Tomatoes are one of the most challenging products in every retailer's fresh department. In addition to the complexities of growing and harvesting, the delicate fruits present handling challenges at store level, where selective shoppers demand ripeness, flavor and affordability.
Achieving that combination requires considerable effort further up the supply chain, so that when a shopper slices into their carefully chosen tomato, it's ripe and flavorful. To increase the odds of that happening, one of Mexico's top greenhouse growers and a leading U.S manufacturer of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) have formed an innovative partnership.
Agros Produce LLC and IFCO Systems are partnering to provide IFCO RPCs in packing and transporting Agros’ tomatoes to retail grocery customers in the United States and Canada.
RPCs and other suitably shaped transport packaging are poised for dynamic growth in the years ahead, thanks to the industry’s heightened focus on sustainability, along with a number of other trends pointing toward the need for more resilient supply chains.
According to IFCO, its RPCs use less energy and water and produce less carbon dioxide and solid waste than single-use packaging. They also keep produce fresh longer, are easier to handle and protect produce better than one-way packaging. Each RPC is cleaned, washed, sanitized and wrapped after each use, and is used up to 100 times before being recycled.
“IFCO RPCs are OMRI Listed and an ideal packaging solution for our tomatoes,” said Montserrat Duarte, CEO of Agros, located in north central Mexico. “They provide a sustainable solution, along with a food safety guarantee through their cleaning and sanitization process. It is an efficient way to reduce labor costs. With IFCO, we have reduced product damage and increased the freshness of our tomatoes. On the sustainability front, we have been able to reduce our environmental footprint as well as those of our customers. This partnership is a win-win for all of us.”
Agros uses more than 400,000 IFCO RPCs annually to pack and ship a variety of its greenhouse tomatoes to North American grocery retailers via warehouses in Arizona and Texas.
“We are proud to partner with Agros Produce to ensure its nutritious, fresh and delicious tomatoes successfully reach its retail grocery customers, and ultimately the kitchens and tables of consumers across North America in the most safe and sustainable way,” said Dan Martin, president of Tampa, Florida-based IFCO North America. “Our companies share the goal of a sustainable fresh food supply chain that nourishes and sustains millions of consumers around the globe.”
“IFCO RPCs have helped us in different ways, reducing labor costs, increasing efficiency, providing better protection for the fruit, and reducing claims from shifted and/or collapsed cases when compared to the use of cardboard boxes,” added Duarte. “Logistically, RPCs have helped us optimize the capacity of our shipments, reducing freight costs. In addition, the diversity of IFCO RPC sizes provides us with the versatility we need for packing our wide variety of tomato products, as well as develop new products for our customers. And when we use RPCs, we are able to meet and contribute to our sustainability goals.”
IFCO provides reusable packaging solutions for fresh foods to customers in more than 50 countries. It operates a pool of 314 million-plus RPCs globally, which are used for more than 1.7 billion shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, bread, and other items from suppliers to grocery retailers every year.