NZ ditching plastic packaging of fruit and vegetables in supermarkets

The NZ Herald reports that sales of some vegetables have soared by up to 300 percent after a number of New Zealand supermarkets ditched plastic packaging.

A group of supermarkets have abandoned the use of plastic wrapping for virtually all of their fruit and vegetables in a project labelled ‘food in the nude’.

Nigel Bond owner of one of the stores says their new shelving system reminded him of when he was a kid going to the fruiterer with his Dad and one could smell the fresh citrus and spring onions. He says by wrapping products in plastic we sanitise them and deprive people of this experience.

“When you take on these projects they can be a disaster and lead to customer pushback but in my 30 years in the supermarket industry this simple change has resulted in the most positive feedback from customers I have ever received.”

The initiative is part of the war against plastic. In New Zealand the days of single-use plastic shopping bags are numbered – most supermarkets are no longer providing them at the check-out – while the government late last year agreed to regulations for a mandatory phase-out across all retailers from July 1.

Bond says he and store manager Gary May first came up with the idea over two years ago: “At the time we noticed an increasing amount of fresh produce was being supplied in plastic wrapping. We thought this was crazy and vowed and declared to do something about it.

“I went on a study tour to the United States and saw what the Whole Foods supermarket chain is doing over there,” he says. “They have a massive range of fresh food and their merchandising is almost an art form.”

Bond began discussions with growers and suppliers, most of whom he says were happy to look at ways of providing produce free of plastic packaging.

A new refrigeration shelving system for displaying fresh fruit and vegetables was installed along with a process known as ‘misting’ to help keep items fresh.

“Vegetables are 90 percent water and studies have shown that misted produce not only looks better, retains its colour and texture, but also has higher vitamin content,” Bond says. “We’ve also installed a reverse osmosis system that treats the water by removing 99 percent of all bacteria and chlorine, so we are confident the water we’re misting with remains pure.”

Bond says some produce – including berries, grapes and some tomatoes – still come in plastic containers while mushrooms are packaged in cardboard trays. Most of this packaging is, however, recyclable.

He says Foodstuffs is also trialling paper alternatives to foil seafood bags and fibre-based deli trays.

Foodstuffs have signed the NZ Plastic Packaging Declaration which is committed to making all store and private label packaging 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. It has also introduced recyclable food trays – a measure that gives customers the opportunity to divert more than 80 million trays from landfill every year.