Packaging keeps your fruits and vegetables fresh, safe from bruising, and ready to sell. When properly selected, packaging can even extend shelf life, allowing your business to get the most out of its available inventory.
While certain types of packaging can be convenient, they can also be environmentally harmful. If you’re concerned about the large amounts of packaging that ends up in landfills and are looking to go green, more eco-friendly options can reduce waste while promoting your business as environmentally conscious.
Here are 3 tips for fresh produce packaging, as well as how Silo helps growers, shippers, and wholesale distributors improve their operations.
1. Pick the right type of produce packaging
Fruits and vegetables have different temperature requirements, so they must be stored, packaged, and transported under the right conditions.
The right packaging ensures that your produce remains consistent in quality while counteracting a core issue that the industry grapples with: a (very) brief freshness window. In other words, fruits and vegetables last longer, taste better, and look more attractive to consumers when properly packaged.
Picking the right type of packaging for fresh produce is especially crucial for increased shelf life, as the correct internal and external conditions can protect fruits and vegetables from wind, sunlight, temperature shifts, and moisture, which often cause spoilage.
Some other environmental and shelf-life benefits include:
Reduction of food waste
Protection from contamination
Cushioning from physical damage
With eco-friendly packaging, businesses can further reduce packaging waste and consumption.
Here are some of the most common packaging types for produce.
Bags are usually sold in rolls, making them convenient and ideal for businesses with less storage space, as they take up very little room. They typically come in three forms: plastic, compostable, and paper.
Plastic bags are clear, allowing consumers to see exactly what they’re buying. They also do a great job of sealing in freshness, though some bags come with perforations for produce that require more breathability.
Plastic bags are the cheapest available produce packaging option, but a major downside is that they can’t be recycled and are single-use. Plus, due to its flimsy nature, it doesn’t protect produce from bruising or being crushed.
Compostable bags are an environmentally-friendly alternative. They offer many of the same benefits and are usually made from plant-derived material, making them biodegradable in contrast to plastic. Although they can be slightly more expensive than plastic, they’re still relatively cheap and are a cost-effective option for fresh vegetable packaging.
The downside to compostable bags is that they’re designed to be more translucent, so consumers can’t see exactly what they’re purchasing. Additionally, some bags can only be composted when sent to industrial composting facilities (rather than, for instance, in your backyard).
Paper bags are another sustainable option since they can be recycled and composted. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing and showing a business’ dedication to environmental consciousness, paper is a bit stronger than plastic and plant material, offering more protection against physical damage.
This type of fresh fruit packaging, however, doesn’t preserve produce quite as well, especially since paper can absorb moisture, causing wilting and speeding up the rate at which produce degrades. And even more so than with compostable bags, consumers can’t see what the produce inside looks like.
Another type of packaging is the clamshell container. Designed with a hinge for reclosability, they’re often used for packaging berries and leafy greens. Its hard shell design provides great protection, making it ideal for more delicate fruits and vegetables. Clamshells come in plastic and compostable varieties.
Plastic clamshells are clear and allow visibility to shoppers, sealing in freshness. Despite it being plastic, most clamshells are made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, so they can be recycled. For environmentally-conscious consumers, though, this misconception can discourage them from purchasing produce in this kind of packaging.
Compostable clamshells are made from plant-based fibers and in addition to being recyclable, can be composted. The downside is that, like paper, fiber material absorbs moisture. Plus, it’s completely opaque.
Ties and bands
Twine string, twist ties, and rubber bands are minimalist, placing the produce front and center, and can be used to easily bundle together vegetables like leafy greens.
One of the main advantages of this kind of produce packaging is that it allows consumers to fully see what they’re buying in its entirety and smell the aroma of produce like herbs. Since the packaging is so minimal, it also produces less waste.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that this packaging type is limited in its viability. If your business doesn’t produce leafy greens, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make use of rubber bands or twist ties. If it does produce leafy greens, bands and ties don’t offer protection against tears or wilting, making it less than ideal for delicate crops. When bound together, produce also decays and spoils faster, so your product will have to sell fast.
Bins and boxes
If you sell in bulk, bins and boxes make great fresh fruit packaging. They’re sturdy and can protect even the most delicate produce when padded.
Bins are reusable and last a long time. Some are even collapsible, so they take up minimal storage space. But for most situations, it’s not a viable packaging option, such as when trading with distributors.
Cardboard boxes come in various sizes, with smaller boxes available for a smaller portion of produce. They’re recyclable and can be reused when lined with plastic. Cardboard, however, absorbs moisture and can make boxes soggy and prone to breaking. And unless it’s lined with plastic, cooling packs, and padding material, it’s likely to be single-use, lack temperature control, and offer minimal protection.
2. Consider the produce’s storage and transportation environment
Your produce's ideal storage and transportation environment should determine the type of produce packaging you choose.
Produce has to move down the supply chain and involves many hands before it makes its way to the customer, so your business needs to invest in packaging that’s easy to stack and move to maintain product quality.
Insulation goes a long way to keep produce cool. Plastic bags and lined boxes can preserve temperatures and lock in freshness.
3. Reduce packaging waste whenever possible
Packaging for fresh produce is made from a variety of materials, including paper, cardboard, and most frequently: plastic. While not all plastic is environmentally-harmful (newer synthetic plastics are made from eco-friendly plant material), most are petroleum-based and are non-biodegradable, even if recyclable.
When these plastics end up in landfills from consumers throwing the packaging away instead of recycling it, it can take hundreds of years to decompose. If not in landfills, plastic packaging ends up in waterways and not only affects humanity, but all aquatic life.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging amounted to 82.2 million tons of waste in 2018.
The produce industry can lessen the burden by reducing produce packaging waste whenever possible. Most packaging is designed to be single-use, which not only has an environmental impact, but can be an ongoing cost for your business when it needs to be replenished. Using reusable bins and boxes is one possible way to reduce waste.
Silo, the solution for growers, shippers, and distributors
Silo makes life easier (and more profitable) for growers and shippers of all stripes. Benefit from:
A real-time vendor portal. See everything you’ve sent to your distributor, with all of the metrics you’ve always dreamed of (such as price per vendor or shipment), all reconciled.
Faster payments. With more cash in hand, you’ll have greater leverage and get access to better rates.
More control over profit margins. You set the price. Easily compile past data, compare averages, set minimums and maximums, and respond to trends in the market.
Shippers and distributors can improve their operations through:
Connected and empowered teams. Manage your business better and boost your cash flow by streamlining all elements of your business into one connected, easy-to-use platform.
Hyper-fast selling. Sell smarter and faster. Silo equips you with pricing intelligence, keyboard shortcuts, and a natural language search bar, so you no longer have to memorize item codes.
A new single source of truth. Create invoices that automatically pull from inventory, notifies accounting, and pings the customer.
Automated accounting. Automate the easy stuff, track accounting health, and receive instant payments. Silo directly integrates with third-party systems like QuickBooks.