More and more stores are offering unpackaged fruit and vegetables. Some stores are even completely packaging-free. Is a fruit and veg department without packagings feasible, or are packagings not all bad?
Consumers want unpackaged vegetables
The majority of consumers prefers unpackaged vegetables over products wrapped in plastic, research from information organization Milieu Centraal, carried out by Motivaction, shows. People see packaging as superfluous. Consumers opt for vegetables without packaging, because that way they can better determine the amount, and pick the vegetables that look good. Particularly the cucumber in plastic turns out to be a big annoyance. Packaging does have a function though, according to Annelies Clements of Bunzl Retail & Industry. Consumers often don’t realize that packaging is an important means to inform them about the product and the storage conditions. It’s also often thought that big packagings are better for the environment than a portion package, but big packagings actually encourage food waste.
Packaging is more than just wrappings. It plays an important role in producer-consumer relations. Apart from informing, protecting, bundling and ensuring longer shelf life, the packaging represents key messages from the producer, for instance about the innovative and sustainable character of a company. Packagings have an important function for fresh products. Unpackaged vegetables, for instance, dry out faster, which can contribute to food waste. Foil around cucumbers, for instance, can increase shelf life by about 12 days, up to three times longer than unpackaged. When the chain is sufficiently short, however, protective foil isn’t necessary, which is why there are often unpackaged cucumbers on supermarket shelves in summer.
Good packaging better than no packaging
According to Toine Timmermans, programme manager sustainable food chains at Wageningen UR, the perception of plastic packagings is different than the facts. “When you look at environmental impact, a well-designed packaging is nearly always better than no packaging. Such a packaging improves the shelf life of food, and protects products against damage during transport and storage, so that less has to be thrown away.”
The trend toward a fruit and veg department free of packaging is highly surprising to Kees van den Bosch of Freeland. “Growers and traders need to follow all manner of rules related to food safety. Everything is washed and packaged with gloves, and hats are worn to prevent direct contact with the products. Then in the store, everything is allowed. Many people have their hands on the products. I think it’s completely unacceptable.” Kees notes that a packaging-free fruit and veg department is possible, but with some adjustments, like staff wearing gloves, or gloves handed out along with the products, as already happens a lot in Spain and Italy.