Monday, 9 March 2009

Flying fruit salad

The fruit salads in the photo were from Marks & Spencer in Huddersfield and the label says that they were air freighted, and packed in South Africa. The ‘classic fruit salad’ is ‘produce of more than one country’ and the chopped mango is ‘produce of various countries’. As always, unravelling the entire food supply chain is just too complicated, but these products could have been prepared at Lonhro Agriculture’s Rollex fruit processing and packing facility at Tambo Airport Johannesburg. This article from African Agriculture reports that this facility was expanded from 3,500 metres square to 4,908 metres square in 2008. From here, prepared fruit products are flown to Europe for major retailers including Marks & Spencer and Tesco. The revenues from the facility for the 2008 were 25 per cent higher than 2007, and a turnover of $20 million is anticipated for 2009.

Refrigeration technology has improved so even highly perishable fruit like blueberries and raspberries can have a long enough shelf life to be shipped rather than air freighted to distant markets. But sales of prepared fruit products like diced and sliced single fruits, and fruit salad are growing, and are an air freight growth sector. These products often include types of fruit like pineapple and apple with a longer shelf life. Cutting fruit makes it more perishable, but the shelf life is extended with modified atmosphere packaging, which some studies have shown to reduce levels of nutrients like vitamin C.

Shifting from air freight to shipping means major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Research of the environmental impacts of food transport by AEA Technology commissioned by Defra in 2005 showed that, even though air freight accounted for just one per cent of food tonne kilometres, this small proportion of food that is air freighted accounted for 11 per cent of the CO2 equivalent emissions from food consumed in the UK.

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