In order for fruit and vegetables to reach New Zealand shoppers in an acceptable quality and food safety related condition, a number of things need to occur. This opinion piece does not cover the entire spectrum, but solely concerns itself with the crates produce is packed into within the domestic supply chain, and the way these are delivered into retail distribution centres.
In years gone by regulators such as Government entities or State-Owned Enterprises acting on behalf of the Government took a prescriptive approach, and specified maximum weights allowed for shipping units such as crates. More recently, these regulators have taken the approach that accountability for workplace related Health & Safety is something expected from every business in a supply chain, and that every business therefore needs to go through a process of establishing what works best within its own environment. This is the reason why the ‘Keep Safe, Keep Growing” Guide published by Horticulture New Zealand, WorkSafe and ACC in 2017 makes no mention of absolute or maximum weight requirements/restrictions, but instead provides its readers with a series of questions, which lead business owners and managers to reach ‘fit-for-purpose’ benchmarks for their own sites through answering the questions posed.
As businesses work through these questions, they will also need to consider what businesses further up the supply chain need to do with the produce they receive, and these upstream businesses will clearly need to form a view about the packaging they receive from their suppliers. Common Sense therefore suggests that the involved parties communicate to attempt to find a common ground.
When discussing customer-supplier relationships, the phrase “the customer is always right” sooner or later arises. On the odd occasion ‘the customer’ can be convinced to change his or her view on the basis of a plausible argument. Common Sense suggests that growers, packing solution providers, and wholesalers will need to come to terms with the fact that retailer requirements are difficult to ignore.
Our modern society is undergoing massive change. The way cities will feed themselves in the future is being challenged today, to the extent that it is already possible to buy off-the-shelf ‘Urban Crop Solutions Plant Factories’, tailor made to achieve vertical farming solutions. At the same time, the Health & Safety requirements in the workplace are becoming more stringent, because New Zealand’s rate of workplace accidents and deaths is higher than it needs to be.
Safe Lifting and Carrying within the workplace environment is receiving considerable attention from WorkSafe New Zealand. Lifting excessively heavy crates or cartons is considered to be a health hazard. In the absence of a declared maximum limit, Common Sense would suggest expecting workers to regularly lift crates or cartons that weigh more than 20 kg should not be expected, and actually represents a risk to the businesses that continue this practice.
For every action, there is a reaction. Changing how a product is packed and transported has consequences. These may relate to packaging costs, freight costs, and handling costs. Consequences need to be understood, costed, and brought into the price/value equation that forms the basis for meaningful negotiations between vendor and buyer. That is also Common Sense.
Beyond this position, there are three other related issues that are facing all producers in relation to packaging. These are:
Common Sense therefore suggests that the produce crates and cartons leaving the farm will continue to change in shape, size and weight, whilst the number of packaging units needed to shift the volumes grown will increase in frequency.