Presentation boosts profits

Good presentation of fresh produce can make a huge difference to the profit margin writes Bill Kerr.
Issue date: 29 June 2009

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Good presentation of fresh produce can make a huge difference to the profit margin writes Bill Kerr.

With all the effort and expense you go to before harvesting a crop, you need to ensure that you get the maximum possible return. Farmers often assume buyers will recognise and pay for quality, regardless of presentation. A walk on any market floor will prove them wrong.
Often smaller farmers, far from the market, don’t see that other farmers get a higher price for the same quality, but better presentation. Whether on the market floor or in a supermarket, buying is based more on appearance than on eating quality. The buyer’s first glance is decisive. Here are some important aspects to consider.

Uniformity and alignment
Produce in a box or bag needs to be of uniform size and quality. Not only is symmetry attractive, but it’s much easier for the buyer to appraise its value. If buyers doubt the quality, they’ll offer less.
Farmers may reason it takes extra labour to sort produce, and tell themselves buyers benefit from various sizes in one package. But nobody is drawn to produce of mixed sizes, and the effort of sorting is usually compensated for by a higher price.
A neatly packed product looks better and immediately draws the buyer’s attention. Produce left on the market floor by day’s end will often be the badly packed stuff.
With cabbage packing, for example, you could throw the cabbages in a bag, or place each head with the stem-end facing diagonally downward, starting from the two corners, and then do the same at right angles to the first row and repeat to the top. This creates four rows aligned in the bag and looks far neater.
At an international carrot conference in France, we were amazed that even the best carrots were bundled into cellophane packs without aligning. This is accepted practice there, where labour is very expensive. The public has never seen anything different and has accepted it, but if just one producer aligned his carrots he’d get a market lead, and others would be forced to imitate him – something to remember when trying something different at greater expense.

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Packaging tips
When using cellophane packs for carrots, the thin orange stripes on the bag makes the carrots look more orange than they actually are.
Ideally the colour of a bag should match the colour of the produce – orange for carrots and green for cabbages. This enhances appearance at no extra cost.
But there can be exceptions. I have a client who markets superior quality cabbages using blue bags – his buyers easily recognise his consignments and know they can rely on the quality.
Attractive generic cartons can be ordered with standardised printing to enhance presentation. Producers in for the long haul should invest in their own distinctive packaging. When developing a brand name, maintain quality. Pack inferior or damaged produce generically and never take a chance that could erode your good name.
The buyer must be able to buy your brand with confidence.

Enhancing shelf life
Ensure your produce reaches the market in the best possible condition, and stays that way for as long as possible. Buyers will note whose products remain marketable the longest.
The first consideration is the cold chain. The most perishable products should be harvested early in the morning to benefit from the previous night’s cooling effect. Getting it off the land to a cool packhouse or cold room as soon as possible will make a big difference. Produce under cover can also be sprayed with water to keep it fresh and cool while waiting to be packed.
Microorganisms on the produce’s surface may cause post-harvest rot after packaging. Several products will combat these microbes and prolong shelf life. Dipping or spraying with a soluble wax solution will also protect against dehydration, and can transform ordinary tomatoes into long-life ones.
Think of product presentation as make-up – the beauty is always there, but a little make-up adds substantially to the appeal.     |fw