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Supply Chain Savvy


When it comes to trends in the transportation and logistics of fresh produce, real-time cold-chain monitoring, reusable plastic containers (RPCs) and recyclable packaging are changing the way everything from spinach to cabbage makes the journey from farms to produce departments across the country.

Food safety and traceability requirements, an industry-wide movement to reduce shrink and food waste, a demand for higher-quality products, and an emphasis on environmentally friendly practices are helping to drive these trends.

“The FSMA [Food Safety Modernization Act] rules will be out next year, and [they’re] going to require cold-chain monitoring,” says Kenny Lund, VP of support operations for Allen Lund Co. (ALC), in La Canada, Calif. ALC is a national third-party transportation broker that works with shippers and carriers across the nation, and specializes in the transport of produce.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in live-temperature monitoring,” observes Lund, who says that ALC has integrated such monitoring in its trucks.

“We worked with a company that was transporting 500 loads of fresh produce a month and would have three or four claims [related to breaks in the cold chain] in a month,” he recalls. “Now that they’ve integrated live cold-chain monitoring, those claims are down to one or two a quarter. It absolutely pays for itself.”

Lund further notes that the price of live cold-chain monitors has gone down significantly. “If you’ve got a $20,000 fresh produce load, it makes sense to protect it with a $35 to $50 monitor,” he points out. “Other than the [pending FSMA] requirements, there are a lot of good business reasons to use it. I see that as a big shift in the next year, and it’s already started.”

A member of the United Fresh Supply Chain Logistics Council, the company also recommends that retailers make use of the new Broker/Shipper Transportation Agreement template available on the United Fresh website. Crafted by council members in partnership with the Alexandria, Va.-based Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), the template is designed for members entering a relationship between shipping companies and third-party transportation providers.

“This is significant for retailers, because lawyers typically draft shipping contracts that are written as if for the shipment of dry freight,” observes Lund. “Retailers need to make sure that they are using a contract that is specifically for produce.”

Real-time Cold-chain Monitoring

A growing number of companies now offer tools for monitoring the temperature and location of fresh produce throughout the supply chain.

Locus Traxx Worldwide, in Jupiter, Fla., is one such company. It recently released the SmartTraxx Go Lux, a live monitoring and reporting device that comes in a package about the size of a credit card, and works anywhere in the world.

“The SmartTraxx Go Lux has already won United Fresh’s and IoT (Internet of Tings) Evolution’s Product of the Year,” notes CEO David Benjamin.

Going beyond the original SmartTraxx Go, the SmartTraxx Go Lux combines real-time temperature- and location-reporting technology with a highly sensitive light sensor to secure shipments for cross-border coverage, notifying users when the product is being inspected and delivered, or if product tampering has occurred.

“Produce managers find that product protected by real-time monitoring is consistently fresher and has a longer shelf life,” says Benjamin. “There’s no magic here — with real-time monitoring, the product never has a chance of being abused in the cold chain. If things start to go wrong in transport, we see it and stop it.”

Benjamin adds that real-time monitoring eliminates the need to find a temperature recorder and download the data. It also doesn’t require any additional infrastructure to be installed. Disposable by design, Go Lux sends temperature and location data in real time to the cloud, making all trip data available online.

“We have seen a dramatic decrease in rejected loads, as well as a minimizing of claims,” asserts Benjamin. “Poor quality or no product means disappointed customers, and they will move their spend to the competition.”

Looking ahead, Benjamin expects to see the fresh produce industry continue to implement the latest technology. “Advances in sensor technology, coupled with the latest IoT platforms, will deliver amazing capabilities to the market,” he says. “Imagine being able to accurately measure ethylene and CO2 levels in real time.”

The Emergence of RPCs

Reducing shrink and waste is also a driver of growth in RPCs.

“While reusable containers have been actively used in produce since the early 2000s at several national grocery stores in the United States, the industry is still evolving,” admits Dave Rodgers, VP of sales and business development for Tosca, an Atlanta-based company whose mission is “to revolutionize the flow of perishables through the supply chain, eliminating waste at every turn.”

“Some retailers are actively converting the majority of their produce departments, due to the benefits of reusable containers, such as greater product protection; cooling efficiencies; transportation gains with improved pack efficiency per RPC, per pallet and per truckload; and reduced store labor,” he adds.

Other retailers have focused on wet-room commodity conversions, because of RPCs’ ability to handle moist and cold environments. “The container maintains its structural integrity and doesn’t break down in a wet environment,” explains Rodgers.

Tosca recently developed an RPC to address current supply chain challenges on the perimeter of the grocery store. The container has a one-touch drop wall on the front that simplifies the restocking process. Growers or suppliers fill the container, and the store associate simply releases the front wall and places it on display.

“By decreasing [how much] the product is handled, it reduces product damage,” says Rodgers. “Also, because the container itself is much more durable, it provides greater product protection at every step in the supply chain. We have seen as much as 50 percent reduction in shrink with this new container.”

Tosca’s RPCs have also been shown to reduce labor by 20 percent and more, depending on the supply chain serviced, he notes.

RPCs can be used strictly for transportation purposes, or they can be used for a combination of transport and display. “By using RPCs on display, there is less labor required to maintain the produce display, because RPCs can be pulled out and replaced rather than replacing hand-stacked displays,” observes Rodgers.

Tosca offers a supply chain optimization model that computes the financial impacts of a packaging change across all facets of the supply chain, to help retailers understand the true cost of a packaging change.

“As we look into the future, there are many challenges that must be addressed by grocery retailers, such as labor availability and costs, rising cost of food, [and] the Food Safety Modernization Act, as well as the growing desire for companies to be more sustainable,” asserts Rodgers. “If a retailer can move product more efficiently and effectively, this translates into higher-quality products for their customers, as well as better pricing.”

Recyclable Packaging

In conjunction with a national grocer — which has asked to remain anonymous — operating more than 1,300 locations, and along with members of its national Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR), Global Green USA, the Los Angeles-based American affiliate of nonprofit Green Cross International, recently coordinated a pilot that led to Northampton Growers’ conversion of all of its cabbage packaging to a 100 percent recyclable material.

As a result, the 125,000 boxes that Cheriton, Va.-based Northampton will use during this upcoming cabbage season will be recyclable, saving thousands of dollars and reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the planting of more than 15,000 trees, notes Lily Kelly, Global Green’s senior program associate.

The initial pilot project with the national grocer tracked recyclable Greencoat packaging made by Interstate Container on a journey of more than 750 miles. The boxes and their contents arrived intact, leading Northampton to decide to ship all of its cabbages in the recyclable, water-resistant containers.

The Greencoat boxes, which are recyclable in accordance with the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based Fibre Box Association’s recyclability and repulpability protocol for wax-alternative coatings, can be baled and sold with regular corrugated cardboard.

“Grocers can create revenue from recycling, rather than paying to send boxes to landfill,” notes Kelly, who goes on to add: “Recyclable cardboard is a growing market. We’ve been doing this since 2010, but the issue up until a couple of years ago was cost. Now that’s not the case.”

“The FSMA rules will be out next year, and they’re going to require cold-chain monitoring.”
—Kenny Lund, Allen Lund Co.

“Produce managers find that product protected by real-time monitoring is consistently fresher and has a longer shelf life.”
—David Benjamin, Locus Traxx Worldwide

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