Beyond traceability and other food safety issues, fresh produce businesses in Kentucky and Tennessee are taking a hard look at sustainability measures, officials in both states say.
“Probably the biggest push is just sourcing local product as much as possible,” said Adam Watson, produce marketing specialist with the Frankfort-based Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Wholesalers in the states’ large markets have been pushing their own initiatives.
Some of the measures require just a little extra planning, said Kenny Pendergrass, vice president of purchasing for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Dixie Produce Inc.
“We’ve actually already started trying to rearrange use of some of our trucks,” Pendergrass said. “If I use my smaller trucks in a lot of these areas, it will use less fuel and save us money.”
Dixie has hired a consultant to advise it on how to use its fleet of vehicles more efficiently, Pendergrass said.
“We’ll probably redo our whole fleet over the next couple of years,” he said.
Transportation is a key component to Dixie’s sustainability measures, simply because of where the company is located, Pendergrass added.
“We are in the middle of a distribution area between Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville,” he said. “We service all those markets. We go all the way to Montgomery, Ala., and Asheville, N.C., to Virginia and eastern Tennessee. That’s why it’s so important for us to save money on fuel.”
Local deliveries will help achieve sustainability goals, as well, Pendergrass noted.
“If we don’t have to ship product from here, it’s not only savings for us having to freight it in, but the fact that we’re using product here in town is more green, as well,” he said.
Other wholesalers take their lead from customers.
Memphis, Tenn.-based Orbit Tomato Corp. cited an example.
“The chain grocery store we work with required us back in February to start using RPCs (reusable plastic containers), so we started using RPCs on all the tomatoes going to them,” said Lee Forcherio, general manager of Orbit Tomato. “They are slowly trying to change just about everything, from my understanding.”
Containers are changing elsewhere, as well, other wholesalers say.
“The main thing, I guess, is using less of a wax box and more of a regular paper box,” said Jesse Conrad, operations manager and buyer at M. Palazola Produce Co., Memphis.
Frank Campisano Jr., a salesman with Louisville, Ky.-based Frank A. Campisano & Sons Fruit Co., has noticed a similar change, but he said his company, like Dixie, is trying to be more efficient in transporting product.
“Some are making some attempts with different containers and boxes and recycled cardboard boxes,” he said. “Our biggest thing is always going to be transportation, and that’s going to be hard to overcome because it’s sourced from so many places.”
Louisville-based Grow Farms, which has a network of 20 growers, has moved toward Good Agricultural Practices certification on all of its operations, said Brian Knott, president.
“Our growers’ farms are GAP-certified,” he said. “A lot of that means certificates for things you have to do. All the growers, to keep sustainable, is our marketing. It’s not just one distribution center but several. Every farmer has their own projects. Some are using fuels that are biodegradable.”