Earlier this year, the shelf life of avocados took a positive drastic turn. Avocado supplier Greencell Ltd., one of the exhibitors at this year’s London Produce Show and Conference 6 June 2018, introduced an innovative and pioneering packaging concept that radically improves the quality, as well as longevity of avocados. First distributed to Tesco Waitrose in the UK, the new technology is an absolute industry game-changer, challenging the produce industry, not only with the actual shelf life of produce, but also the magnitude of “reduced to clear” waste that supermarkets face.
Produce Business UK sat down with Business Development Manager of Greencell, Matthew Churchill, to learn more about their innovation processes, their commitment to environmental and sustainable practises, and to get their take on future insights in produce and packaging.
What have been the major instigators or catalysts in the market since Greencell was founded in 2008?
Greencell was founded in 2000 and became part of the Westfalia family in 2008. The major instigators for this evolution are “Quality, Service and Innovation.”
Quality is the main driver for purchase, influencing the overall experience and respective ‘repeat-purchase’ model. Our quality is of the highest, and we deliver to our customers the best-eating and most consistently conditioned fruit available, year-round. By focusing on this alongside the service that we offer, which is underpinned always by innovation, we deliver industry-changing results.
What are some examples of innovation?
An example of innovation includes the release of the GEM® variety, known as the ‘gourmet’ avocado. GEM ® has a rich and creamy flesh with a melt-in-the-mouth, buttery texture. The skin is thicker than other varieties, which allows the flesh to be easily scooped out. It has yellow lenticel speckles that remain prominent on the dark skin of ripened fruit. Westfalia Fruit is the international manager of this exciting avocado variety in many parts of the world.
Let’s discuss your latest innovation in avocado packaging, which is said to have significantly improved the quality and shelf life of ripe and ready avocados. Can you briefly explain how this came about? How big is the advancement in your opinion and how do you envision this will shape the market?
We have long recognised the importance of maintaining fruit quality whilst reducing spoilage and wastage of avocados. A number of years in the making, after trying out a range of technologies, we have successfully achieved this, increasing shelf life by up to 2 extra days within ripe-and-ready-to-eat packs. The recent introduction of the patented combination of shortwave ultraviolet (UV-C) and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) is a hugely significant advancement in the industry’s ‘war-on-waste.’ The benefits are numerous, including: preserving fruit quality, which, of course, encourages repeat purchase; extending the sales window of opportunity; reducing in-store wastage and reductions; maximising case counts; and improving transportation efficiency. This has had a profound impact already since its introduction earlier this year.
Would you say that innovation is now Greencell’s point of difference in 2018? What is the unique selling point?
Greencell’s main point of difference is actually an amalgamation of sorts. Our main service is actually supplying a vast range of customer segments — retail, food service, food processor, wholesale and government. Optimally matching our suppliers’ needs with the demands of our customers is where we achieve big success. Since becoming part of the Westfalia family in 2008, Greencell have become a vertically integrated chain of supply from grower to customer, having direct control on, and offering, security of supply. Our ‘Centre of Excellence’ for ripening and production in Spalding Lincolnshire is solely dedicated to avocados. However, we also have expertise in the production, handling and supply of a whole array of fruits, vegetables and salad crops with separate packing, storage and distribution facilities.
On your website, greencell.com, there is an expansive list of produce you handle, from apples, grapes and kiwis to melons. Are there any in particular that you would like to highlight here? Any standouts that might have been overlooked?
The evolving story of the rampant, continued success of the avocado is an obvious one and has been well documented and reported. However, another stand-out product that we are experiencing tremendous growth on is the demand for our dried mango. Taken from our own production in South and West Africa, the fruit is grown, harvested, ripened and dried at source. This dramatically reduces the ‘risk’ with shipping fresh mango from a wastage perspective and creates supply streams from areas that are otherwise logistically challenged.
Supporting smallholder farmers in this value-adding process has helped strengthen our supply into the extremely popular ‘snacking’ category. Our point of difference to others in the marketplace is that the flavours are completely natural, and there is absolutely no sugar added throughout the drying process.
Let’s talk a little about trends towards organic. Have you noticed a shift here in terms of demand for that? In the organic section of your website, you claim that there is more customer demand for this:
Organic is a very important area of our business and we are seeing an increasing ‘upward’ trend in demand. Consumers care greatly about the where and how their food is produced with increased emphasis placed upon ethical and environmental aspects. As a company, we are well-placed to give assurances to our customers. These elements are within our DNA.
Westfalia Fruit belongs to the Hans Merensky Holdings Group, a shareholder of which is the Hans Merensky Foundation. The company was originally founded by Dr. Hans Merensky, a highly regarded geologist, scientist, conservationist and philanthropist. In 1929, he purchased Westfalia Estates, applying principles to ensure that sustainability, humanitarian and ecological impact became key elements of the business.
In 1949, prior to his death, the Hans Merensky Trust was created, later becoming the Hans Merensky Foundation. This has helped establish that the Group’s corporate philosophy and culture today is a continuation of the humanitarian and personal beliefs of its founder.
The strategic vision of the group is to be recognised as the leader in growing, processing and marketing a range of products of excellence. These products are to be produced under sustainable and environmentally-sound conditions through the application of research and development and, it is our goal, to be acknowledged as a company with the highest integrity and social responsibility.
We also successfully assist new and developing growers across the globe to meet strict ethical compliance protocols for supply to our customers. This is typically by permitting access to ‘export’ markets and providing a platform for their businesses to develop. Yes, in fact, your environmental policy also demonstrates a strong commitment to miniminising waste and reducing the carbon footprint: “Greencell is a sustainable company and cares about the environment. Seek ways to reduce our carbon footprint and GHG emissions generated by both our operations and complete product life cycle; actions and activities supported and certified by the Carbon Trust.”
We continuously strive to adopt the most advanced and innovative techniques to reduce our environmental impact. From harnessing natural resources of energy to the installation of the most efficient technologies within our operations, we have successfully achieved this to date. In addition, we have made considerable advancements with ‘waste’ reduction and elimination strategies, including scrutinising and reducing ‘residency’ durations throughout all aspects of the products’ life and adding value to what would otherwise be categorised as ‘waste.’ We go a step further with our combined UV-C & MAP technology by preserving quality and reducing waste for our customer. We are also committed to minimising packaging and promoting sustainable options, by having work streams in place, holistically assessing all packaging components with respective targets, and proactively working with, and for, our customers.
Finally, let’s talk about the London Produce Show. Is it your first time exhibiting there? What do you expect from the show? What can people expect from you?
We are very excited to be exhibiting for our first time at the London Produce Show. We look forward to seeing and meeting people from all-parts of the industry, as well as having the opportunity to ‘showcase’ some of the exciting products that we produce.