Organics under wraps

20140619_122456“Until there is major growth in organics in Australia, organic produce will always be packaged in supermarkets to distinguish it from the conventional produce,” says a leading organics supplier who wants to remain unnamed.

“The organics industry in this country is 10 years behind Europe and the US. In 99 per cent of supermarkets in Europe, the shelves are packed with organic produce.”

In Australia, apart from using the wrapping to distinguish organics from conventional foods, there are some other reasons why organic fresh produce is packaged. It’s a result of the demand by the major supermarkets to get extra shelf life out of products, to better promote products’ organic status and to provide a platform for a barcode.

“Also, the large price point discrepancies between organic and conventional produce promotes this practice. Customers can’t remove the wrapping in order to get the organic at conventional pricing,” says this wholesaler.

He says the supermarkets would love to have less packaging but for the above reasons they can’t.

Organics suppliers estimate it costs about 15 to 17 cents for an organic item to be packaged, which they include in their costings. Suppliers say they are aware of alternative environmentally friendly solutions but admit they come at a price increase of 50 to 70 per cent, which the major retailers will not wear. Therefore it’s proving difficult for organic suppliers who choose environmentally friendly packaging to win quotations when bidding against those who use conventional packaging.

Several organic suppliers in Australia have stated that having to wrap organic food in materials such as plastic has not deterred organic shoppers and that their businesses are growing.

Wrapping builds trust

The owner of a small family business that grows and wholesales 100 per cent certified organic fruit and vegetables agrees prepacking her products is the only effective and viable method available at the moment.

Monika Fiebig from Monika’s Organics started the farm in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2002 that she moved away from conventional growing methods to become a certified organic vegetable grower.

Monika’s Organics specialises in growing bunch lines such as spring onion, spinach, silverbeet, kale, beetroot and leek, as well as seasonal vegetables, including zucchini and broccoli.

Monika says, “The benefits of packaging our product include being able to reassure the customer the produce they are buying is organic and has not been accidently mixed up with conventionally grown fruit and vegetables being sold in the same supermarket.

“I have had firsthand experience of this on several occasions. People make mistakes. It is easy to mix up the produce. Customers would not know. Prepacking organic produce eliminates these mistakes.”

According to Monika, who sells directly to Coles and Woolworths, prepacking also helps the checkout process and allows greater branding potential.

“People now know my brand as a brand they can trust.”

In the past five years, Monika says business has tripled, despite customers having to pay more for her packaged produce.

“In 2009 we started prepacking our produce, which enabled us to brand under our Monika’s Organics logo, allowing for full traceability from farm to plate and identification, protecting our brand. Packaged products also maintain freshness for longer. Unfortunately there are extra costs involved but I think it is well worth it just knowing where the produce comes from,” she says.

“I use a cardboard tray to prepack my bananas and sweet potatoes. Unfortunately this tray can’t be used for other fruit and vegetables as it becomes too moist and the produce becomes dehydrated.

Alternative packaging

“Earlier this year I attended the Berlin Fruit Logistica fruit and vegetable expo, which is the largest display of fruit and vegetables from all over the world. There were great examples of recyclable, eco-friendly trays used for all sorts of fresh produce in many shapes and sizes. It’s a shame Australia is so far behind. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, companies will start to introduce this new form of packaging.”

The benefits of packaging organic produce are evident and as the Australian organic industry grows, the more important it will become to find a cost-effective biodegradable wrapping that doesn’t double the price of the product for the major supermarkets and, ultimately, the customer.

Hopefully in future organics will be such a big industry that supermarkets will make it available in a separate produce section equipped with its own checkout, or it becomes the majority and therefore doesn’t need to be identified.

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