By Mario Toneguzzi
Airwave has developed and patented* a modular produce fixture that includes scientifically-engineered trays that help reduce waste, shrink and improve produce sustainability.
The technology was first introduced to the market about a year ago.
“The efficiency of it just really clicked with us and with some of our customers. In the last year, since we started to introduce it, we’ve had some excellent customer acceptance,” said Peter Scanlon, a marketing consultant with Pan-Oston.
Brad McMullen, president of the Summerhill Market in Toronto, was looking for a better way to organize his bananas, create better optics for customers and increase the sustainability of his produce. Custom Airwave Banana Risers were installed. “We have a small crisis in our business. My bakery has run out of older bananas for baking from our produce department because apparently, we don’t have them anymore. My pastry chef has been freaking out!”
And in a testimonial, Santino West, president of Ambrosia Market in Toronto, said: “We selected Airwave for our new store on Avenue Road, as we felt the Airwave technologies were consistent with our approach of providing a more sustainable environment for our produce, thus eliminating waste and overall reducing shrink. The modular displays work well with our farmers market appeal and are flexible for our in-store needs.”
“The Airwave technologies were developed for produce management systems in two parts. The first part is the tray itself and the second part is the modular display tables and they really do operate as two different things because the Airwave trays could be retrofitted on existing displays as well to allow existing stores to experience the benefits of the Airwave concept” said Ray Gagne, founder of Airwave.
Kinwah Leung, President Kins Farm Markets, said, “Airwave modular display systems combined with their unique air flow controlled trays, allow us to keep our produce at the highest quality standards while providing the best possible customer optics.”
Trays are effective with refrigerated cases or produce table systems.
The Airwave tray was designed as a method to inhibit the browning reaction in produce, and effectively increase the shelf life of all foods. It’s an industry first produce system that incorporates patent pending airflow with impact and contact stress management all in one modular system.
The Airwave tray design provides a minimal amount of surface area in contact with the fruit through its proprietary foam ridgelines, providing minimal contact surface with the produce while protecting the fruit from impact stress. The basis around Airwave is a wave pattern with foam on top of each one of the waves and on the bottom of the waves it has air ducts which remove unwanted CO2 and Ethylene gases providing for maximal product life expectancy and flavour retention.
“Since we often stack the produce sometimes three or four high, we often do not rotate the produce effectively. For this reason the bottom layer or foundation needs to stay as healthy as possible to keep all the above stock viable – Airwave trays provide a solid healthy foundation to build upon,” said Gagne.
He said the displays themselves are very unique. Everything is modular and everything connects together. It’s very lightweight and flat packed so stores don’t have to deal with the big heavy-duty wooden displays anymore. It’s mobile and can be moved anywhere around the store.
“We’re trying to introduce as much airflow as possible for the produce to reduce shrink rate and how we do that through the displays is the trays hook and latch with an open environment base. All you have is a tubular structure that they hook into so airflow has constant flow underneath them,” said Gagne. “Between the displays and the trays, you’re able to outfit any type of situation for produce or what they call the dry produce area. Additionally we have adapted asparagus trays, pot holders and a variety of banana rack systems to provide options to the store owners”.
The system has now gone into the refrigerated and the packaged area. We found that even the herbs in perforated packages had tons of condensation because there was no airflow being trapped in plastic trays. As a result, herbs and other vegetables in refrigerated areas have been put into Airwave trays resulting in much less condensation in the packages.
“Because we’ve now affected sustainability and the ripening factor has been delayed, we now have a direct impact on taste. This is due to the reduced burn rate of sugar and starches required for carbohydrate production by the produce post-harvest. Our first studies that are coming off now, Airwave product trays produce better tasting fruit and vegetables,” added Gagne.
“Airwave is a relatively new innovation. This was all within the last year,” he said. “We’re probably in approaching 100 stores or so. It’s from the high, high, larger store groups. Inadvertently we’ve had a big focus on the organic area because they’ve accepted this much quicker than the large stores due to their minimal use of pesticides and need for produce sustainability once in the stores”
Another advantage of using the Airwave system involves the way new produce is repacked on the grocery aisles. Right now, the produce clerk uses a dolly or a low flat top cart to transfer the boxes of produce to the floor. With an average aisle of 4.5 feet, the clerk makes it difficult for carts and shoppers to pass by without hindrance. Also, since this process requires excessive time to pick through and rotate stock while picking appropriate good quality fruit from the boxes, the clerk usually ends up just topping off the produce bins with new stock instead of rotating the entire bin. This causes produce decay and is a detriment to both future purchases as well as present purchases while the clerk is in the aisle.
The hook and latch assembly of Airwave makes for an easy transfer to and from the displays. This functionality combined with a unique Airwave Produce Transfer Cart provide an easy and time conscious way to handle the changeover of produce. New stock is placed in the Airwave trays in the back room – this allows the clerk to weed out bad fruit and to position the fruit for maximum visual presentation on the trays. Then they position the trays on one side of the tall and narrow Airwave push cart for transfer to the floor. Once at the location on the floor the clerk simply replaces the existing trays with the ones from the back room. Then the clerk can pick through the trays in the back room to secure any “good” fruit to be reallocated the next rotation.
This ensures minimal aisle blockage, brief time during transfer and most importantly provides fresh stock at all times without ignoring the bottom fruit or produce. Airwave trays are all stackable for easy back room storage and transfer carts are designed to easily fit side by side in cooler environments.
Airwave has done a very effective job of integrating all the accessory elements like scales, bag holders and signage systems.
Additionally we have adapted ice / water tray systems, asparagus trays, small herb pot holders and a variety of banana rack systems to provide options to the store owners”
“In discussions with our food retail customers, we have been hearing a lot about waste”. “The difference with Airwave is remarkable,” said Glen Bonner of Pan-Oston.
At plant open houses, information events, workshops and customer meetings over the past few years getting customer feedback about changing conditions and trends has been invaluable and insightful.
“Pan-Oston has seen significant changes over the past forty years. But the key is how we reacted to it. We had solid relationships with most retailers across Canada with the checkout counters we manufactured. In the last five or six years, we have been expanding into other areas, including millwork, refrigerated specialty cases and millwork display fixtures.
In our fixturing discussions, we have been hearing a lot about waste and no question the produce area has become a larger focus in grocery retail. The living edges of the store are a much better position for the retailer from a margin and traffic standpoint. With the interest on going online you can get a lot of the cans and boxes and bags, but the focus for most of the retailers is reducing the center of store and increasing the fresh take-home products, ready to eat meals, those types of things. This was a natural progression for us to take the product line and have an answer for some of those retailers,” said Bonner.
Gagne said the produce side of the business is certainly the most profitable of any grocery store and where customers are drawn in.
“We went with Pan-Oston not only because Airwave is a complementary product line to their existing base, the real factor is because Pan-Oston carries with it a weight of credibility, they’ve been around for years and years in the business and that’s really the representation we wanted to see with Airwave. This is a well-founded, research-based technology but it’s an educated sale. We’re not looking to direct mail house this. This comes with it obviously some education and some knowledge and we want to really try and change the industry and educate the industry and why it is really important to look at waste,” said Gagne.
“You can buy a plastic tray but if you just take 30 seconds and understand the differentiation you can make an impact and not just in your store but across the country. And for us, the best partner to bring that message to the street was Pan-Oston simply because they played the same role in educating people with their checkout counters and such for years and years. And this is a perfect delivery system for the Airwave as we start to launch it throughout North America.”
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Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: email@example.com.