Sales of some vegetables have soared by up to 300 per cent following moves by a number of New Zealand supermarkets to ditch plastic packaging.
A group of New World supermarkets have abandoned the use of plastic wrapping for virtually all of their fruit and vegetables in a project labelled 'food in the nude'. Pioneered by the New World store at Bishopdale in Christchurch, it has led to stunning sales figures.
"We monitor them year on year and after we introduced the concept we noticed sales of spring onions, for example, had increased by 300 per cent. There may have been other factors at play but we noticed similar increases in other vegetable varieties like silver beet and radishes."
Bishopdale owner, Nigel Bond
New World Supermarkets are part of the Foodstuffs Group, New Zealand's biggest grocery distributor, and one of the country's largest organisations. Unlike many supermarket companies around the world, Foodstuff’s has a co-operative owned business model, meaning that each of the regional co-operatives is owned by its retail members, and operates independently with its own board and management. There are no common members or shareholders. This model provides flexibility for operators to launch initiatives such as ‘Food in the Nude’.
Bond says he was initially concerned his plans could backfire: "When you take on these projects they can be a disaster and lead to customer push-back 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."
"When we first set up the new shelving our customers were blown away," he says. "It reminded me of when I was a kid going to the fruiterer with my Dad, you could smell the fresh citrus and spring onions. By wrapping products in plastic we sanitise and deprive people of this experience; dispensing with plastic was a huge driver for us."
The initiative is part of the war against plastic. In New Zealand the days of single-use plastic shopping bags are numbered – most supermarkets 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 1 July.
Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced worldwide every year, half is used just once and thrown away, while only nine per cent is recycled.
In New Zealand about 252,000 tonnes of plastic waste goes into landfill each year, a significant amount also ending up in our waterways and ultimately the sea. Bond says eight or nine New World supermarkets in the South Island have followed Bishopdale's example, a move which is part of a suite of sustainable practices adopted by New World owner Foodstuffs.
The initiative began with growers and suppliers, most of whom he says were happy to look at ways of providing produce free of plastic packaging (Foodstuffs is also continuing to work with suppliers to look at how it can be reduced across-the-board including areas other than produce).
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 per cent 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 per cent of all bacteria and chlorine, so we are confident the water we're misting with remains pure."
Extending Shelf Life with Electrolysed Water
Electrolysed Water is produced by passing an electrical charge through an electrolyte, creating toxic free and naturally forming cleaning and sanitising solutions. The cleaning solution is a ‘detergent’ and cleans surfaces without foaming or leaving residues, whilst the sanitiser solution kills bacteria, fungi and pathogens.
Extensive testing and academic research has proven that soaking fresh produce in the sanitiser solution can double the shelf life for produce in some instances. As a toxic free and bio-degradable sanitiser, it provides an excellent pairing with efforts to remove single use plastics from fresh produce and supports a circular economy model.
Foodstuffs have signed the NZ Plastic Packaging Declaration which is committed to making all store and private label packaging 100 per cent 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.
This article was originally published in the NZ Herald