We continue our ‘From the CEO Desk’ series of discussions with Craig Stauffer this time with a conversation on packaging.
Over-scheduled and fast-moving day to day activities have led to a “grab and go” culture that prioritizes convenience, speed, and efficiency. But at what cost? With climate concerns becoming more front of mind and the list of cities banning single use plastics growing, what does a more sustainable future for produce packaging look like?
Q: What is Vanguard Doing to Address More Sustainable Fresh Produce Packaging?
Craig: Vanguard is continuously working with our vendor partners to find the best packaging solutions. It will come as no surprise that rethinking how our fruits and vegetables are packaged from to store shelves and ultimately people’s homes are a monumental task. We need to find a solution that fits every level of the supply chain from harvesting, packing, shipping, and merchandising at the store level. It’s not just simply eliminating plastic, packaging vendors are researching truly sustainable elements including a package’s life cycle, material make up, ability to compost or recycle, and shipping offsets such as lighter gauges of cardboard.
Q: How Do We Manage Fulfilling Expected “Grab and Go” Shopping, While Reducing Single Use Packaging?
Craig: In some ways we need to get back to what used to work and that will require the end consumer to also have a shift in expectations. As an industry we have swung from bulk displays to more frequently found grab and go bags, ready to eat punnets, and clamshells.
There will always be produce that requires packaging protection. Take berries for example, considering all we have just gone through with the pandemic, it is unrealistic to imagine a big bulk bin of blueberries for multiple hands to be sorting through. As well, unlike other food items such as the frozen category, we have highly perishable cargo with value that diminishes with every squish and bump. I believe the solution has to be one that balances material reduction with ensuring the quality and condition of the fruit is not compromised.
Q: Are Certain Fresh Produce Items Easier When Exploring Sustainable Packaging?
Craig: We know it won’t be a one size fits all solution. With the varying retail formats, it becomes even further complicated to find one clear solution to be rolled out!
Apples, potatoes, and bananas for example are items consumers are comfortable with buying from a bulk display. However, when looking more in depth at the potato category we see a significant growth in baby potatoes or “creamers” that are typically packaged in plastic bags. This is why I again believe that part of the solution is with the master container that these smaller items are packaged and shipped in.
Q: Do You Think Single Use Plastics Will Ever Be Obsolete Within the Produce Industry?
Craig: I hope this is something I get to see in my lifetime. I’ve been in this industry a long time, so I do know it is going to take time to achieve plastic-free packaging throughout the full industry. It is exciting to see the emerging technologies and the progressive organizations that are dedicated to finding long term sustainable solutions. Solutions with the real ability to compost and recycle, not simply ‘wish-cycle’ we know will improve. We can see retailers driving innovation, however we need to also re-educate consumers who are now well accustomed to the ease of grab and go, and quick checkout experiences. The winning solution will allow consumers to continue to easily purchase what they want in a format that they can take home to enjoy, and getting that right is going to take a bit of time.