Oct 01, 2017

Is 'Gate To Plate' an Actual Thing?

Being deeply ingrained in any industry sector for decades means you get to see some things come and go and others hang around a bit longer. One such example the team at Jenkins Freshpac have been trying to unpick is the whole ‘gate to plate’ philosophy trending over the last few years. As a cornerstone to produce labelling and packaging systems in New Zealand it is natural they would see themselves as a key stakeholder in this discussion, and quite possibly a facilitator of the solution.

There are certainly some undisputable components to the ‘gate to plate’ conversation:

  • We know that food safety is becoming a growing driver of what information needs to be wrapped around our food exports
  • We know that the need for traceability through the supply chain is high on the radar for many governing bodies, and therefore this is effecting how we operate and will continue to influence the evolution of packaging and labelling of food products we export
  • We know that with each emerging generation and along with it the technologies being dropped into the market, mean that information is not just available, but instantaneously so.

What we cannot be entirely clear on is where the consumer sits in amongst this discussion. Naturally if you ask a consumer if they would like their food to be produced and sent to market safely, there is only one likely response so let’s save ourselves the effort on that survey. Equally, if you ask the consumer if they would like visibility back down the supply chain to evidence safety and or sustainability practices of the players in that chain you will likely get a similar response.

But what about actions? There are some parts of the food production cycle that are mandatory for safety and hygiene purposes, such as the various standards under the watch of the Ministry for Primary Industries. Then there are parts that are required of stakeholders and exceed the mandatory requirements, but provide certainty to a partner e.g. Zespri require kiwifruit packhouses to maintain BRC accreditation. And then there are totally self driven requirements such as Biogro certification or certified sustainable crops such as coffee.

So why can’t we just tell our customer about this stuff and show the relevant insignia rather than the growing perception that we need to show them deep inside our compliance minefield? If we go through all of the effort of providing variable codes or RFID tagging on packaging that link a consumer with the supply chain to furnish them till their heart is content with all the information they could want, will they actually take advantage of this? Does the consumer REALLY want to see the paper trail confirming that your seeds were not genetically modified, the beans were grown on a Biogro certified property, packed in a BRC accredited facility and packaged in starch based compostable plastic wrap that was sourced from Thailand using ethical labour and without deforesting? There is of course a loaded tone in that scenario, but the conversation deserves to be challenged nonetheless.

As a producer we need to 100% ensure that our business operates as both it should and as we describe it to others, and in many cases, like BRC and Biogro, documentation held supporting this to satisfy audits etc. But to consumerise that information could be quite complex and if it involves maintenance of another system it will be dangerous as it will need to be totally accurate and available at all times. Far from impossible, quite the opposite in fact – but a scary proposition for anyone other than Fonterra or Nestle.

Instead of investing $20-$40k in unpicking this with some costly research the team at Jenkins Freshpac Systems have decided to dive straight in and in test a theory. “We have a gut feeling that if you make some information available to the customer, the mere fact they COULD go and look at it will be enough for them to be confident in the product, and very few will actually take the opportunity to do so” says Jolene Mackie, General Label & Tags sales at Jenkins Freshpac Systems. The team at Jenkins have decided to run a little experiment and invested in a simple but slick web based platform that anyone using their packaging labels can have access to free of charge. It does not delve into your supply chain but lets the consumer see behind your orchard or farm gate. See the property, understand where you are in the country and even meet the grower and their family if you wish. The theory is that if the grower is prepared to take the consumer to their kitchen table, then they must be trust worthy? “We appreciate it is a bit of a stretch from providing supply chain analytics, but depending on the traffic generated we will get a clear signal of how genuinely interested a consumer is to know more about the produce they are buying, and this could feed further investment to get this right.

If you are interested in accessing this technology and giving it a try, or just want to know more about how it works, contact Jolene Mackie on 021 404 027. The platform is 100% free to use while purchasing Jenkins packaging labels or tags and has no hidden costs.

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