These days, more than ever, selling on price point alone is not enough. Consumer demands for added value, environmental and societal considerations, economic pressures to decrease operating costs, and the need to increase productivity, are some of the many factors at play. According to research undertaken by The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in 2008, 74 percent of leaders in the fresh produce industry recognize that making “sustainability” a priority in their company is urgent.
Sustainability is a broad concept so where do fresh produce retailers start? While the economic side of sustainability is critical for the business, the priority action items that consumers would like to see from a societal and environmental perspective are just as significant. What’s more, research shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium if they see certain social and environmental actions taking place.
The PMA survey showed that consumers place priority on the following top industry action items: pay workers fairly and establish worker safety programs; implement water and energy conservation programs; reduce pollution in transportation; reduce trash; and ensure products are packaged in recyclable packaging.
Let’s delve further into the packaging concern since this is the focus of the blog. A 2009 consumer survey conducted by the Hartman Group on behalf of the PMA verifies this concern. Most consumers (65%) want to see more emphasis on protective packaging of produce. In addition, a majority (60%) want to see more eco-friendly packaging.
While some may argue against using packaging in the first place, it is quite justifiable from a consumer health perspective as well as an economic bottom line. Packaging protects fresh produce from spoilage and dirty hands, and extends shelf life. In bulk displays, retailers are throwing away anywhere from 15 to 18 percent of produce due to it being picked over and damaged. With packaging, there is only five to eight percent waste at most.
But what type of packaging will create the right value in the mind of the consumer?
First off, we want to clearly reduce our dependency on petroleum based plastic packaging that goes straight to landfill, that litters and pollutes our oceans, that does not biodegrade nor compost, and that is not recyclable. The alternatives for fresh produce retailers range from PLA (corn plastic), to a variety of agricultural fiber based packaging made from renewable resources, such as palm, bamboo, bulrush, and bagasse. These fiber based products are 100 percent compostable in the backyard compost and once broken down, make a healthy contribution to the soil as humus.
We recommend that fresh produce retailers look to align themselves with packaging distributors that also offer an integrated merchandising program to assist with communicating sustainability efforts to the customers. For example, by creating a well integrated program that informs and educates the consumer, as well as tells the story of our eco-packaging, our company’s goal is to strengthen and substantiate the retailer’s commitment to sustainability and the reduction in petroleum based plastics. It shows the consumer that the retailer is part of the solution, not contributing more to the challenges.