Fresh Produce Trends:<br />Sustainability Looms Large at Fresh Summit

Evidence of the “greening” of the fresh produce industry abounded at the recently concluded Produce Marketing Association’s annual Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif., not only from a growing, harvesting and marketing perspective, but also with the materials — or lack thereof — utilized to fabricate new exhibit booths.

Such was the case for Village Farms, whose new booth design not only showcased its environmentally friendly “hydroperfect” greenhouse technology, but also a new eco-friendly construction that incorporates a variety of practical, earth-friendly solutions as well.

“Our new exhibit is much lighter and takes up less than half the storage space when packed compared to the old exhibit,” relays Doug Kling, SVP of marketing and sales for the Eatontown, N.J.-based Village Farms. “This means we have drastically reduced our shipping and storage expenses while creating a more environmentally friendly exhibit that will reduce primary carbon emissions within the transportation chain.” 

Village Farms — a premier grower and marketer of branded, high-quality, hydroponic greenhouse-grown tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers — worked with the designers of its exhibition firm to recycle and reincorporate many elements from its old booth design into the new configuration.

Oxnard, Calif.-based Gills Onions, whose exhibit at Fresh Summit also featured redesigned, eco-friendly PLA packaging to further its sustainability efforts, at presstime was chosen as a recipient of a 2009 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) for its Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS).

As the Golden State’s highest and most prestigious environmental honor, GEELA awards recognize individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership for voluntary achievements in conserving California’s resources, protecting and enhancing the environment, and building public-private partnerships. Award recipients are chosen in 10 different categories based on their strength in eight specific areas, including: results, transferability, environmental impact, resource conservation, economic progress, innovation and uniqueness, pollution prevention, and environmental justice. Gills Onions won an award for Technological and Market Innovation.

“This honor recognizes Gills Onions’ commitment to developing socially responsible and environmentally friendly practices that promote environmental protection and economic growth,” says Nikki Rodoni, Gills’ director of sustainability, pointing to the onion grower/shipper’s Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS) that makes it the first fresh-cut onion processing facility in the world to produce ultra-clean energy on-site from its own waste.

As the largest fresh onion processing plant in the world, Gills generates 1.5 million pounds of onion waste per week, while its AERS converts 100 percent of it — or 100 to 150 tons daily — into ultra-clean, virtually emission-free, heat, electrical energy and high-value, cattle feed.

“We’ve embarked on a number of sustainability initiatives in the last few years, and have learned many things — most importantly, that saving resources actually saves money,” says Nelia Alamo, Gills Onions’ director of sales and marketing. In turn, the company has been able to invest in sustainable packaging redesigns and capital expenditures that make it even more sustainable and efficient, “allowing us to uphold our product quality and safety standards while delivering tremendous convenience and value to our customers.”

The resulting environmental benefits are translated to consumers through the “Grower Direct” positioning displayed on the top label of all of Gills’ new packaging, while the bottom of the label tells the consumer the container is both compostable and recyclable.

“While our customers and retail partners have been increasing their demands for green and sustainable products, Gills Onions has always been an environmentally conscious pioneer in the fresh produce processing industry,” Alamo continues. “PLA packaging is just one of our sustainability efforts to reduce GHG emissions, conserve water, reduce energy consumption, protect valuable farmland and reduce waste. Plus, the clear cups made of PLA material shows our products well, and the design allows retailers to display and stack them very efficiently.”

For more information about Gills’ Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS), visit or the Cal/EPA Web site,  
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