The Need for Improved Visibility in the Fresh Produce Supply Chain

March 20, 2023

April 29, 2024


x min read

Transporting fresh produce from the farm to the kitchen is a complex process that requires meticulous attention. The delicate nature of fresh produce means that any missteps in the cold chain can lead to delays, upset vendors, and disgruntled customers. Disruptions also result in tons of uneaten produce—almost 50% of all fruits and vegetables are wasted. To meet these challenges, shippers must track and trace freight—throughout its lifecycle—to ensure that time-sensitive fresh produce stays in the proper condition. 

This article describes the obstacles of transporting fresh produce through the supply chain and shares how real-time location and condition visibility is vital for shippers to know those oranges, watermelons, and greens are getting into the hands of consumers in optimal condition—and with the longest shelf life possible.

Challenges of Fresh Produce Shipping

Customers can easily bruise or damage their fruits and vegetables on the short car ride home if they aren’t careful. So imagine the difficulty of sending fresh produce cross country—or even worldwide—without harm. Following are 11 challenges businesses must overcome to optimize fresh produce deliveries.

Temperature & Humidity

Fruits and vegetables must stay in cold chain custody to keep them fresh and avoid damage. Each type of fresh produce has specific temperature and humidity requirements. This means fresh produce can’t always be moved with the same temperature and humidity as others being transported. The correct temperature range for spinach might spoil a batch of apples, and the proper moisture levels for grapes could render lettuce inedible.

Damaged or Improper Packaging

Without specialized packaging, fresh produce may be spoiled or contaminated. If produce isn’t prepped, packaged, and loaded correctly, the rigors of shipping could cause food to be jostled around, damaging the cargo to the point that it’s rejected. Any rips or tears in packaging, even small ones, might also impact freshness and could freeze a product—instead of just keeping it cold.

High Maintenance Costs

Extra maintenance and costs are often required to ensure proper packing and the correct cold chain temperatures and humidity. Specialized equipment is needed to ship fresh produce, and staff must be trained to handle all kinds of fruits and vegetables correctly. The heightened levels of maintenance required during the journey translate to increased expenses. Rejected shipments mean wasted food—and higher costs moving forward.

Food Safety Issues

Fresh produce must be kept in cold chain custody and follow temperature, packaging, and storage regulations throughout the journey. Failure to follow all food safety regulations may result in financial and legal problems. Without proper, real-time visibility into shipments, shippers aren’t aware of temperature disruptions until it’s too late—so maintaining constant visibility is critical. 

Fierce Competition

The fresh produce market is exceptionally competitive in the bid to build customer loyalty and increase the return on investment. Shoppers have numerous options when purchasing fresh food, so finding a competitive advantage is paramount. Companies must find a way to innovate while improving supply chain efficiency and reducing costs, or they risk going from the top of the food chain to the bottom of the scrap heap.

Rising Demand for Fresh, Nutritious Food

Consumers want fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables, and they want them available on demand. Most people want to improve their health, and aiming to get the recommended five servings of nutritious fruits and vegetables can become a simple habit. Shippers must meet these demands, and if they aren’t prepared to handle any upticks in the amount of their produce that is desired, customers will look elsewhere.

Specialized Labor

Working with fresh produce demands specialized knowledge and skills, so personnel with expertise in the cold chain must undergo thorough training. They must also remain up-to-date with the latest regulations and logistics innovations, or they risk being left behind. The scarcity of cold chain experts—due to drivers and labor shortages—has made it increasingly challenging to secure qualified staff. Consequently, businesses must continually seek talented individuals to fill these crucial roles. The absence of personnel specializing in transporting fruits and vegetables can lead to food waste, financial losses, and overall inefficiency.

Inventory Management

The limited shelf life of time-sensitive fresh produce makes inventory management even more important. Businesses must find ways to optimize inventory levels while minimizing waste. Perishable foods must be restocked more often than other shipments, and the inability to accurately forecast and track inventory results in numerous issues. Too much inventory means a lack of adequate storage space, and food is not promptly pushed through proper channels—resulting in wrecked shipments. Too little inventory means insufficient customers can access your product, hurting the bottom line.

Multi-Factor Condition Tracking

Shippers that don’t monitor their fresh produce shipments are inviting trouble. Whether in real-time or during the journey, they must ensure that cold chain custody is kept intact throughout the trip—and that the delivery is still on schedule. Tracking the temperature of many perishable foods is often not enough. Shippers must also have the means to track humidity, light exposure, and shock absorption, such as via the Tive 5G Solo tracker. With recent innovations in transporting freight, ensuring all aspects of the shipment are in optimal condition is a must.

Processing & Analyzing Data

The current track-and-trace methods many shippers utilize mean more data is out there than ever before—but that data is almost useless without taking the proper analytics approach to studying all metrics. An advanced, cloud-based platform is required to empower stakeholders to analyze all data accurately—to identify trends or patterns that optimize operations. Siloed data slows the supply chain and keeps parties from getting critical details on time.

Tips for Improved Fresh Produce Shipping

These challenges are daunting, but solutions are out there. Following are several tips to reduce food waste, avoid losing vendors, increase OTIF rates, and keep customers satisfied by providing better product availability and freshness.

  • Ensure data transparency: All data stored, tracked, and shared must be accurate and accessible to all stakeholders. Constant data flow for shipment condition and location keeps all parties informed and on the same page—and lets everyone know precisely when any exceptions occur that require immediate attention.
  • Pay attention to the packaging: Appropriate packaging is required in all perishable food shipping. The packaging must be accurate for the temperature and humidity needed and sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of a long journey. 
  • Fresh food can’t all be shipped together: Some types of fresh produce release the gas ethylene, meaning they can’t be mixed in with other perishable shipments. Fruits and vegetables also have different temperature and humidity requirements and shelf life. What’s the point of keeping a shipment of strawberries in optimal condition if it’s mixed with a load of plums that will be ruined if its specific needs aren’t met?
  • Perform regular maintenance: Refrigeration units, data loggers, and sensors must be regularly maintained and calibrated to ensure that perishables are always in a suitable condition. Cleaning and sanitizing reefers is vital to avoid contamination risk. In addition, always train employees to handle all types of food—and know how to perform regular equipment maintenance.
  • Get real-time location and condition visibility: Always knowing the location and condition of your in-transit shipments is a must when shipping fresh produce. Real-time tracking updates can alert stakeholders to disruptions in transit, enabling them to take immediate corrective action. Investing in tracking technology minimizes food waste—and provides unprecedented transparency. 

Benefits of Real-Time Visibility & Exception Management

Recent real-time tracking and tracing innovations have transformed the game for logistics professionals. Here are more ways stakeholders benefit from implementing real-time shipment condition visibility into their fresh produce freight.

  • Availability of continuous condition data, such as humidity and shock absorption
  • Live monitoring means shipments are watched around the clock
  • End-to-end tracking from origin to destination to ensure OTIF
  • Proactive alerts when disruption and exceptions occur—to minimize loss
  • Helps shippers provide proof that all food safety and traceability regulations are met
  • Quickly share data between all interested parties
  • Holds all stakeholders accountable, as they understand all movements are tracked
  • Helps stakeholders along the supply chain collaborate and strategize
  • More informed decisions, and increased efficiency thanks to real-time data
  • Adjustments to schedules can be made in real-time to anticipate and avoid delays
  • Reductions in claims because of the smoother shipments
  • Customers are kept up-to-date on shipment status
  • Savings in costs, energy, and food waste may help with sustainability efforts by lowering carbon emissions

Results of Enhanced Real-Time Transportation Visibility for Fresh Produce Shippers

Real-time visibility doesn’t just look good on paper: it’s a tried-and-true concept that saves shippers time and aggravation. Alpine Fresh saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by utilizing the 5G Solo Non-Lithium trackers from Tive. It saved $120,000 on a blueberry shipment when the temperature range was exceeded, and also saved $90,000 on an asparagus shipment when it was discovered the reefer was cycling instead of running continuously. This improved visibility led to enhanced communication and immediate return on investment. Moving fresh produce is a high-stakes business—and hyper-visibility rescues shipments that otherwise would be rendered useless.

Tive Helps You Meet All Your Fresh Produce Challenges

The days of a shipment of damaged bananas or moldy peaches arriving at their destination—without anyone having a clue what went wrong—are in the rearview mirror. Tive enables shippers to monitor freight—from origin to destination—and get notified in real-time when exceptions rear their ugly head. 

The business of moving fresh produce will invariably present challenges, but with Tive’s temperature and condition trackers, unparalleled shipment insight minimizes the negative impacts of disruption. Contact Tive to see how their innovative trackers monitor shipments to ensure the freshest deliveries, every time.

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