The Year Ahead: Ingenuity and innovation

Will 2019 be a renaissance for managing postharvest freshness in produce?

Kristen Park, extension specialist at Cornell University thinks so.

“There’s so much innovation in produce,” she says, though this comes after what she characterizes as “a somewhat dormant period.”

New technologies are helping not only in the field but postharvest.

Darren Ward, manager of business planning and commercialization at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Vineland Station, Ontario, cites advances in automation and robotics but says, “Every commodity poses a very different set of challenges.”

Currently Vineland projects include growing mushrooms in a greenhouse setting; implementing robotic harvesting for both mushrooms and apples; and addressing gaps in automatic packaging technologies, such as for miniature cucumbers on trays.

Park, too, is impressed by packaging advances such as lighter, thinner protective films and high-tech sachets for controlled-environment cases.

Tia Ross, owner of Natureworx in Lake Oswego, OR, is all about extending freshness and ensuring food safety, with the added benefit of environmental sensitivity.

Ross says there’s definitely been an uptick in demand for sustainable, specialized packaging.

“We’re focused on trying to help our customers make what we call ‘environmentally intelligent’ decisions.”

One of the issues spurring innovation in alternative packaging is China’s decision to stop taking waste from other countries, including used plastic clamshells. In the past, China would regrind and repallet clamshells, then send them back for reuse.

“If we still had that option, there wouldn’t be such a search for alternatives,” Ross says.

To cap an eventful 2018, Blueprints asked produce suppliers and other experts to look into their crystal balls and weigh in on the trends and issues that will be most prominent in 2019. Karen Raugust is a freelance writer who covers business topics ranging from retailing to the food industry.