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Germany: Penny avoids waste in the banana supply chain

Updated: Apr 12

Discount Retail Chain Penny (owned by the German REWE Group) accelerates its sustainability activities and avoids waste by switching to the IFCO Banana Lift Lock solution. With our reusable packaging containers (RPCs), the international retailer benefits from lower carbon emissions, perfectly ripened bananas and a more efficient banana supply chain


Replacing disposable packaging for the environment

Whether it's through low-carbon supply chains, eco-friendly product lines, energy-efficient stores or the use of sustainable packaging, Penny is a driving force in the ongoing transformation of the retail industry. "Just because something has been done the same way for decades doesn't mean it can't be improved," says Nico Wittlich, Division Manager Ultra Fresh - Fruit, Vegetables, Flowers, Plants at Penny, the international supermarket chain owned by the REWE Group, one of the leading European retail companies. "It is our responsibility to stand up and change the status quo when there are sustainable and competitive alternatives."


When it comes to bananas, that alternative is the Banana Lift Lock, our innovative reusable packaging container (RPC) specifically designed to meet the needs of the banana supply chain. Since September 2022, all BioHelden bananas displayed in Penny stores in Germany are no longer sent in disposable packaging. Now the organic bananas begin and end their international journey safely in the Banana Lift Lock. Other banana categories are expected to follow in the future.


In fact, bananas aren't the only fresh produce shipped in our RPCs. Since 2015, our Black-Lift-Lock has been transporting fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the PENNY store network directly from the farms and suppliers to the points of sale, thereby contributing to the retailer's sustainability goals.


Saving CO2, energy and water avoids waste

Not one, but 2,242. That's how many trips to the moon it would take to achieve the CO2e savings that Penny achieves by switching from single-use packaging to our Banana Lift Lock. Looked at more closely, this corresponds to 35,743 car journeys around the world.


In concrete figures, replacing single-use containers with our sustainable solution for bananas means a saving of 154,697 MT CO2e. These figures are based on the import volume of bananas from South America to Europe and were calculated using well-established tools. That's an impressive result. "This is a win for the environment, our customers and our operations," says Wittlich. "By switching to reusable packaging, significantly less carbon dioxide is generated and packaging waste is radically reduced."


In addition, by sharing the RPCs within IFCO's closed pooling system, the SmartCycle, the Banana Lift Lock consumes less energy and water over its entire life cycle than single-use packaging. The solution avoids waste on several levels. With the RPCs lasting up to a decade - and being 100% recycled into new IFCO RPCs when beyond repair - the SmartCycle is an ingenious circular economy model for banana packaging. A positive development for the environment and perhaps also a defining moment for the banana industry.


Expert teamwork for supply chain challenges

While one of the key drivers of change is sustainability, in the world of supply chains, efficiency can never be neglected. This is particularly true in the banana supply chain, which is a complex logistical system involving numerous actors, including growers, suppliers, importers and retailers.


To ensure that the Banana Lift Lock fits into the company's sophisticated concept and supports a smooth logistical process, Penny initially carried out tests with preselected Packstations and selected Penny stores. In these branches, the bananas were tested in the Banana Lift Lock with very positive results.


The requirements and standards at Penny were high. To be accepted, the Banana Lift Lock had to function on multiple levels and fit seamlessly into Penny's established operations. In addition, it should meet the strict criteria for the BioHelden brand, the company's organic range, and protect the sensitive fresh products from damage during transport.


How a more efficient supply chain avoids waste Above all, the joint use of the Banana Lift-Lock solution via the closed pooling system IFCO SmartCycle should make the company's logistics processes even more efficient. In the case of PENNY, PDN (Plantaciones del norte) operates the plantation in the Dominican Republic and Biofrusan is the supplier/importer for Europe. Biofrusan started importing in the 1990s and is considered a pioneer in the trade of exotic organic fruits and nuts for the European markets.

Mariesa Hundt, Managing Director of Biofrusan, has a clear idea of sustainability and an environmentally friendly approach to the supply chain. "For me, it's not just about offering customers a healthier product with our organic range," says Hundt. "Conventional retailers are also striving for this. Rather, it is about keeping the overall ecological footprint of our company as low as possible. That's the most important driving force for us." For this reason, Hundt also supports the replacement of disposable packaging with long-term reusable solutions.


The decision for sustainability made easy

Realistic experiments are the expertise of Michael Meierhöfer, Vice President Sales, New Market Verticals at IFCO. With over 15 years of experience in the fresh food supply chain, including in North America, Latin America and Europe, Meierhöfer is familiar with the specific challenges of the banana supply chain. As the leader of the team that designed and adapted the reusable container for the banana chain, he is also the lead for the hands-on testing of the Banana Lift Lock.


Due to his expertise and experience, Meierhöfer was the ideal person to organize and evaluate the transport of Biofrusan bananas in the Banana Lift Lock in close cooperation with the Penny team. Meierhöfer worked closely with Penny, PDN and Biofrusan to ensure that the tests ran smoothly.


"What sounds like a dramatic change was actually easy to implement," says Meierhöfer. "That's because our development team follows a customer-centric and targeted innovation process. This approach ensured that the Banana Lift Lock was designed with the specific challenges of the banana supply chain in mind."


A cooler start to a long and demanding journey

As with any banana supply chain, the challenges start at the plantation. For Penny that means: in the Dominican Republic, on the PDN plantation. This is where the optimal properties of the Banana Lift Lock begin to take effect.


When it comes to harvesting, speed is of the essence. That's why the Banana Lift Lock was developed to quickly lower the temperature of the bananas. "Faster cooling reduces premature ripening and increases shelf life. This has a positive effect on the quality of the bananas," explains Meierhöfer.


"The superior design of our Banana Lift Lock provides better ventilation, making banana cooling much more efficient." But first the bananas have to be packed.


A smooth transition that starts with the banana packers

To ensure the excellent ventilation of the Banana Lift Lock is fully utilized, IFCO has teams of banana packing experts who train banana packers directly at their packing stations on the plantation. They offer hands-on and quick on-site training to ensure the packaging process runs efficiently.


But there is another reason for such support, as Meierhöfer makes clear. "Any change in an established process can be difficult for those affected to accept," he says. "That's why we spend a lot of time with the plantation workers on site, listening to their concerns, observing the way they work and supporting them in the transition."


It was important for the banana packers to be closely involved in the transition process and to see the positive impact of such a move. "The whole team understood the importance of being the first to pack the bananas in sustainable, reusable crates," says Luis Salazar, IFCO's banana packaging consultant, who operates in South America and supports trials and deployments . Salazar helped conduct the training sessions.


"We really valued their feedback and took their concerns seriously, so everyone felt they were responsible for changing the established system," explains Salazar. "It also helped that it was incredibly easy to get used to the new innovative way of packaging bananas."


The trials end with quality controls and evaluations

Crucially, the tailored on-site training ensures boxes are packed more efficiently and correctly. During the trials, the bananas were checked at the most important stages of the banana supply chain. Before packaging, before and after ripening and again at the POS. .


"In total, we carried out six large-scale trials with our RPCs from the plantation to the POS for the Penny pilot project," explains Meierhöfer. In each trial, a container with 1,100 Banana Lift Lock RPCs was shipped to Europe. "Each time, we have been able to demonstrate that when the delicate bananas are packed and transported in our RPCs, they arrive at their destination in a perfectly ripe condition." The trials confirm that with the right approach, waste can be avoided at every stage of the supply chain.


The trials end with quality controls and evaluations

Crucially, the tailored on-site training ensures boxes are packed more efficiently and correctly. During the trials, the bananas were checked at the most important stages of the banana supply chain. Before packaging, before and after ripening and again at the POS. .


"In total, we carried out six large-scale trials with our RPCs from the plantation to the POS for the Penny pilot project," explains Meierhöfer. In each trial, a container with 1,100 Banana Lift Lock RPCs was shipped to Europe. "Each time, we have been able to demonstrate that when the delicate bananas are packed and transported in our RPCs, they arrive at their destination in a perfectly ripe condition." The trials confirm that with the right approach, waste can be avoided at every stage of the supply chain.


Marc Oliver Roßmann, Senior Category Buyer Fruit, Flowers and Plants at Penny, also came to the same conclusion. "Thanks to the professional and comprehensive support provided by the IFCO experts on site on the plantation in the Dominican Republic, the changeover to the Banana Lift Lock went incredibly smoothly," says Rossmann. "In terms of quality, sustainability and supply chain efficiency, we are really impressed with the results."




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