Fresh Produce Packaging - Good to Know

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In the early 1960’s, it was revolutionary to field pack lettuce into a cellophane wrap. Revolutionary in field harvesting practices and in the store, providing branding of a commodity item, protection from over handling and eventually greater efficiency to in store operations. Fast forward to 2019 and the world of produce packaging is a very different place.

Keep this in mind: The purpose of product packaging is to protect and maintain freshness and flavor.

We hand-harvest and field pack 90% of our vegetables. From the field it transported to our cooler before being OMF-Castroville-Artis-GD-17A1817loaded onto a truck to travel to a distribution center (watch video here). That means the packaging for each item (plastic bag, clamshell or carton) must be able to withstand being packed outside, rain or shine, and withstand the handling from that field location to its ultimate destination, your grocery store or your favorite restaurant kitchen.

Really, the bottom line is sustainability. Without selecting the right packaging for an item, all the resources (water, fertilizer, labor, cooling, fuel) used to grow that lovely head of lettuce is wasted, if the lovely head of lettuce does not make it to your dinner plate!

At Ocean Mist Farms, there is an array of packaging that we use depending on the item. Here are the top 5 factors we consider when selecting the right packaging:

1. Performance

cauliflower-2Will the packaging protect this product from field harvest to grocery store or restaurant kitchen? Like I said before, if not, we waste a lot of resources. We need that head of cauliflower to arrive to your fridge looking/tasting just as it would if you picked it yourself out of the field.

Will the weight and strength of the cardboard in the carton withstand harvesting in the rain? Can we reduce the weight/thickness of the plastic clamshell and still protect the Fennel packed inside?  Does the zipper on that bag open and close or will it tear with the weight of the four beautiful artichokes packed inside?

Performance is measured in how the packaging keeps the product fresh. Remember that our goal is that it tastes and looks fresh, and that the resources used for planting, growing and harvesting are not wasted!

2. Recycled & Recycle-ability

gold-artichokesOur corrugated cartons and plastic clamshells are made with post- consumer and industrial material. That is plastic and cardboard that has been re-used. For example, the artichoke clamshell shown to the left is manufactured with 70 – 100% post- consumer and industrial material, marked with a recycle symbol 1 – one of the most readily recycled materials in most communities in the U.S.A.

Did you know… Because we field-pack most of our product, biodegradable packaging is not often a viable option. It will start to biodegrade on the harvest trailer in the field!  Another consideration is to get the biodegradable benefits, your community needs to offer this kind of trash collection/facility. 

3. Clarity

Clarity of the plastic and of our graphics on that package. If we are using film (wrap) to cover the product, or a bag for our convenience items, we want you to be able to see what is inside. There are various types of plastic fiber that can be used. We pick those that have the best clarity to provide you the best view of what’s inside. Plus, we really want you to be able to see our brand, so quality of ink printing on the package is important.

Did you know that we mock-up packaging to see just how those Romaine Hearts look inside that bag? Kind of like trying on clothes, but we have our Romaine Hearts try on a bag.😀

4. Bells and Whistles

OMF.Season.SteamLine3Sometimes, we want to wow you with what our packaging can do. Like make it super easy for you to quickly get dinner on the table. Our Season & Steam Brussels Sprouts, allow you to simply open, season, seal and steam. Like, the bags say, “For Delicious Veggies in Minutes”.

5. Supply Chain Efficiencies

That heading sounds so technical, because it truly is. The more efficient we can be in getting our fresh vegetables to you, the more sustainable of a business we can be.  And quite frankly, since we have been doing this for nearly 100 years, we have mastered continuous improvement of these technicalities. For example, our retail partners (your grocery stores) want a UPC on the package so that it can be efficiently removed from their inventory systems and also provide data to understand sales activity that impacts order quantities.  That tracking data also makes it possible to more precisely order the right amount of inventory to avoid product waste at the store level.

We continue to hear the conversations around packaging, and plastics specifically, and continue to work with our suppliers to provide the best solutions for our operation and our environment. Thank you for listening.

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Diana McClean
Growing up on California's central coast, I enjoyed delicious artichokes around the family dinner table and always on Christmas Eve! It is beyond perfection that I now market artichokes for a living and get to share the Ocean Mist Farms story and my love of all things fresh.
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