Martin Dunnett, trading director of Capespan, on how the problem of grape perishability is being tackled by clever packagingCapespan is the major supplier of grapes to the UK at the time when sales are at their highest - during January and February. But grapes are highly perishable and shipping them over long distances presents huge problems.
Journey times from South Africa are typically 12-14 days, while from Chile they can be up to 21 days. This means shippers such as Capespan are keen to find new ways of reaching shelves in less time.
Benefits in transport can be measured in hours, not just days and that is why our new ventilated grape carton - which reduces pre-cooling at source by up to two days - is such a significant step for us (The Grocer, March 19, p54).
Currently we are looking at a whole range of new ideas. On the packaging front we have also been impressed with the results of a sealed pack for 9kg batches of grapes.
It works on the principle of the sliced ham pack - though it is obviously somewhat larger - and shelf life has been increased significantly. The result is a fresher and better-looking product when it arrives in a supermarket. Other packaging innovations include the trial of a new Smartpac bag which, again, improves decay control in transit and reduces bleaching and split berries - but all with much less packaging material than is used in current systems. So there are also waste disposal benefits.
Meanwhile, the search for new grape varieties continues. The recent introduction of improved red seedless cultivars, notably crimson, with better keeping qualities, is moving the UK closer to the demand structure in the US, ie 50:50 white and red seedless.
Availability year-round is the key, and red seedless is now becoming consistent in this respect. The recent introduction of a number of true black seedless varieties, with their own distinct qualities, is providing a greater range for more adventurous consumers.
All in all the grape offer continues to improve for the consumer, making this fruit now a true shopping list item alongside the big boys in the fresh produce category.
Would you like to write a Talking Point? We’re looking for contributions covering hot topics in the meat, fish and fresh produce supply chains
Email or call him on 01293 610404