PENNY eliminates waste from organic banana supply chains

written by IFCO SYSTEMS, 31st January 2023, in Success Stories

PENNY accelerates its sustainability activities and eliminates waste by switching to the IFCO Banana Lift Lock solution. With our reusable packaging containers (RPCs), the international retailer benefits from lower CO2 emissions, perfectly ripened bananas and a more efficient banana supply chain.

PENNY eliminates waste from organic banana supply chains

Replacing single-use packaging for environmental benefits

Whether it’s through low-emission supply chains, low-impact product lines, energy-efficient stores or the use of sustainable packaging, PENNY is a driving force behind the ongoing transformation of the retail industry. "Just because something has been done the same way for decades, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved," says Nico Wittlich, Head of Ultra-Fresh Category Management (Fruit, Vegetables, Flowers, Plants) at PENNY, the international supermarket chain owned by the REWE Group, one of Europe’s leading retail operations. "In fact, it’s our responsibility to step up and overturn the status quo when there are sustainable and competitive alternatives available."

When it comes to bananas, that alternative is the Banana Lift Lock, our innovative reusable packaging container (RPC) customized for the unique demands of the banana supply chain. Since September 2022, all BioHelden organic bananas on display at PENNY stores in Germany are no longer shipped in single-use packaging. Now, the organic bananas start and finish their international journey safely cradled in the Banana Lift Lock. Other banana categories are likely to follow in the future.

In fact, bananas are not the only fresh products that are transported in our RPCs. Since 2015, our Black Lift Lock has been transporting fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the PENNY network of retail branches, directly from farms and suppliers through to the points of sale, contributing to the sustainability goals of the retailer in the process.

banana supply chain

Saving CO2, energy and water eliminates waste

Not one, but 2,242. That’s how many trips to the moon you would need to take to produce the CO2e savings that PENNY enjoys by switching from single-use packaging to our Banana Lift Lock. Closer to home, it’s the equivalent to 35,743 car trips around the world.

In concrete numbers, replacing one-way containers with our sustainable solution for bananas generates 154,697 MT CO2e in savings. These figures are based on the import volume of bananas from South America to Europe and calculated using established tools. It’s an impressive result. "This is a win for the environment, our customers and our operations," notes Wittlich. "Switching to reusable packaging will generate significantly less carbon dioxide and radically reduce packaging waste."

What’s more, by sharing and using the RPCs within the IFCO closed-loop pooling system, the SmartCycle, less energy and water will be used over the entire life cycle of the Banana Lift Lock compared to single-use packaging. The solution eliminates waste on multiple levels. As the RPCs last for up to a decade — and are 100% recycled into new IFCO RPCs when they can no longer be repaired — the SmartCycle is a sophisticated circular economy model for banana packaging. A positive development for the environment, and perhaps also a defining moment for the banana industry.

“It’s our responsibility to step up and overturn the status quo when there are sustainable and competitive alternatives available. This is a win for the environment, our customers and our operations.”

Nico Wittlich , Head of Ultra-Fresh Category Management (Fruit, Vegetables, Flowers, Plants) at PENNY

Expert teamwork meets supply chain challenges

Even when one of the main drivers for change is sustainability, in the world of supply chains, efficiency can never be ignored. This is especially true of the banana supply chain, which is a complex logistics operation involving multiple stakeholders, including producers, suppliers, importers and retailers.

To ensure that the Banana Lift Lock could fit their sophisticated set-up and support a smooth logistics operation, PENNY initially conducted trials with pre-selected packing stations and selected PENNY stores. In these stores, the bananas were tested in the Banana Lift Lock with very positive results.

The requirements and standards at PENNY were high. To be adopted, the Banana Lift Lock would have to work on multiple levels and fit seamlessly into PENNY’s established operations. It would also have to meet the stringent criteria for the BioHelden brand, the company’s organic range of products, and protect the delicate fresh products from damage during transportation.

How increasing supply chain efficiency eliminates waste

Most notably, sharing and using the Banana Lift Lock solution via the IFCO SmartCycle closed-loop pooling system would have to make the company’s logistics operation even more efficient.

In the case of PENNY, PDN (Plantaciones del norte) runs the plantation in the Dominican Republic and Biofrusan is the supplier/importer for Europe. Having started importing in the 1990s, Biofrusan is recognized as a pioneer in the trade of exotic organic fruits and nuts to European markets.

Mariesa Hundt, Managing Director of Biofrusan, has a clear sustainability mindset and a planet-friendly approach to supply chain operations. "For me, it’s not only a matter of offering customers a healthier product with our organic range," says Hundt. "Conventional distributors aspire to do this too. It’s more about keeping the total overall environmental footprint of our company as low as possible. This is the main driver for us." It’s the reason why Hundt also supports the replacement of single-use packaging with long-term reusable solutions.

Convincing benefits for the banana supply chain

At each stage, it was clear that the design of the Banana Lift Lock protects the delicate fresh products throughout, from plantation through to the PENNY retail stores. In total, 55 Banana Lift Locks align perfectly on a pallet, with each one weighing an average of 18.14kg (40lbs). As a result, each container now ships an extra 363kg (802lbs) of bananas.

Improving stackability and stability

The interlocking design enables more secure stacking of the RPCs, which ensures the pallets are more stable during transport.

Protecting better eliminates waste

The sturdy structure of the RPCs provides superior load weight support, which minimizes compression-related damage. In turn, this reduces crown and neck damage, as well as latex staining.

Ensuring superior ventilation

The ventilated design provides greater control of temperature and humidity inside the crates, preventing premature ripening and ensuring the pulp has the correct temperature on arrival.

Boosting the ripening process

Again, it’s the ventilated and sturdy design of the RPCs that ensures a more efficient and greater control of the ripening process and color progression, allowing the bananas to ripen uniformly to the desired level.

Extending the shelf life

A faster cooling process, better temperature management, more controlled ripening. Together, they translate into longer shelf life and satisfied, loyal customers.

Improving supply chain efficiencies

Additionally, there’s a further plus for logistics efficiency. Unlike the typical one-way container box, the Banana Lift Lock has a streamlined and standardized design, which allows one extra RPC packed with bananas to be transported on each pallet.

Making the sustainable choice easy

Real-world trials are the expertise of IFCO. Thanks to several decades of experience in the fresh grocery supply chain, including in North America, Latin America, and Europe, IFCO’s team is familiar with the specific challenges of the banana supply chain. As the industry leader in RPCs with the tailored customized and reusable container for the banana chain, IFCO is also the go-to company for real-world pilots of the Banana Lift Lock.

Given this expertise and background, IFCO was ideally placed to work closely with the team at PENNY to organize and evaluate the transportation of Biofrusan organic bananas in the Banana Lift Lock. IFCO’s team worked closely with PENNY, PDN and Biofrusan to ensure the trials went smoothly.

What sounds like a dramatic shift, was in fact simple to implement. This is because IFCO’s development team follows a customer-centric and purposeful innovation process. This approach ensured the Banana Lift Lock was designed with the specific challenges of the banana supply chain in mind.

A cooler start to a long and challenging journey

As with any banana supply chain, the challenges begin at the plantation. For PENNY, this means in the Dominican Republic, at the plantation run by PDN. It’s here that the optimal features of the Banana Lift Lock start to work their magic.

At harvest, speed is of the essence, which is why the Banana Lift Lock is designed to help bring down the temperature of the bananas rapidly. Faster cooling reduces premature ripening and increases shelf life. This has a positive impact on the quality of the banana. The superior design of the IFCO Banana Lift Lock ensures better ventilation so that cooling bananas becomes a far more efficient process. But first, the bananas have to be packed.

The superior design of our Banana Lift Lock ensures better ventilation so that cooling bananas becomes a far more efficient process. But first, the bananas have to be packed.

A smooth switch that begins with the banana packers

To ensure that the superior ventilation of the Banana Lift Lock is fully exploited, IFCO has teams of banana packing experts who train banana packers directly at their packing stations on the plantation. They provide practical and rapid on-site training to ensure that the packing process runs efficiently.

However, there is another reason for providing such support. Any change in an established process can be difficult to accept for the people affected by that change. This is why IFCO’s team spends time on site with the plantation personnel, listening to their concerns, watching how they work and supporting them during the changeover.

For the banana packers, it was important to be closely involved in the change process and to see the positive effects of such a step."The whole team understood the significance of them being the first to pack the bananas in sustainable reusable crates," says Luis Salazar, Banana Packaging Consultant from IFCO, who is based in South America and supports trials and rollouts. Salazar helped conduct the training sessions.

"We really valued their feedback and took their concerns seriously. As a result, everyone felt that they were in charge of changing the established system," Salazar explains. "It also helped that it was incredibly easy to get the hang of the new innovative way of packing bananas."

“In terms of quality, sustainability and supply chain efficiency, we’re really impressed with the results.”

Marc Oliver Roßmann, Senior Category Buyer Fruit, Flowers and Plants, PENNY

The trials end with quality controls and evaluations

Crucially, the tailored on-site training ensures that the crates are packed more efficiently and correctly. During the trials, the bananas were inspected at key stages in the banana supply chain. Before packaging, before and after ripening, and again at the POS.

In total, IFCO ran six full-scale trials using our RPCs from plantation through to POS for the PENNY pilot. Every trial involved shipping a container with 1,100 Banana Lift Lock RPCs to Europe. Each time, they were able to demonstrate that when bananas are packed and transported in IFCO RPCs, the delicate produce arrives at the destination in a perfectly ripened condition. The trials confirm how the right approach eliminates waste at every step of the supply chain.

Marc Oliver Roßmann, Senior Category Buyer Fruit, Flowers and Plants at PENNY makes the same assessment. "Thanks to the professional and extensive support provided by the IFCO experts on site at the plantation in the Dominican Republic, the switch to the Banana Lift Lock went incredibly smoothly," says Roßmann. "In terms of quality, sustainability and supply chain efficiency, we’re really impressed with the results."

Switch for a better future

"With this sustainable option for transporting bananas from plantation through to the point of sale, there’s no excuse for sticking with disposable packaging that generates waste," concludes Roßmann, adding: "We have ambitious sustainability goals across our entire operations. Eliminating waste and using resources more efficiently are two of our top targets. One way to ensure both is by switching to IFCO solutions."

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