionally, so easily recyclable, renewable materials can make a difference in purchasing decisions (Source: Stora Enso consumer study, Read more from a Circular design guide for packaging).
The opportunities to make a difference with the right materials in the fresh produce supply chain are clear and many. In summary, a fresh produce package needs to be able to cope with different climates, withstand heavy weights, cope with rough handling, arrive fresh and undamaged in an environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient way, ensuring consumers get perfectly ripe and fresh produce. At best, when on display, the packaging communicates the benefits of a plastic-free and low carbon material and fills yet another purchase criteria to the consumer.