Carton study’s ‘one-piece’ of advice on waste

 As many growers make the switch to 15kg cartons, an industry project has run a shed-to-shelf test of the one-piece versions. Rhyll Cronin reports.

A new trial has found one-piece 15kg cartons may be the most cost-effective way to transport bananas and could help reduce fruit wastage, potentially saving about $23 million annually in lost sales.

The trial was a follow-up to a 2014 carton project and has set minimum specifications for carton design and best practice guidelines for each stage of the supply chain.

In the trial, six to eight North Queensland growers sent fruit to ALDI distribution centres over six months in 2015.

The fruit was sent in specially-designed 15kg cartons supplied by Orora that had features such as centre midposts as well as corner posts and higher sides. There was also additional pallet packaging in the form of corner posts and stretch-tape around the pallet to improve stability.

15kg switch

The trial results are expected to be keenly reviewed by growers and supply-chain partners. They come at a time when some growers have made the move to 15kg cartons following discussions with large retailers about the benefits of switching from 13kg boxes.

They also come as growers make initial assessments of the performance of the larger cartons in terms of the effects on fruit quality and operational costs.

Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd used the banana levy and funding from the Australian Government to fund the project, BA13019: Carton Management in the Banana Industry. The project continued work done in earlier research, BA13015: Scoping Study To Develop A Standardised Industry Banana Carton.

The earlier project examined the different carton configurations, and reviewed the secondary packaging used within the carton to protect fruit and also around the pallet to provide stability. It also examined the different fruit-packing methods used.

In the new study, the four main carton configurations currently used in the Australian market were assessed, including 13kg and 15kg cartons, both one- and two-piece.

For each configuration, the project identified the optimum carton in terms of design and construction, the appropriate amount and type of secondary packaging that should be used, and the most preferable packing methodology to be employed. The project also calculated estimates on the different labour and packaging purchase costs for utilising the optimum carton configurations.

Reusable Plastic Crates (RPCs) were not included in the comparison but it was noted there were common principles that applied to them as well as to cardboard cartons.

Wasting away

Consultant Tristan Kitchener, of Kitchener Partners, conducted both projects.

“The project confirmed that the 15kg one-piece carton was the most cost effective means for transporting bananas whilst minimising fruit damage,” Mr Kitchener said in the project report.

He said waste levels of bananas in Australian retail stores were running at between five and eight per cent – up to four times the usual international level of about two per cent.

It is estimated that fruit waste can be reduced by 2.5 per cent, and this presents industry with a potential annual saving of $22.79m based upon financial year 2014-15 Nielsen data and the opportunity for this volume of fruit to transfer into additional retail sales.

“This project aims to make a meaningful difference to the banana industry through improving the quality of fruit available across all retailers in Australia, with a particular focus on the major retailers, namely ALDI, Coles, IGA and Woolworths,” Mr Kitchener said.

“The outputs delivered by this project include minimum and optimum specifications for use by the whole Banana Industry in Australia, as well as best-practice guidelines for the key supply chain stages.

“If these outputs are implemented, it will lead to an improvement in the quality of fruit in retail stores and an increase in consumer satisfaction, and in turn will increase demand. Furthermore, improving the management and supply-chain practices currently in place will in turn support a higher level of performance of the banana industry over the next one to five years.”

The carton study found using 15kg one-piece cartons can generate savings of $55.35 per pallet by reducing fruit waste and transferring it into additional retail sales.

The study also found other advantages included improving consumer satisfaction.

However, to achieve the gains, some “transition costs” were needed for growers and retailers to change their processes.

The report stated: “Given the additional costs incurred in packing fruit in line with the recommended specifications, retailers, growers, packers and wholesalers will need to redesign and agree new business models that are able to fairly absorb and share the burden of these costs, relative to the respective benefit captured by each stage of the supply chain.

“Simply expecting growers and/or packers to absorb the additional costs with no benefit in the price they receive for their fruit, or through additional orders that can provide increased scale benefits, may not be enough to deliver an ongoing and sustainable behaviour change.

“Needless to say, the supply chain stakeholders that can align their interests for mutual benefit will be best placed to capture the first-move advantages.”

The project emphasised the need to consider the carton itself, as well as the secondary packaging and packing methodology holistically due to their interdependencies. The report said it was important for the specifications to be implemented in their entirety, rather than in isolation.

The recommendations focused upon reducing rub marking that is common in the top carton layers on the pallet due to fruit “trampolining” and not being firmly secured, and also compression bruising and neck damage that is common in the lower carton layers due to the physical weight of the cartons above.

Close consideration of ventilation was included due to the larger mass of fruit in the 15kg carton that can lead to higher respiration rates and the fact that fruit is packed more tightly, which can reduce air circulation leading to higher temperatures and potentially over-ripen fruit.

The study found the 15kg one-piece carton was the best performer as long as there was appropriate use of:

  • carton materials and construction with particular focus on sidewall strength, moisture resistance and ability to be cross-stacked
  • the amount and type of secondary packaging, including corner posts, pallet strapping, slitted bags and sap paper
  • packing methodology, ensuring fruit is packed tightly to avoid rub marking and extra-large fruit is packed in the bottom row and placed on its side
  • the ripening process, which needs to be closely monitored with a minimum six-day ripening cycle and adequate venting post-ripening to ensure fruit pulp temperatures are reduced to 13-15 degrees.