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Ongoing project

Improving quality of sweetpotato across the industry supply chain (PW20000)

Key research provider: Kitchener Partners

What’s it all about?

This project is improving the quality of sweetpotato across the industry by engaging key stakeholders across the value chain including growers, wholesalers and retailers so quality can be monitored and maintained in the long term.

To achieve this, the project will investigate pre- and post-harvest quality issues for Australian sweetpotatoes and develop a business case for quality improvements in the supply chain. This will be developed through supply chain quality reviews on-farm in Queensland and at retail level in Victoria, mimicking a typical supply chain.

Industry adoption of the recommendations will be driven through direct engagement, newsletters and grower roadshows. The program will subsequently monitor adoption of these recommendations by industry.

Over the past six months, the project team has reported progress in the following areas:

  • A draft Quality Improvement Plan has been developed. The intention is to engage with growers during December to February, when many will be quieter from a production perspective, and engage with the retailers in February 2023 when they have completed the busy Christmas trading period and January leave. The aim is to encourage each part of the supply chain to understand that there is a shared responsibility in improving on-shelf quality and customer experience, to build demand and consumption of sweetpotatoes, with each part of the supply chain doing their bit. The focus for growers will be to reduce skin damage and skinning (which leads to dehydration) and for retailers to focus on stock management in store and correct temperature management.

  • Weekly performance reports have been sent to ALDI, Coles and Woolworths Buying and Technical Teams (and the PRG growers), de-identified to protect confidentiality. The quality reports detail major and minor defects, in line with the retailers’ specifications. Results are published online with new results updated within 24 hours of collection.
    • Each retailer is provided with a weekly summary of their performance to assess how their performance compares to the industry average. Discussions are held regularly with supermarket buyers, category managers and product technologists as necessary to explain the results and answer questions.

  • Inspection data is now being provided by all retailers. Sweetpotatoes are still not a high-focus quality product line for the retailers due to its niche status and (mistaken) belief that they can be handled as a potato, held at low temperatures and infrequently rotated on-shelf. To help the retailers understand the importance of proper stock rotation and on-self management, the Project Team is trying to access the retailers’ waste data (the difference between DC deliveries and scanned sales). This will demonstrate the true cost to their businesses of poor quality (and lost customer sales). The retailers are reluctant to provide this data, however, avenues are being explored to obtain this data.

  • Escavox trackers are now being used to help better understand points within the supply chain impacting quality. 880 tracks will be used by six growers (in Queensland and NSW) over a 12 month period, and this will cover supply to the majors (ALDI, Coles and Woolworths). The key results so far are:
    • Temperature control over the last 3 months is less variable than previously. 1.8°C variation v’s 2.4°C variation.
    • Fewer tracks are recorded as ‘too cold’.
    • More tracks are successfully pre-cooled prior to shipping.
    • Average humidity is within the ideal range of 89% RH.
    • Chilling below 12°C is very rare prior to retail delivery, but common once in the Retail Network. Produce sent to NT will have significant damage.
    • On average, temperature control was still poor with only 75% of time spent in ideal conditions between 12°C-20°C.

During this reporting period, the following milestones were achieved:

  • Identification of pre and post-harvest quality issues for the Australian sweetpotato industry at source, retail and consumer level.
  • Development of a roadmap and business case that outlined the key solutions to the issues identified. This included an analysis of the commercial opportunity for the industry to adopt a quality improvement program.
  • Updated the Australian Sweetpotato Growers website.
  • Direct engagement with retailer and processor participants (as funded) in relation to the quality improvement plan.
  • Development of reports on the longitudinal quality data and trends.

Related levy funds

This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Sweetpotato Fund