This blog was originally published by Aptean on June 2, 2021.

Packaging is currently an extremely hot topic in the fresh produce industry. Produce is traveling longer and longer distances to reach the end consumer, meaning there has never been a greater need for packaging that locks in freshness. However, the sector — and the wider food industry — is also undergoing a packaging revolution of a different kind in which cutting wastage and plastic use is being prioritised.

Clearly, reconciling these two realities is a huge undertaking and one every fresh produce business must crack to ensure future success. Read on to learn more about the challenge, the industry’s response and how tech solutions are shaping the future of packaging.

Fresh produce packaging for freshness 

Freshness is everything when it comes to produce — it’s the very reason consumers opt for it over its frozen equivalents. Minimising the time taken for fruit and vegetables to reach the consumer after harvesting is of paramount importance. It’s the only way to deliver them the quality and taste benefits that are associated with fresh produce.

But it’s not just the time it takes for produce to reach its destination that matters — it’s the way it’s transported. In this regard, nothing plays as big a role in maintaining freshness as how produce is packaged. The type and quality of packaging used can be the difference between a consignment arriving in perfect condition or completely spoiled.

With supply chains becoming longer and more complex, it’s harder to ensure produce arrives in the condition that retailers and shoppers expect. The longer produce is on the road, in the air or traveling the seas, the more it must contend with the physical impact of transportation as well as temperature and humidity changes. 33% of food is already thought to be wasted, with much of this accounted for in the transportation process.

There are packaging solutions to extend the length of time produce can reasonably be in transit. Packaging must be sturdier to avoid damage and leaks, while each line of produce must be packaged in carefully considered ways that cater to the specific properties of each item (e.g. soft fruits must be packed in a completely different way to hard fruits). One tactic being employed to extend freshness for produce traveling long distances is to pack single items individually. Other benefits of this include being able to pack more efficiently, reduce shipping costs and lower the risk of contamination, according to Fruit Logistica’s senior product manager Madlen Miserius.

Environmentally sustainable fresh produce packaging 

While consumers broadly understand the need for fresh produce packaging that ensures freshness, there is a growing appetite for products that are packed in more sustainable ways. A 2020 survey found 35% of shoppers consider minimising environmental impact to be the number one thing they value in fresh produce packaging. 34% think packaging functionality should be balanced with environmental concerns.

One way of incorporating sustainable packaging involves using more biodegradable materials. Innovative examples include semi-transparent, tear-resistant, moisture-resistant packaging paper and even old-fashioned cardboard as alternatives to plastic. Investing in packaging like these will be crucial for the entire fresh produce supply chain in years to come. Cutting down on unnecessary labelling is also a big area companies can target to reduce materials usage. Lasering barcodes directly onto fresh produce is thought to produce only 1% of the carbon emissions of a similar sized sticky label. However, this technology is far from widespread and only suitable for certain types of produce.

Another strategy for prolonging freshness while meeting environmental goals focuses on incorporating secure packaging as close to source as possible. If fresh produce can be packed in a way that will protect its freshness before it leaves the farm, this avoids the need for repackaging at multiple points throughout the supply chain. Fruit Logistica’s Miserius sees this as a huge opportunity and predicts greater expansion of in-house packaging infrastructure by growers as a result.

Achieve better packaging with an ERP for fresh produce 

Solutions to the fresh produce packaging conundrum are here, and technology that will produce more of them is moving at a fast pace. In practice, though, rolling these new methods out over an entire industry as large and diverse as fresh produce is the biggest challenge. With the uptake of technology perhaps slower in fresh produce compared with other food sectors, businesses can get ahead of the game by integrating new solutions and processes now. By far the best, most efficient and most cost-effective way to do this is through embracing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) for fresh produce businesses.

An industry-specific food and beverage ERP provides an integrated software framework that allows you to bring all the disparate elements of your technology stack onto a single platform. Providing a single source of data and a unified interface allows you to take decisions with more confidence and grow revenues with smarter strategies. It also crucially allows you to seamlessly integrate new technologies and processes and expand the scope of your operations.

Microsoft Dynamics Food & Beverage ERP for fresh produce businesses helps you conquer the modern challenges of your industry. From ensuring regulatory compliance with our advanced traceability functionality, to streamlining reporting with smarter data capture and interpretation, we have all the tools your fresh produce business needs to thrive.

Whether you’re a grower looking to scale up your on-site packaging capabilities, a distributor needing to invest in responsive cold-chain technology or a wholesaler who wants to reduce plastic waste by implementing lasered-on barcodes, our food and beverage ERP for fresh produce will help you get there.

The Fusion5 Microsoft Dynamics Food and Beverage solution sets the gold standard with a host of features designed and built specifically for the food industry.

We’ll help you achieve a full digital transformation with automation throughout your fresh produce business and unparalleled data synchronisation to help you reach the next level.

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