The German discounter has worked with Ifco and importer Biofrusan to eliminate non-returnable packaging used to bring fruit in from the Dominican Republic

Penny bananas Ifco

Penny sells organic bananas under the BioHelden label

German discount chain Penny says it has become the first retailer in the world to eliminate single-use packaging from its organic banana supply chain.

Instead, all of the bananas it sells under the BioHelden brand are shipped in a reusable container called the Banana Lift Lock, developed by returnable plastic crate (RPC) specialist Ifco.

According to the retailer, other banana categories are likely to follow in the future. “Just because something has been done the same way for decades, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved,” says Nico Wittlich, the chain’s head of ultra-fresh category management.

Replacing one-way containers for its organic bananas apparently saves almost 155,00 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

“This is a win for the environment, our customers and our operations,” says Wittlich. “Switching to reusable packaging will generate significantly less carbon dioxide and radically reduce packaging waste.”

Penny’s organic bananas are sourced by an importer called Biofrusan from Plantaciones del Norte, the largest producer of organically grown bananas in the Dominican Republic.

Mariesa Hundt, managing director of Biofrusan, says her company takes a “planet-friendly” approach to its supply chain operations.

“For me, it’s not only a matter of offering customers a healthier product with our organic range,” she says. “Conventional distributors aspire to do this too. It’s more about keeping the total overall environmental footprint of our company as low as possible. This is the main driver for us.”

Penny PDN Biofrusan bananas Dominican Republic

Importer Biofrusan sources Penny’s organic bananas from the Dominican Republic

Lock and load

The Banana Lift Lock crates are designed to align perfectly when shipped, with up to 55 on a pallet. Each one weighs an average of 18.14kg, which apparently means each container can carry an extra 363kg of bananas.

According to Penny, Ifco’s closed-loop RPC system and its circular business model (known as SmartCycle) means less energy and water is used over the crate’s lifespan compared with single-use packaging.

The crates are said to last for up to a decade, and completely recycled into new Ifco RPCs when they can no longer be repaired.

“What sounds like a dramatic shift, was in fact simple to implement,” explains a spokesperson for Ifco. “This is because our development team follows a customer-centric and purposeful innovation process. This approach ensured the Banana Lift Lock was designed with the specific challenges of the banana supply chain in mind.”

Bananas are not the only items of fresh produce sold by Penny that are transported in returnable crates.

As far back as 2015, it started to use another model called the Black Lift Lock to transport fresh fruit and vegetables from suppliers to stores.