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How can the supply chain of fruits and vegetables prioritize quality?

This may sound like an odd question; however, isn’t the food supply chain organized to meet consumers’ demands for a safe and quality product? For consumers to become priority in a supply chain, there has to be better coordination and integration between all stakeholders of the chain. More coordination is needed to demand and ensure products with minimum standards to provide quality and greater integration between in the chain, mainly between growers and retailers.


The lack of coordination in the fruits and vegetables chain is considered the main limitation for modernizing the sector. Without coordination, it is difficult to implement food standardization, traceability and safety. However, who holds responsibility to coordinate the chain? Is it the government, suppliers, growers’ coops, retailers or consumers? It is observed that all advances for the coordination of the fruits and vegetables chain are decentralized and led by isolated initiatives of companies. The lack of initiatives for the coordination between chain links, along with the lack of a thorough modernization project, limit benefits, such as quality, for the sector as a whole.


The first step to improve quality is the adoption of a single language in the chain, throughout standardization, which is much more than defining the size of the fruit and vegetable sector. Stablishing a quality standard means to guarantee characteristics and quality of products to growers, traders and consumers, providing a common language among the chain stakeholders. Nevertheless, why hasn’t the sector advanced is this basic requirement? The main reason is low demand from consumers combined with a limited classification infrastructure, which is concentrated at large-scale growers.


Some agents from the sector fear that standardization of procedures and processes in the sector will hamper the flow of products with lower quality. However, this argument is not based on economic factors, since the market enhances if the product is reliable.


The sector still does not have a standard regarding fruits and vegetables that allows pricing by objective and transparent criteria. For the sector to advance, two actions are crucial: pricing per weight and no trading of green fruits. This would ensure fewer pricing disparities along the chain and products with better quality.


The discussion regarding standardization is necessary, but it is far from consumers’ wishes in terms of quality, which includes appearance, maturation stage, and safety from toxic residues. This quality level will only attained with greater integration between growers and retailers.


One way to promote integration is be the adoption of “Minimum Handling”, which means the product is not to be handled after wrapping up at the farm of origin. Thus, all links in the chain would have to adjust to trade the product wrapped, including retailers. Besides, initiatives of standardization, traceability and convenience (packed product) could be encouraged with the “Minimum Handling” practice.


However, the question remains: who is to coordinate the chain with the Minimum Handling to benefit all? Some supermarket chains are already organizing with their suppliers to offer products that are no longer handled by the supermarket chain. Nevertheless, isolated initiatives need to be formalized it in the sector as a whole to be viable, focusing on quality.


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