Keeping up with demand has meant a huge dedicated team effort; food manufacturers, growers and packers ensuring availability of food, and providers of packaging, which keep it fresh and protect it from damage, playing a key role too.
This has been seen recently more than ever, since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, as the dynamics of the fresh food supply chain have been put under the spotlight.
Thanks to supplies kept in strategically placed warehouses nationwide close to many of its customers, Produce Packaging has ensured continuous availability, so food reaches the retailers and other customers as soon as possible.
“We saw a huge increase in demand before the UK went into lockdown as consumers stocked up and started to eat almost exclusively at home,” says Produce Packaging projects manager, Jeremy Sharp.
“Supermarkets have been getting good press on their response to the new challenges, retailers have thanked the suppliers, and we have had customers – food manufacturers, growers and packhouses – thank us for our response, which is a lovely birthday present.”
As part of its continued commitment to its customers, with the backing of parent company H L Hutchinson Ltd, Produce Packaging is celebrating by investing in improving its facilities and infrastructure.
This includes an extensive upgrading and expansion of the Kent headquarters that will be opened later this year and the recent installation of three further box erecting machines, two in Kent and one in Scotland.
Looking back, Jeremy reflects on the growth of Produce Packaging, starting out in 1980 as Produce Packaging (JHS) Ltd, providing wooden apple and pear crates for growers in Kent, then moving into corrugated cardboard boxes for general top fruit packaging in the South East of England.
“Ten years later JHS was bought out, and Produce Packaging Ltd continued its expansion, becoming the UK agent for Huhtamaki La Rochelle, providing pulp cavity fruit trays.
Purchased by H.L. Hutchinson Ltd in the late ninetines, Produce Packaging expanded sales into East Anglia and the Midlands, working out of Wisbech and Ledbury as well as Marden.”
In 1999, the company ceased manufacturing packaging and focused on distribution. As the company expanded, so did its packaging range, which grew to include fruit cavity liners, pre-pack trays, films, punnets, bags, labels and boxes.
“We had been providing a full range of moulded fibre pre-pack trays since 1999, but when our Dutch supplier moved out of this market in 2012, we approached Cullen Packaging Ltd in Scotland, with whom we have since developed a very close relationship and in partnership we have grown this market enormously.”
A packaging revolution occurred not long after Produce Packaging started providing plastic punnets for soft fruits, sourced from Waddington Europe based at Arklow in Ireland.
“Punnets had historically been lidded or flow-wrapped, but the majority are now heat sealed with a film lid; thanks to a footprint designed to fit the retailers returnable crates, the industry made a real leap forward.
“Working with Waddington Europe and working in recycled and recyclable RPET material, we have been able to offer a real alternative to the historical manufacturer led supply chain.
“With stock in our stores, lead times and order volumes could be dramatically reduced for our customers.”
Looking ahead to future potential customers, Jeremy notes that the environment is a key focus, so the company will ensure products are as sustainable as possible.
A growing relationship with CKF of Canada, manufacturers of the cellulose based Earthcyle range, Trenton Box Co Ltd, suppliers of carton board punnets and trays and Robert Cullen Ltd manufacturers of moulded fibre (paper pulp) trays, has allowed Produce Packaging to provide some real alternatives to plastic.
“Most recently we have applied our experience and that of our suppliers to the prepared food and the beverage industries. It is likely that over the next ten years, markets will change again, the food and beverage industry will be demanding more packaging for home delivery, not just in times of difficulty as we are witnessing currently.
“Wherever the markets go, we look forward to leading the industry in service and innovation for our clients as we continue on a fantastic journey.
“We are proud to be involved in UK food production, and we will continue to do everything that we can to support front-line manufacturers, growers and packers to provide safe and reliable food supplies.
“At Produce Packaging we are totally committed to helping our customers keep the supply of fresh food available to everyone.”