BERLIN — “Sustainability” was one of the most talked about topics at the recent Fruit Logistica 2023, held Feb. 8-10 at Messe Berlin. In hall after hall of the behemoth Berlin show, companies shared how they’re doing their part to make the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain more sustainable for people and the planet.
For Kelly Morris of packaging solutions company WestRock, Fruit Logistica offers “real international industry insights on where people are going with packaging and how they view sustainability.”
“Sustainability was the No. 1 theme coming out of last year, and we’re seeing an elevation of that here,” said Morris, who sees recent legislation in France banning the use of plastics for most fruit and vegetables and Spain’s recent passage of a tax on non-reusable plastic packaging as driving change in the industry. Change that is headed for the U.S.
As a paper supplier and packaging manufacturer with in-house designers, WestRock offers its customers a one-stop shop for packaging supplies, Morris says. In the U.S., the company makes corrugated packaging as well.
In terms of trends, Morris said “visibility is really the concern” with sustainable, paper-based packaging. “The consumer wants to see the product. That’s what they’re used to. So, it becomes about increasing visibility while maintaining the structural integrity.”
One solution, Morris said, is offering paper-based packaging with die cuts. There’s also demand for compostable film and packaging that offers ease of recyclability, she said.
Throughout the show, a multitude of sustainable packaging that offers consumers a grab-and-go option for carrying apples, clementines and more was on display. WestRock featured a number of solutions along these lines.
The Italy-based Fabbri Group showcased its Nature Fresh home and industrial compostable film, which it launched in 2020. Its Nature Fresh stretch film is BPI certified compostable for the North American market, said Fabbri Group’s Sara Pomesano.
She said the company is also developing a compostable barrier film for tray sealing.
Ivan Marambio, president of The Chilean Fruit Exporters Association, sees sustainability as a unifying and collaborative movement in the produce industry.
“Everyone from the Southern Hemisphere is trying to work together,” Marambio said. “Everyone wants to do things in a way where we’re all collaborating on sustainability, new varieties and quality to try to solve the problems of climate change, supply chain bottlenecks, logistics — to try to tackle these problems together. That’s my most important takeaway [from Fruit Logistica].
“We also need to work together to increase consumption,” he continued. “We don’t want to increase our slice of the cake. We want to increase the size of the whole cake.”
On the sustainability front, The Chilean Fruit Exporters Association is focused on measuring the industry’s impact with an eye on reducing its carbon and water footprint, said Marambio, who notes that about 52% of the energy used by its farmers is renewable energy.
In the Peru pavilion, sustainability was front and center. Signs detailed Peruvian farmers’ water usage and videos played depicting the sustainability efforts of certain exhibitors, including organic ginger and turmeric supplier La Grama.
The Packer talked with La Grama CEO Rodrigo Bedoya, as a subtitled video played about the company’s efforts in “preserving the environment, empowering Peruvian farmers and workers and keeping our customers healthy and happy.”
The La Grama booth also featured literature and signage that said, “Organic is not enough.”
“Organics alone don’t take care of people or food safety,” Bedoya said. “Organic doesn’t mean people are treated well.”
Bedoya explained a system of “informal” and “formal” workers in Peru. Informal workers are low paid and don’t have access to health benefits, paid vacation, overtime and other benefits. La Grama, says Bedoya, ensures that all of its workers are “formal” workers, with full benefits, a living wage and access to training.
As a Peruvian who grew up with the “privilege” of having access to a world-class education, Bedoya said it’s his duty to give back by helping to create a better life for La Grama’s workers.
“If we don’t give people in Peru access to education, we’ll always be an underdeveloped country,” he said. “As I make success, I have to bring others with me.”
Lineage Logistics LLC, a temperature-controlled industrial real estate investment trust and logistics solutions provider, launched its Lineage Fresh service in Europe during Fruit Logistica.
“The Lineage Fresh approach seeks to better serve our customers and reduce food waste,” said Edwin Wentink, vice president for Lineage business development Europe. “We’re an innovative and disruptive company,” he continued. “We’re unlocking data for our customers and reducing the complexity in the supply chain.”
Lineage has tripled its size in Europe, completing 17 acquisitions in a little less than two years, Wentink said. “We make sure the companies we buy will integrate well. It’s not growth for growth’s sake. We provide a safe pair of hands and guarantee quality from source to distribution,” said Wentink, who added that there is an “element of sustainability” throughout the entire supply chain.
Technology and automation also play a supporting role in sustainability efforts.
Founded last year in Hamburg, Germany, Ant Robotics seeks to offer a sustainable solution to the labor shortage. Using the Valera platform, the company’s autonomous, solar-powered carts are designed to streamline the harvest process for specialty crops, eliminating the need for farmworkers to carry boxes of produce from the field to a central collection point.
A camera system follows the rows and sensors adjust to the workers’ pick speed, explained Ruth Giese, marketing and business development for Ant Robotics.
The company is named for the concept of many “ant-like” carts replacing the need for big tractors, which can compact the soil, Giese added.
Airocide by Sterilumen featured its air purification system originally designed for NASA.
“By getting rid of the pathogens and ethylene in the air, we’re able to extend shelf life,” explained Keith Frein, vice president of international sales for Sterilumen.
In the simplest terms, Airocide uses photo catalytic oxidation — combining ultraviolet light and a mineral-coated catalyst in a machine with a fan that pulls pathogens and ethylene out of the air and into the machine.
While initial applications have been in hospitals and schools, Frein said the applications for Airocide in the fresh produce industry are in cold storage, containers and retail. The company lists Whole Foods Market among its customers. Use of Airocide in refrigerated trucks is in development, he added.
“There’s so much [food] waste right now,” he said. “There’s an opportunity within the supply chain to improve upon that.”