perennial packaging dilemmas

We probably get more comments about packaging than anything else at River Nene. We try very hard to keep the level of packaging we use down to a minimum, but we always have to balance the desire to avoid packaging with the need to keep the fruit and vegetables fresh and well protected.

The boxes we use are made of waxed card. We had them specially designed to be robust, semi-waterproof and collapsible to try to make sure that we can recycle them as many times as possible. The punnets for the mushrooms and most of the tomatoes are causing us some consternation at the moment. We had them specially designed from waste paper pulp and we love the look of them; but each week it's like a scene from Psycho in the packhouse as the team here are forced to use knives to poke the little slots for the lid into the sides of the punnets. We then spend countless hours trying to insert the tabs of the punnet lids into the tiny slots - to make sure that the contents don't spill out into the boxes on their way to you. It really is a thankless task, that no one embarks on with any great enthusiasm on a Monday morning! I can't help but think that there is another way that could save us time, money and heartache and hopefully enable us to put a bit more produce in the boxes!

The biodegradable poly bags we use are predominantly to keep the vegetables as fresh as possible. For leafy products like spinach, chard, lettuce and rocket we have to stop the leaves from transpiring and losing water - in this heat it would be a matter of hours before they wilted away if unprotected. The carrots are bagged for two reasons. Firstly, it can help (depending on the time of the year) to stop them from drying and going floppy. We also try to make sure that we give you all a fair and even portion - so we pack the carrots through a machine into the bags to keep the weights about right. We are investigating an attachment that can put the vegetables into compostable nets, which we may trial with onions and carrots in the future. We are currently looking at all the packaging we use to see whether improvements can be made. If we do find that we might be able to do things better without compromising on quality - then I can assure you that we will give it a try.

Rob Haward