As we have reviewed over the past few weeks, there are many factors to consider to ensure that produce can be safely shipped in a single trailer. We have so far reviewed odor absorption tendencies, ethylene sensitivity, and optimal product temperature.
But what about packaging??? Different products require different types of packaging for transport to ensure that they will look their best in the aisles. So, if you are hauling a mixer load, you may see various types of containers and packaging on the truck!
The main function of packaging is to protect the product from mechanical and environmental conditions throughout the marketing chain, from the growers field all the way to the grocery store produce aisles. Convenient handling is critical; the product should easily fit in to the shape of the container and space should be maximized. Packaging also serves another important function; it can identify facts about the product, such as brand, size, grade, weight, count, shipper, and sometimes even origin. Packaging geared towards consumers can also include value-added extras such as recipes, and nutritional information.
Common materials that are used in produce packaging are wood, corrugated fiberboard, and plastic.
Below are the considerations that are used to determine the type of packaging that will be used:
- Disposal – recyclable and/or biodegradable choices are becoming more and more popular and the industry turns green. These choices are often good on the financial side too, since many markets and areas have restrictions and hefty charges for the disposal of packaging material.
- Humidity & Moisture – packaging plays a major role in moisture control. Some produce – such as onions and potatoes – requires moisture to easily flow away. Others – such as asparagus – require packaging that retains moisture. And products that are shipped either with ice in the container, or with top ice must maintain their structural integrity under the wet conditions products by the melting ice. Soggy and collapsed containers never look nice upon delivery!!! Finally, products that are hydro-cooled in their boxes will also require water-resistant packaging.
- Sanitation – Fresh cut and value added products require packaging that can easily be cleaned. And reusable/returnable packaging must be developed so that it is easily cleaned when returned for re-use.
- Strength – most importantly, the packaging must protect the produce while it is in transit. In addition, the packaging material must arrive in optimal condition. Collapsed, dented, or torn containers indicates possible damage to the product inside, which will affect sales.
- Tare Weights – Freight is always an important cost in marketing of produce. Dealers continually want to maximize the weight of saleable product; this means minimizing the weight of packaging material.
- Ventilation – ventilation is essential for most produce. Venting allows heat to escape and cold air to be forced through the containers. Containers are often made so that they vents will match up to nearby containers to allow for free-flowing air throughout the trailer. It is critical that the vents are not too large or numerous, because this can weaken the container and cause collapse during transit.
As this series has shown, there is much that goes into making sure that the apple that you pick out of the produce aisle looks its best! It is a labor of love! Speaking of labor, Happy Labor Day to all our readers!! We hope you have a safe and enjoyable long weekend!
Commodity References – Common Shipping Containers. http://apps.bluebookservices.com/BBOS/GetPublicationFile.aspx?PublicationArticleID=6038. Accessed on Sept 1, 2011.