One of Australia’s biggest suppliers of avocados is stepping up its supply chain monitoring in a bid to improve fruit qualityand reduce wastage.
Already supplying about 20 per cent of the Australian avocado market,TheAvolution’sdecision to apply more analysis to its supply chain management,using the expertise of Australian companyEscavox, maysoon deliver greater access to export opportunities.
Antony Allen, chief executive of TheAvolution, said the gains for his business would be achieved by assessing every link in the cool chain from packhouse to retail shelf and making quickadjustments as the information is relayed in real time.
“It’s like closed-circuit television for your supply chain,” Allen said. “For us it’s a tool that gives us the information to share with all of our supply chain partners so that we can do better at every point of the supply chain journey.
“It’s giving us the ability to refine and improve all of the supply chain management processes- essentially a whole of cool chain responsethat has quality for the consumer at its heart.”
Seeing through ‘virtual eyes’
The supply chain assessment has been made possible by the team atEscavox, afresh food knowledge business established in 2018.
In that time,Escavoxhas developed its business modelandproprietary hardware, known as theEscavox‘blue box tracker’, which is deployed with selected produce.
The technology not only tracks thelivemovement of produce but also logs the conditions to which it has been exposed to as it travels from farm gate to retail shelf.
Nicola Sanderson, chief operating officer of Escavox, has overseenTheAvolution’sprogramme since it commenced in March 2019. Sandersonsaid the service providedindependent and objective dataon the key areas impacting fresh produce qualitypost-harvest,relatingtotime, temperature and location.
“The data helps our customers maximise the quality and value of their fresh produce by allowing them to proactively monitor and optimise their cool chain performance” Sanderson said. “The live data is automatically compared to best practice post-harvest temperature so the impact to the produce can beassessed.
“Our customers then use the data in two ways: powerful and instant operational control through the liveEscavoxinterface, and through our analyticsportal to inform strategic decisions around cool chain capacity and capital investment.”
Managing2.5m trays of avocadosayear, or20 per cent of theAustralianavocado crop, TheAvolutionhas a massive logistics network supporting the transportation ofavocados from120farms in every mainland state to hubs in Brisbane and Melbourne, where the produce isconsolidatedunderTheAvolutionbrandand thenre-distributedto fulfil orders in the retail, wholesale and foodservice channels.
Supplying the domestic market is a 12-month operation, with the peak of the season in northern Australia running from February to October,andWestern Australia and southernAustraliapicking upfrom November to January.
Allen said theEscavoxtechnology had given him and his team ‘virtual eyes’ over thelogisticsoperation.
“TheEscavoxsystem gives you with pinpoint accuracy the information that enables you to go to the heart of a problem,” he said.
“Nobody can tell you that it’s not their issue when you have the independent information to hand telling you exactly what’s gone wrong, when it has occurred and where.
“It means everyone is on the same page when there’s a challenge to be met or a problem to be addressed because you have a verifiable trace of where the product has been,how long it spent there anditsconditionthrough every step of the process.”
Allen said the next step forTheAvolutionwas deploying theEscavoxtechnologyinsideits shipping containers bound for overseas ports, which currently include Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
TheAvolutionsends about 11 per cent of its inventory to these destinations, which equates to about one-third of Australia’sexported avocados.
Allen is confident the data from theEscavoxsystem will give him the intelligence he needs to expand thecurrentinternational footprint.
“Oncewe have the data tohand,we will have a clearer picture of how we need to treat the fruitto maximise travelling distance while ensuring that quality is not compromised,” he said.
“That will give us greater confidence when we assess who we can ship to internationally without compromising the integrity of our brandas a supplier of high-quality avocados. It opens up our options in terms of pursuing additional export markets in the future.”
With the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic currently straining international supply chains, Allen concedes his company may need to move slower on the international assessment. Heacknowledges there is still more visibility of the domestic supply chain legs that can be achieved using theEscavoxtechnology.
“We started this project withEscavoxlast year as a trial in New South Wales. We’ve now rolled this out to 50 per cent of our operation where we have a blue box tracker in every second pallet that leavesone ofour18packing shedsacross the country,” Allen said.
“The next step is deploying one in the bin in the paddock at the time of harvest. Weare really keento start the monitoring as early in thesupply chainjourney as we can.”
A cool hand
Allen said theEscavoxtechnology had also allowed The Avolutionto work with its cool chain partners on a baseline refrigeration calibration to achieve temperatureconsistency on the journey from farm to packing hub and then onwards to the customer – a trip oftenin the order of thousands of kilometres.
“We would not have been able to take this request to our supply chain partners without this data andanalysisfromEscavox,” Allen said.
“Temperature management on transport needs to be carefully watched, as do the points when food is moving from one point to another. This is where you’re likely to get temperature inconsistencies.
“Ripening management is another area where we’ve been able to make some tweaks, especially as we move through the year anddifferentvarietiescome onto the market, such as changingfrom Shepherd to Hass.
“We’re looking to improve quality, improve compliance and reduce the anomalies.We want to treat the fruit in a way every time that allows fora consistency of high quality to bethe most probableoutcome.”