Michael Kauzlaric, technology scout and grower outreach liaison for the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre in Ontario, is on the same page and watching the rise of a number of technologies including artificial intelligence, predictive modeling, augmented reality, and virtual reality. All of these innovations allow for speedy and often remote decision making. “It’s all about hands-free farming,” Kauzlaric says.
The quest for better quality has also spurred research to prevent the one-and-done experience in stores. If a shopper has a bad experience with an overly ripe piece of fruit, in many cases, he or she will not purchase the item a second time.
Kauzlaric says suppliers are pouring research dollars into better preconditioning processes and ripening rooms to ensure fruit is in optimal form when it leaves the packer.
Another facet of providing a better customer experience is monitoring temperatures from field to truck to retail shelf. Tracking temperatures is not new, but better tools for real-time data availability continue to progress.
“There’s been a shift in our customers wanting access to data in real time and to make adjustments on demand,” says Amy Childress, vice president of marketing for cargo solutions at Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions in Boise, ID.
This need is addressed with cellular-based technologies in which data is stored in the cloud, enabling not only immediate access but proactive alerts. “It’s an expectation that customers will have access to temperature data anytime, anywhere,” Childress asserts.
Cold chain capabilities as a whole are also evolving. “The customer is really starting to look at the cold chain holistically,” she explains. “Customers recognize that freshness is cumulative, and they’re starting to sew together the different segments of the cold chain. There are seven to eight distinct segments, and they’re all linked, all monitored, and all equally important to the delivery of safe and fresh produce to the customer.”
With the rise of produce delivery, from AmazonFresh and supermarkets, has come a need for extended monitoring—right to the customer’s door.
“You can maintain the perfect temperature all along the cold chain, but then the delivery sits on the doorstep and isn’t put into the fridge for four hours—[so] you’re relying on the integrity of the insulated container,” contends Childress. For these situations, Emerson developed a small label that can monitor temperatures and send an alert if they go above or below a specified range.