Lost on the loading dock. How long supermarket supply chains strip fruit and veg of taste and nutrition

Lost on the loading dock. How long supermarket supply chains strip fruit and veg of taste and nutrition

Dec 05, 2023Jonathan Englert

Did you know that those apples that you bought in the supermarket have sometimes been sitting in a warehouse for up to a year? You might naturally expect fresh food to be actually fresh, but that’s simply not the case often.

Unfortunately for us all, the supply chain of supermarket produce is often very long. As a result, so-called fresh “vegetables lose up to 45% of their nutritional value between being picked and landing on a grocery shelf”. It also just doesn’t taste as good. No wonder it’s hard to get kids into vegetables sometimes. 

How Does This Happen?

A lot of produce finds itself spending lots of time on pallets in loading docks, based on how long supply chains can viably keep them in storage before hitting the shelves. That varies from produce to produce. For example, pears and kiwi fruit can be stored for up to nine months and oranges and plums for up to six weeks. However, while suppliers might be able to keep the produce for this length of time, and it still look good on the shelves, the more time between harvest and consumption, the more of the fruit or vegetables’ natural nutrients are lost. 

This is because once a piece of produce is harvested, it is cut off from its plant, vine or tree which is the original source of nutrients. As time passes, while the produce is stored, waiting to be sold and eaten, it slowly decays. However, during this time, the fruit and veggies continue to breathe. While respirating, organic materials such as proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats are broken down, leading to a loss of texture, flavour and nutrients.

Why Do They Do This?

Supply chains might hold on to produce for good reasons. As fruit is seasonable, it’s not normal for it to be available all year long, but modern supply chains can overcome this to an extent. To meet the constant demand, fruit and veggies are harvested closer to peak ripeness and then frozen in this state. It is then able to be stored and defrosted until it is naturally in season again. 

But perhaps we need to be more comfortable with the seasonality of produce and learn to enjoy the variety of a full year of fresh produce instead. That’s what many of the pros would prefer: ''I hate the idea of cold storage; my idealism would say we make the most of something in the peak of its season. We use it as much as we can and then we go on to the next item”, said Australian chef and author Maggie Beer, ''Consumers are so used to having everything available all the time they are becoming out of touch. If only people knew how much better things taste when they are in season they would be jumping on it”.

And, at times to make these supply chains work, things do sometimes take a turn for the risky. For example, potentially damaging inorganic chemical preservatives such as 1-methylcyclopropene, sulphur dioxide and sulfites are often added to  produce to keep it looking perfect for a long period of time, diminishing its nutritional value further. They are also often waxed to help with their cosmetically perfect appearance – adding even unnecessary inorganic chemicals and more time to the process.

What Can I Do About All Of This?

So all of this information begs the question: How can I get my hands on fruits and veggies that haven’t spent lots of time in supply chains? Better supply chains are the answer! The more efficient supply chains focus on getting the produce from the farm to the customer with a minimum of steps inbetween, and running what is called “just in time” supply, meaning that the product is acquired and delivered to the customer only when it’s needed. This approach means that the use of warehousing and storage is kept to an absolute minimum. 

It means that sometimes out of season produce won’t be available, but the upshot of this is that the produce that is delivered will be nutritious, jam-packed with flavour, and give you the opportunity to enjoy the best that Australia has to offer. 

 This is what you can look forward to when our Fuglies arrive at 6:30am in the morning. They’re packed in your box by midday and sent on their way to your doorstep. Our supply chain is so efficient that your Good & Fugly box will often be filled with produce that was picked just that morning! Now that’s something you won’t get at a supermarket.

Photo by George Kedenburg III on Unsplash

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