Traceability of fruits and vegetables

Although it sounds risky, if you look at what is happening outside the region, you will see that companies in the sector face this difficult global moment by investing in technology for quality. Is it worth doing the same here?

Today, the world is suffering one of the worst financial crises in history. Exporters of fruits and vegetables also suffer from an increase in the cost of labor, production (fertilizers and inputs), packaging materials, logistics processes, etc., while the selling price is reduced. It is fixed or not at all, depending on the situation. market. To make matters worse, many of these rising costs cannot be easily reduced.

This puts the fresh fruit and vegetable packaging sector in front of a big challenge: on the one hand, to reduce costs, but on the other hand, not to be left out of the market. We must also mention the fact that when new variants of certain products are produced, customers can opt for them and thus become the “star” of the moment. But that is the subject of another article, where it is worth discussing why our country has not developed its own varieties that would distinguish our production and could compete internationally with other exclusive products.

Consumer demand
To package this type of product, it is important to understand what the market is looking for. And the market is the end consumers. They demand higher and higher quality fruits and vegetables. And what is better? Simply that the products are available throughout the year, that they have an excellent taste and presentation in color and size with appropriate packaging.

There are several very pronounced trends in the sector that will develop over the next 10 years. One of the main ones is the so-called “Ready to eat”. Final consumers want fruit that is “ready to eat”, that is, neither overripe nor past its optimum point. This trend is already in vogue in developed countries such as England or Spain, and there are already machines that can non-destructively detect the degree of ripening of each fruit.

Another strong trend in the world is called “Full of taste”. Currently, before packing fruit or vegetables, it is possible to non-destructively analyze the organoleptic properties, such as, for example, sugar concentration level, acidity level and hardness (in Brix degrees).

These parameters are already known in the industry, but they are taken through statistical sampling that destroys the fruit being analyzed, and by lot it is assumed that the rest of the fruit has the same characteristics. Today, thanks to technological progress, it is possible to analyze the characteristics of 100% of fruit in a non-destructive way and ensure quality throughout the food chain, from production to supermarket shelves. In this way, the end customer gets a high level of confidence in the quality of the fruit or vegetables he will buy and eat.

Supermarket requirements
Supermarkets are increasingly looking for personalized products, in many cases with special details such as: dedicated packaging, exclusive packaging, size or shape of packaging. There is also a very strong trend of segmentation within the sector.

To serve an increasingly specific and demanding audience, such as the creation of special packaging (for example with a popular television series) with smaller fruits for children or organic fruits for pregnant women.

Furthermore, accurate information about the production chain is requested from the fruit or vegetable contained in that packaging, looking for information such as: When and how was the fruit produced? When was it packed? How was your cold chain? On which farm, parcel, lot was it produced? And tracking the date of each stage of the chain.

This is called traceability, which the European Community and other markets have required for several years. Today, technology in packaging allows us to fulfill all the requirements that the client is looking for.

Challenges for the sector
The demands of the fruit and vegetable sector are closely related to this challenge of cost reduction and quality assurance. Undoubtedly, to reduce costs, it is important to create faster and more productive packaging lines, strategically divide work within the plant and reduce maintenance time and parts wear.

In addition, the loss of time due to inefficiencies (poor plant layout design, poor utilization of resources, space, time, inadequate staff for certain functions, small or redundant, oversizing of unnecessary parts, etc.) or lack of technology mentioned in the previous paragraphs, there are essential points to consider.

Correct analysis allows us to produce more kilograms per employed person and meet the stated goal. That’s why choosing a vendor to provide the technology is a critical task. Because he will advise the producer on all these aspects and will enable him to pour all his experience into each project, meeting his specific needs.

To conclude, the challenge is set and the technology is available to achieve the goals. In all cases, it is evident that the results obtained far exceed the investment required, as long as the correct tools are used.

The point is: is the business sector willing to make decisions that, in some cases, represent significant investments, with clearly unstable national politics? It is concrete that those entrepreneurs who intelligently incorporated technology in all cases recovered their investment in a shorter time than expected and achieved very satisfactory results. And as the saying goes that “a button is enough to show” just look at our competitors in other countries, their level of growth, investment and strategic positioning in the world and try to “copy” it in ours.

* Analyst in production organization, with various courses in finance and strategy at Bocconi University (Milan, Italy). Today he is responsible for the strategic planning and organization of Unitec Argentina. I carry out tasks at Unitec Italia and advise different companies in the region on planning issues.

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