Do the Right Thing (Right): A Guide to Sustainability in the Fresh Produce Business

There is a strong business case for sustainability. Sustainable operations help fresh produce companies to establish a long-term position as a trusted partner for internal and external stakeholders. But the potential benefits differ widely among companies. The fresh produce business as a whole can deliver a positive contribution to a sustainable food system, as fruit and vegetables are a relatively nutritious source of food with relatively low environmental impact.

Water, Waste, Packaging, Chemicals, and Energy Are the Main Areas of Concern

Given that sustainability is achievable in many different areas, companies are advised to focus on a handful of sustainability goals. According to our industry survey, the top-five areas of concern in the fresh produce industry are currently water, food waste, packaging, chemical use, and energy consumption – and there are still major steps that need to be taken with regard to all of these areas. Both biology and technology provide interesting (new) solutions to deal with these challenges. To make larger leaps forward, more radical changes might be needed. Future production systems will undoubtedly look very different to the ones in use today.

But let’s not forget about the people! Rabobank believes that issues concerning people – not only the planet – should also be top-of-mind. In particular, since food and horticulture workers travel everywhere to feed consumers’ desire for a large variety of fruit and vegetables. Leading industry players are already stepping up their due diligence processes to ensure their supply chain is ‘right’ – with many others to follow suit.


Measuring Up…

Large industry players, retailers, and NGOs fill some of the gaps that governments do not cover – for example, by requiring suppliers to implement certain certification schemes. In order to better identify opportunities and challenges, and track sustainability achievements, metrics are needed. In fruit and vegetables, the use of footprinting tools and the like is still in its infancy. Cooperation on an industry level, preferably internationally, could spur the development of acknowledged and easy-to-use tools, thereby helping industry players to make real progress when it comes to sustainability.

… to Be Prepared

Transparency is essential for any business wanting to truly incorporate the values associated with sustainability. To do the right thing right and to communicate this, metrics are indispensable. A few retailers have recently announced plans to communicate the environmental impact of (part of) the products to shoppers. Eventually, this could impact the competitive positions of suppliers. Be prepared!

In our report, you can find many more insights into the various sustainability issues, along with the available tools that companies can use to select priorities, and track and measure sustainability efforts. Various compelling examples as to how companies deal with sustainability – only the tip of the iceberg in the fresh produce industry – are shown throughout the report. A free download is available at