Traceability in Fruit and Vegetable Supply Chain

The fruit and vegetable supply chain is complex with an increasing demand for food safety and sustainable practices. They account for more than 10% sales in a super market of a country with their short product life being a major challenge. Supply chain digitization with Traceability is the right solution.
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What’s on my fruit and vegetable platter? 

The delicious apples from the Kashmir valley 

The juicy alphonso mangoes from Maharashtra 

The crunchy carrots from Ooty 

The spicy green chilies from Andhra Pradesh

Do you know how these fruits and vegetables reach your plate? Their journey starts from the moment a seedling is sown in the soil to the shelves of your supermarket.

A fresh fruit supply chain and vegetable supply chain is the need of the hour.

A farm to fork journey is a complex one with many processes and people in this food network. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of our daily diet. They contain vitamins and minerals which keep us healthy and resistant against diseases. 

India is the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. The diverse climate, availability of natural resources, urbanization, and changing lifestyles are favoring the growth of fruit and vegetable supply chains for the future.

According to Verified Market research, the fresh fruit and vegetable market size which was valued at USD 144 million in 2020 is projected to reach USD 211 million by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 5.14%.

The demand for healthy and nutritious food is also driving this food sector. India has the potential of becoming a leading supplier of fruits and vegetables both in the local and global markets. Building agile, robust, and efficient fruit and vegetable supply chains is the need of the hour to address food safety challenges.

Food for Thought

World wastes one-third of the food it produces

Fruits and vegetables have the highest wastage rate with approximately 45% being wasted worldwide

At least half of the fruits and vegetables produced are lost and wasted due to climatic variations, pests, storage, transport, and retail.

20 % of losses happen during packaging and transportation.

According to FAO, food loss and waste is the second highest cause of greenhouse gas emission and 1.3 billion tons of wasted food generates

According to World Bank estimates, a 1%reduction in post-harvest losses can achieve $40 million in economic gain.

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Supply Chain

The story of the fruits and vegetables is long starting from the seeds to the final product that hits the super market shelves. 

  • Pre- Harvest 

This includes the selection of crop varieties and seeds, planting schedule, farm management practices on usage of water, soil, nutrients, fertilizers and agro-chemicals. 

  • Harvest 

This covers the sorting, threshing and handling processes. Sorting of infected crops is important to prevent contamination of the remaining harvest. The handling of roots and tubers without cuts and bruises is important. Harvesting methods is critical to preserve the nutrients in these crops. The timing of harvest is important for efficient and quality crop yield. Harvest tracking of crops helps in planning for post-harvest activities. 

  • Market Planning for Post-Harvest 

This has the following stages like pre-cooling, ripening and sorting and grading. Pre-cooling helps in extending shelf life of products. A number of factors are taken into consideration during ripening. Manual grading is carried out following washing, dehydration and packaging.

  • Post-Harvest 

There are several treatments for the vegetables and fruits before packaging and storage. This is done to improve color, appearance and extending shelf life. It includes fumigation, acid dip, degreening, bio-pesticide treatment. On farm storage needs cooling chambers to keep the produce fresh for a short period. Packaging is an important link between the producer and the further processors. There is no pre-treatment and in some cases are transported without packaging due to the volume of non-edible portions. Packaging is done in baskets, gunny bags and corrugated boxes.

  • Transportation 

Temperature control of fruits and vegetables is important during transportation. Proper stacking and cushioning are critical to avoid sudden impacts. In some products, refrigeration is essential during transportation.

  • Storage 

Optimum temperature storage requirements are required for the wide range of fruits and vegetables grown. The quality of the product, a lot depends on temperature control

  • Processing 

This is further divided into Primary processing and Secondary processing. Primary processing activities include sorting, trimming, grading, washing, drying and packaging. There are a number of machineries, equipment and technologies used in these processes. The secondary processes include preservation techniques and value addition. Drying is the most traditional method used. Osmotic dehydration is a prevalent method used for some produce. Value-added products include syrups, concentrates, jams, juices, sauces, candies, pickling, and many more. Some products are also fermented to realize alcoholic drinks. There is also a large number of byproducts generated during these processes. A number of value-added products can be produced like dietary fiber, vinegar, and oil.

  • Distribution and Marketing 

The produce is distributed to different channels which could include wholesalers, supermarkets, retailers, food services, and end consumers.

Murky Challenges of the Fruit and Vegetable Supply chain

  • Pre-harvest challenges 

Unavailability of quality seeds and crop varieties to suit growing conditions 

Inefficient farm management practices 

Weather uncertainties 

Excessive usage of fertilizers 

Absence of cooperatives prevents farmers to negotiate for better prices for their produce. 

Lack of credit facilities for farmers fosters deforestation and raises sustainability issues. 

  • Post-harvest challenges 

Losses due to threshing and handling. 

Poor timing of harvest or delay affects levels of ethylene which in turn affects post-harvest shelf life of products. 

Maturity at the time of harvest affects extent of aflatoxin contamination for grains which cannot be used as feed. 

Failure in sorting results in contamination and discarding of batches. 

Inability to harvest few crops provides a breeding ground for rodents affecting other crops. 

Lack of infrastructure, transport, labor shortage, lack of information on best practices and insufficient credit facilities. 

Lack of cold storage facilities 

Losses due to spillage and unhygienic handling 

Storage losses due to pests, rodents and moisture content. 

  • Processing Losses 

Absence of processing facilities 

Loss of vitamins and minerals 

Food wastage 

Noncompliance in food safety and labelling standards. 

Defective packaging. 

It is estimated that about 30% of fruits and vegetables grown are wasted annually leading to farmer unrest and volatility in prices. Improved Supply chain management is the need of the hour.

Check the 5 factors that affect Food supply chain management

Traceability in fruits and vegetable supply chain

The creation of a robust seed-to-shelf traceability for the fruit and vegetable supply chain by incorporating technology will link together the farmers and the other actors in the supply chain to ensure the availability of safe and quality produce to the end consumer. The growing problems on food safety due to disease outbreaks and food contamination necessitate product recalls to ensure public health. Targeting these product recalls is crucial to take immediate action and prevent wastage and economical losses.

The solution to these problems is. 

  • Reduction of product losses at all stages in the supply chain 
  • A single collaborative platform for all stakeholders to exchange data 
  • Streamlined flow of information of people, process and technology 
  • Transparency of the supply chain 
  • Track and Trace systems to target product recalls 
  • Consumer satisfaction on quality of produce 
  • Credibility and verification of sustainable practices. 

A traceable solution with all these requirements will build a transparent, reliable, and robust supply chain.

Check our 5 step approach to food traceability.

  • Each stakeholder in the chain should be able to identify the supplier and customer of the traceable produce. The participants should collect, record and share this information on a single platform. 
  • The growers must maintain records of information like farm management practices, crop management practices including crop protection materials, harvesting data and other input resources used. 
  • Unique identification of the produce is a must for traceability in forward and backward directions. 
  • Internal and external traceability is required at all stages, among all stakeholders in the value chain. 
  • Labelling showing the traceable lot number should be present in a package item 
  • As the produce travels to the processor, information like batch details, harvest dates and details of the trucks where these lots were loaded is important to enable traceability. 
  • There are a number of processes involved in the processing stage. The batch identification is critical for inventory management. The processes should get streamlined to get visibility and ensure traceability at any point in this stage. 
  • Labelling of the final end products with QR code technology gives an insight into the entire traceable journey that the produce travelled. 

TraceX helped the Vegetable and Fruit Production Council of India (VFPCK) to digitize their export journey of their product Nendran bananas to UK and prove adherence to strict regulatory standards.

Read more on the VFPCK customer story

Fruits and Vegetables Traceability for Blockchain

The supply chain of fruits and vegetables is complex and fragmented. Implementing blockchain technology in the fruit and vegetable supply chain addresses the consumer’s demand for food safety and quality. The end-to-end visibility and traceability help companies build trustworthy consumer brands.

Blockchain provides a single platform to capture and share data in real-time among the stakeholders, thereby ensuring trust and collaboration among them. The information is stored in decentralized and immutable digital ledgers. The data is recorded and stored in a verifiable manner and distributed across nodes simultaneously. As each stakeholder adds the data, every item will have a fully traceable history with established records. This data is shared among the players and thus builds consensus.

The farm to fork journey is captured at every stage proving the validity of the quality of the product. The transparency regarding the sourcing of raw materials and the fair share the farmers get facilitates the consumer to get engaged with that product. The consumer is assured of a quality and a sustainable product.

Smart contracts help in ensuring critical factors like temperature control, the freshness of produce, and contamination in this fresh food sector. Blockchain also addresses logistics and packaging issues, assuring a reliable, efficient and robust fruit and vegetable value chain.

TraceX’s blockchain traceability software help you to build safe, fruitful and sustainable chains of the future 

Copyright © 2021 Blockchain for Food Safety, Traceability and Supplychain Transparency

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