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[EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Walsh is President, North America at IFCO SYSTEMS. Have a topic you’d like to tackle as a guest author? Reach us at info@southeastproduceweekly.com]

Fresh produce sales have topped $61 billion annually, and are experiencing 4% year-over-year marketplace growth according to the Food Marketing Institute’s 2016 Power of Produce study. More than ever, retailers in every format are vying for a share of consumers’ produce spending, as well as seeking ways to develop shopper loyalty in the produce category.

Daniel Walsh

The global population of 7.6 billion is expected to rise to 9.7 billion in 2050[1], and experts predict we will need 70% more food production[2] to meet the needs of those 2.1 billion people and increases in food consumption by the rapidly-growing middle class in developing nations like India and China.

Those are staggering data points, and our food production system will not only need to expand, it will need to do so sustainably, so that we preserve and protect our natural resources for future generations.

Fact-based decision-making can help retailers and growers maximize efficiency and boost sales, while minimizing risk and supporting sustainability. For instance, understanding what consumers want when it comes to fresh food, and the factors that influence their fresh food purchasing decisions, can help reduce costs and increase sales in the produce aisle.

According to a study conducted for IFCO by Brandcheck, shoppers prefer Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) over single use packaging for fresh food packaging, 55% to 25%. Supporting their conclusion, consumers said produce displayed in RPCs is fresher and more attractive than produce packaged and displayed in one-way packaging. Most importantly, 45% of consumers said they would pay more for produce displayed in RPCs.

Shifting consumer trends, disruptive start-ups and shoppers’ use of new technology for food purchasing makes getting “into the heads” of shoppers even more important in today’s marketplace. The right research can help retailers and growers successfully harness this exciting and challenging environment.

Additional research conducted for IFCO by MMR Research, entitled, The Impact of Sustainable RPC Messaging on Consumers, showed 71% of consumers care about sustainability, and that they reward retailers that share and act on their commitment to the environment. It also showed two-thirds of consumers polled reward retailers that have a sustainable supply chain, and 57% reward those retailers that have specific sustainability messaging on their fresh produce RPCs displayed at retail. RPCs were also the preferred choice versus one-way packaging with the same sustainability messaging.

This data is important for several reasons. Global food needs will only increase year-over-year. Without sustainable operations, feeding the expanding population will simply not be possible.

That is why IFCO works with retailers, growers and stakeholders along the entire fresh food value chain to boost efficiency, reduce costs and improve sustainability.

We are committed to helping the food value chain achieve a circular economy, driven by a circular supply chain that results in zero emissions and zero waste. In fact, our operating model, recognized as an important link in the sustainable supply chain by retailers and leading sustainability foundations, is inherently sustainable. Our shared and reusable RPCs are used over-and-over again and require less energy and water, and produce less C02 and solid waste than fresh produce packed in one-way packaging.

Together, IFCO and its retailer and grower partners are building a better, more efficient and sustainable fresh food supply chain. We are also keeping an eye on the bottom line, ensuring that we help solve the world’s most pressing issues, but that everyone along the supply chain benefits and meets their marketplace goals.

In short, understanding consumer perceptions of fresh food and reflecting that in your commercial offering can be the difference between winners and losers in the retail produce aisle. Simply stated, a better supply chain serves us all: let’s eat!

[1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html
[2] Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf

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