Why European Supermarkets Love To Pack Produce

European Market

Like many other produce professionals‭, ‬I seem to be magically drawn into every supermarket I pass to conduct a quick produce store check‭. ‬This is particularly the case when I am traveling‭, ‬and as a consequence I have seen the best and the worst when it comes to‭ ‬positioning fresh fruits and vegetables‭.‬

One of things that I immediately notice is whether I am looking at a produce section filled with fresh‭, ‬beautiful‭, ‬colorful fruits and vegetables‭, ‬or‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬as is unfortunately too often the case‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬a sea of plastic‭.‬

The differences between the U.S‭. ‬and certain countries in Europe are huge‭. ‬On your side of the Atlantic‭, ‬the presentation is so‭ ‬beautiful that you could almost ask an entrance fee to the produce aisles‭. ‬On‭ ‬“this side of the pond‭,‬”‭ ‬merchandising is a lot different‭, ‬although we are seeing a strong movement away from plastic‭.‬

So why are we so addicted to packaging here in Europe‭? ‬It’s all a state of mind‭.‬

Convenience‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬Supermarket produce category managers want to make the life of shoppers as easy as possible by prepackaging tomatoes‭, ‬apples‭,‬‭ ‬peaches‭, ‬peppers etc‭. ‬A tray of apples means less juggling in the aisle‭.

Hygiene‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬The less number of hands that touch a product‭, ‬the more hygienic it is‭. ‬If a product is packed‭, ‬you avoid other people’s microbes‭.‬

Shelf life‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬For certain fruits and vegetables‭, ‬the natural‭ (‬perceived‭) ‬shelf life is longer when a product is packed‭. ‬Foil-wrapped cucumbers are an often-cited example‭.‬

Standard Pricing‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬Packaged produce means standardization for example in the form of preprinted labels‭.‬

Communication‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬Supermarkets‭, ‬farmers and wholesalers can use a packed product as a form of communication‭, ‬a way of distinguishing oneself from the rest if you like‭.‬

Although I am a huge fan of the U.S‭. ‬“don’t pack model‭,‬”‭ ‬I have to admit the above points sound quite logical to me‭. ‬Nevertheless‭, ‬as sensible as they may be‭, ‬many European supermarket‭ ‬chains are radically changing their strategy in order to polish up their premium image and draw more consumers into their stores‭. ‬On the one hand‭, ‬we are seeing packaging being dropped completely‭. ‬On the other hand‭, ‬there is a move toward more sustainable‭ ‬forms of material including sugar cane and bio plastic‭.‬

Whatever the reason‭, ‬from an organic perspective‭, ‬we are delighted that the sea of plastic is slowly turning into an ocean of color‭, ‬health and taste‭.

Michaël Wilde is the communications and sustainability manager at Eosta B.V., a Netherlands based international distributor of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Eosta is not only known for its innovative Nature & More trace-and tell system but also for its effective campaigns. Currently, with 200 partners (including the FAO), the company is raising awareness about soil through the Save Our Soils campaign.