If you’re not innovating, you might as well go home

If you’re not innovating, you might as well go home

Gill McShane

With so many exciting new innovations entering the fresh produce business, Produce Business UK scoured Fruit Logistica 2015 last month for the latest concepts designed to support the industry from field to fork

Click here to watch the video interviews

DIY Fresh Packs
Bakker Barendrecht, Netherlands (part of Univeg)
Edith Lasonder

Scooping third place in the Fruit Logistica Innovation Awards 2015, DIY Fresh Packs developed by Bakker Barendrecht and Albert Heijn with the support of professional cooks are designed to raise fresh produce consumption by helping consumers looking to use fresh ingredients to prepare a full meal, soup or side dish for four people.

“The idea behind it is that consumers want to cook with fresh ingredients but a lot of people don’t know how to do that,” explains Edith Lasonder from Bakker Barendrecht. “We’re targeting two kinds of consumers – the novice cook who has started cooking and doesn’t know how to prepare meals with fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables, and the consumer who knows how to cook but lacks inspiration in preparation.”

Bakker Barendrecht hopes the product will inspire more people to start cooking from scratch and ultimately boost overall fresh fruit and vegetable sales and consumption. “Maybe after a while these consumers won’t need our fresh packs anymore,” admits Lasonder. “But when they buy more fruit and vegetables that’s better for everyone.”

Available in packs of mixed fruits and/or uncut and unwashed vegetables with additional ingredients (herbs and spices), the DIY Fresh Packs offer several meal options: asparagus soup (in spring), gazpacho, exotic salsa and tomato salsa (in summer), and lasagne, couscous and curry madras (all year). All packs include a recipe with a step-by-step guide based on the “no waste” principle.

Although shoppers tend to have very routine buying habits, Lasonder says new concepts such as the DIY Fresh Packs can succeed since they solve consumers’ requirements. “When they see new ideas that really answer their needs they are really interested,” she explains. “The more new things we can offer that add value will ensure the consumer keeps coming back for more.”

Sweet potatoes
Scott Farms International, UK
Stan Smith

Building on huge success in continental Europe, major UK-based sweet potato importer Scott Farms International is looking to take the healthy and versatile vegetable to new heights in the UK too.

“Our major breakthroughs have been in Europe and we’re now talking about very, very high volumes,” comments Stan Smith, CEO of Scott Farms International. “At this moment in time that isn’t something we’ve actually offered to UK retailers but we are in the throes of doing that.”

Smith reveals to Produce Business UK that one UK retailer in particular has expressed a real interest in the company’s tri-coloured sweet potato pack. “Conventionally, orange sweet potatoes are what the market has had in the UK,” he points out. “This pack contains a mauve, a white and an orange-fleshed sweet potato.”

Scott Farms International is currently pushing the ‘consumerisation’ of the Scott Farms’ brand by accelerating its activities in conjunction with the Love Sweet Potatoes campaign. In particular, the firm’s collaboration with celebrity chef and recipe creator Felice Tocchini, a huge sweet potato fan, has expanded over the last 12 months.

“We’re increasingly taking the message about the versatility and value of sweet potatoes to the consumer at every opportunity that we can get, and that’s going really, really well,” Smith states.

Pack’nlog, Germany
Franz Leisch

Launching this month [March], Pack’nlog and the Cabka Group’s product display system for crates at the point of sale promises to offer retailers increased sales opportunities and a 30% reduction on waste, according to the Pack’nlog’s Franz Leisch.

“We developed a special device that you place on the shelf where you’re retailing the produce to provide an attractive presentation of fresh produce at the point of sale by raising the products automatically out of their tray or crate,” Leisch says.

“The device features a base frame with eight holes. You simply place a sheet below the product inside the crate and when you put the crate on the base frame the product lifts slightly out of the crate.”

With the Eye-Catcher, Leisch claims pyramid arrangements are no longer necessary, displays look fuller, sales are stimulated and the amount of unsold product is reduced. The Eye-Catcher also prevents trays slipping on sloping shelves.

“You have a nice presentation effect without piling up the product. The result is that product shrinkage of unsold sensitive products can be reduced by as much as 50%, and an average of 30% is realistically achievable. Sales are also increased by 15%.”

The Eye-Catcher is available in various sizes, both with and without the rollstop, and can be used in ambient temperatures between 0º and +50º C.

With innovations such as the Eye-Catcher, Leisch says business have a real chance of reducing their costs, while also contributing to a more ecological environment. Next year, he adds, Cabka Group is confident it will present another “new and very innovative product” for release.

Plant Tape
Tanimura & Antle, US
Rick Antle

US grower-shipper of premium fresh vegetables, Tanimura and Antle (T&A), is conducting trials in North America with Plant Tape – a new planting technology tipped to revolutionise agriculture that will be marketed in 2016.

Rick Antle explains that Plant Tape is a fully integrated and automated transplanting system that was developed in Spain and later acquired by T&A. “It’s something that we’ve been trying to find for 25 years and we’re very pleased with it,” Antle reveals.

Plant Tape could benefit producers worldwide thanks to its increased efficiency and productivity in comparison to conventional transplanting methods using plugs and soil blocks.

“By being able to combine high quality seed with the excellent germination of a greenhouse, we’re finding there’s less time in the field, less water and fewer resources used and less impact on the world,” Antle states.

“And not only that, we’re also getting a product that is so uniform that when we harvest we get one crop that’s totally uniform and of a much higher grade. The product actually grows nicer; it’s more uniform, the roots are stronger and we end up with a shelf-life that’s as good as if not better than our current direct system. It’s well worth our investment. It’s a win-win for all.”

In addition, Plant Tape offer growers “huge savings” in labour costs since it only requires three people, Antle adds. “We currently use about 17 people in a day’s planting,” he says. “In future there just aren’t the employees coming that we’re going to need to be able produce the large quantities that we do [so] it’s critical for us to get labour savings.”

Plant Tape is currently being used for T&A’s lettuce production while adaptability for other crops is being developed, including: celery, broccoli, cauliflower, leek, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, melon and watermelon production. The company is also looking into the possibility of using it for its onion programme and even products like corn, tobacco and sugar beet.

Antle believes innovations such as Plant Tape are the key to longevity in the produce industry. “If you’re not innovating then you’re not the front leader and if you’re not the leader then you might as well go home,” he concludes.

Respiration Control System
Andrew Sharp

With 40% of fresh food thrown away, and fruit and vegetables among the top five wasted products, reducing waste is a key issue for the fresh produce retailers. That’s where Dutch firm PerfoTec comes in with its Respiration Control System – an intelligent technology that enables packers of fresh fruit and vegetables to optimise the quality and freshness of their packed products by extending their shelf-life.

“This technology extends shelf-life and reduces waste and increases availability of fresh produce,” explains Andrew Sharp, international business development director at PerfoTec, who adds that the innovative concept recently won the prestigious gold medal at the International FoodTec Awards in Germany.

“It’s two really clever bits of technology,” Sharp continues. “Firstly, there’s a respiration meter which measures how fast the product is breathing – how much oxygen it’s using, how much CO2 it’s producing. After four hours of putting your sample in this vessel you get a result that shows the product is breathing at a certain speed.

“Once you know that, the second piece of clever technology that you use is our online laser whereby you can microperforate your film to exactly match the respiration rate of your product. That then extends shelf-life by up to four days for raspberries, by two to three extra days on strawberries.”

According to PerfoTec, this extended freshness allows for much more flexibility in the supply chain; meaning growers and traders can export to countries further afield and widen their market area. The technology can also provide a more reliable product for retailers who, PerfoTec claims, will incur less waste and see sales increase thanks to the improved quality.

Sharp explains that the technology gives retailers the ability to buy with more confidence and have more product in their system because they can sell it over a longer period of time. The customer likewise generally gets a product with more life in it. “So waste production in store goes down,” he points out. “It’s really a win-win for retailers.”

PerfoTec suggests that on average retailers can reduce their waste by 50%, increase sales by 10% and optimise efficiency with its Respiration Control System. Equally, producers and packers can seek to increase their sales, reach new markets and improve their competitive advantage.

UK retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) has been using PerfoTec’s Respiration Control System on potatoes for some years now and the supermarket is now deploying the technology in some of its fruit categories to deliver better shelf-life and reduced waste.

“For many years the team at M&S has sought out the best and most innovative, natural, solutions to deliver better products for their customers,” Sharp explains. “PerfoTec would like to recognise the support they and their suppliers have given us in establishing this really exciting technology. We hear that they are now able to supply fresh fruit to their stores in Asia using our ground-breaking technology!”

With that in mind, Sharp claims innovation is one way to get yourself ahead of the game when you’re supplying into retailers since the rewards are huge. “You go on a journey to innovate and take control of your shelf-life,” he explains. “For example, a retailer might be quite happy to have sea-freighted flowers rather than air-freighted flowers because they’re a third of the price. These are the kind of benefits that we see this technology delivering.”

Aurora Seedless Papaya
Aviv Flowers Packing House, Israel
Assaf Avizohar (breeder)

Fruit Logistica Innovation Award 2015 winner, the Aurora seedless papaya may have only launched last month [February] but already interest is said to be high in the unique variety, with production undergoing immediate expansion to begin satisfying demand.

“This papaya is special,” breeder Assaf Avizohar tells Produce Business UK. “It doesn’t have an unpleasant aftertaste like some other papayas. It has a very rich and balanced taste that’s not too sweet. Sweetness doesn’t matter it’s the natural richness that’s important.”

Completely seedless, the Aurora papaya features 52 health benefits and sizes vary between 200g and 1kg. The flesh is firm and even when sliced, the fruit maintains its consistency for a long period.

“There are no fibres,” Avizohar explains. “The flesh is solid and completely unified. It has good texture to bite; it’s not too soft. Like avocados, papayas are climacteric so you can also leave it to ripen by itself until its ready to eat.”

In terms of shelf-life, the variety is said to last longer than other existing papaya varieties. Even after the fruit has been cut open, exporter Aviv claims it can be kept under normal conditions for an unusually long period of time.

Avizohar spent 10 years developing the Aurora papaya in Israel using natural selection and hybridisation methods but admits innovation also comes down to luck. “As a grower, I’m always curious about developing new things,” he notes. “That’s the way my brain works. I’m very proud to have succeeded. You can work all your life and not come up with anything.”

Israel’s Aviv Flowers Packing House is currently the sole exporter to Europe. The target markets are the European Union, Switzerland and Canada.



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