Organic produce industry eyes sustainable packaging

Organic produce industry eyes sustainable packaging

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Organically grown products and sustainable packaging should go hand in hand, so many organic growers, shippers and distributors are launching programs to reduce the use of plastics and add materials that are environmentally friendly.

“Finding solutions for sustainable packaging is on a lot of people’s minds these days,” said Michael DuPuis, quality assurance and public relations coordinator for Divine Flavor, Nogales, Ariz.

But he said finding effective sustainable packaging will be a challenge.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said.

Packaging manufacturers are moving full speed ahead to develop sustainable packaging options for organic as well as conventional produce, said Jennifer Doxey, West Coast sales manager for Giro Pack Inc., Vidalia, Ga.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has strict guidelines on how organic foods are described on product labels, so it’s critical these commodities are identified and clearly marketed to the consumer,” she said.

Giro Pack is a leader in mesh packaging solutions for fresh produce, so packers and retailers turn to the company for sustainable solutions that effectively market their products and brands to consumers, she said.

Giro Pack has developed fully compostable net clipped bags, as well as compostable welded bags that are produced using plants and other organic materials, like corn starch and/or the pulp of eucalyptus trees, rather than plastic, she said.

The compostable products can break down into nutrient-rich products in 90 days when properly composted, Doxey said.

In the apple category, fruit still is predominantly packed in tray packs, which consist of fiber trays and corrugated boxes, said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash.

“At Stemilt, a majority of the material used to make the fiber trays is made out of our own recycled newsprint/paper content and done at a local manufacturer,” she said.

Plastic still is used for bagged apples — primarily in pouch bags — but the company is looking for alternatives.

“The supply chain will have to sacrifice product visibility, as plastic is the best route for that,” Shales said.

“What we want to do is find a great alternative that keeps fruit quality high, helps shoppers conveniently grab apples, and ideally has that full-circle sustainability approach,” she said.

In the avocado industry, a lot of smaller organic fruit tends to be bagged, said Bob Lucy, partner at Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

Many avocado packers and marketers are investigating recyclable bags, he said.    

“It’s an important issue, and all of us are looking at it,” he said.

Wholesum, Amado, Ariz., is launching a new top seal collection this winter that is 100% recyclable, said Joanna Jaramillo, marketing specialist.

“It’s a step towards our plastic reduction efforts and eventual plastic removal plan as we transition the look and feel of our packaging to more environmentally friendly options,” she said.

“We expect to make more changes in the coming year to further our environmental commitments,” Jaramillo added.

Implementing sustainable packaging will involve educating consumers about how to recycle responsibly, said Divine Flavor’s DuPuis.

Grower-shippers and packaging manufacturers also will have to make it easy and convenient to do that, he said.

The cost of compostable packaging is another challenge.

Consumers and retailers who clamor for sustainable packaging often balk at paying the added cost.

“While we believe today’s consumer will pay a premium for compostable packaging, given the benefits it offers the environment, it’s our position that there is currently is a lack of awareness and infrastructure regarding (how) it relates to these materials,” Doxey said.

“As a result, compostable packaging has been slow to gain traction across the board.”

Still, Giro Pack has noticed a trend from retailers and packers to reduce the amount of plastic used in their existing packaging, she said.

The company is working with organizations such as to raise awareness and supports efforts to provide effective and sustainable packaging solutions, Doxey said. 

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