Packaging Solutions to Extend Shelf Life of Fresh Produce during Sea Freight

This Open Innovation challenge, delivered by the Global Alliance Africa project, is supporting the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) to find innovative ways to increase shelf life and enable longer transportation times for perishable goods. Their priority would be to use sea freight to transport fresh produce and flowers from Kenya to Europe, which is an increasingly attractive option when compared to air freight, which has reduced in capacity and is increasingly costly.


Challenge opens


Challenge closes



Successful applicants will be given the opportunity to pitch their solution to FPEAK members. The winning applicant, as selected by FPEAK will get the opportunity to collaborate with them on a trial project. Up to GBP 25,000 seed funding is available (subject to T&Cs) to the successful finalist/s for this collaboration.

The Challenge

The Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) seeks to find innovative ways to increase shelf life and enable longer transportation times for perishable goods. Their priority would be to use sea freight to transport fresh produce and flowers from Kenya to Europe, which is an increasingly attractive option when compared to air freight, which has reduced in capacity and is increasingly costly.
Solutions are invited from, but not limited to, the following sectors:

  • Agriculture
  • Packaging
  • Manufacturing
  • Refrigeration
  • Marine
  • Railways
  • Transport logistics
  • Food safety
  • Food
  • Gas supply
  • Data capture
  • Design

For additional details on the challenge and application process, please register here for the Information Session/Q&A at 9am BST / 11am EAT on Tue, 29th August.

FPEAK Background

The Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) is Kenya’s premier trade Association representing growers, exporters and service providers in the horticulture industry.

Formed in 1975, when export horticulture was in its infancy, the Association has grown to become Kenya’s foremost sectoral trade association. Members of the Association are involved in growing and/or exporting fresh-cut flowers, fruits, and vegetables. FPEAK provides a focal and coordination point for the horticulture export industry.

FPEAK supports growers and exporters by providing technical and marketing information and training, acting as an information centre, and runs active lobbying and advocacy programmes to enhance the sector’s competitiveness.

Its mission is to develop, unite and promote the Kenyan horticultural industry in the global market with due regard to safety, good agricultural practices, social, ethical and environmental responsibilities. FPEAK’s vision is to make Kenyan horticulture the Global choice. Its goals are to:

  • Influence enactment of a facilitative environment for the horticulture industry
  • Create awareness in the horticulture industry on market requirements, changes and regulations
  • Undertake continuous identification of market opportunities


Challenge Background

Currently beans, peas and other highly perishable crops are transported from Kenya to the UK/EU via air freight. There is a desire, due to the high costs and the environmental impact of air freight to explore how sea freight could be used as an alternative.

During the pandemic the cost to air freight cost of fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers from Kenya to the UK/ EU increased by about 100%, alongside significant capacity reductions. Since the pandemic, cost and capacity impacts can still be felt due to global economic factors like the Ukraine/Russia war.

Even after 3 years, there has only been a paltry reduction, with air freight rates remaining at 85% of their pandemic peak,. Furthermore, air capacity has not fully recovered and is around 70% of its previous levels. This pincer movement has caused issues for African exporters, and their peers worldwide. It has made air freight less commercially viable, and users are now exploring alternatives such as sea freight. This is a much cheaper and more sustainable alternative; however, it takes 20-30 days to travel from Kenya to UK/EU which causes freshness and perishability challenges for any produce exported.

FPEAK is seeking innovations to increase the shelf life and enable longer transportation times for perishable goods. The best transport alternative for perishables is now sea freight which (as enumerated above) has its own challenges, requiring cognisance of product quality, food safety and environmental protection concerns. 

There have been two small trials involving the shipping of peas by sea from Kenya. The first trial took 26 days to reach Rotterdam, and the second took 38 days to reach the UK. This included transport from farm to a Nairobi-based packhouse and then by road to the port of Mombasa (a ~500km journey). In both trials 95%+ of produce remained fresh. The next step will be to attempt bulk shipments at sufficient scale to fill forty-foot containers.

Key challenges of doing bulk shipments include:

  • Produce is sensitive to different atmospheric levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • Packaging must be strong enough to withstand transport and movement.
  • Processing and packaging at point of shipment should minimise the intervention/repackaging required at the final destination.
  • High risk of fungal issues occurring during transport.
  • Risk of pest ingression as processing or during transport would lead to whole consignments being destroyed.
  • Stacking produce can lead to damage, moisture ingress and rot.

To enable shelf life to be extended and to maintain freshness innovations are required. Innovations could include, but are not limited to, food grade coatings, alternative packing materials for transport (i.e. cold chain logistics, use of vacuum seals, packing in hydrogen, removing oxygen by enzymes), novel designs of customer-facing end-user packaging and monitoring/ data logging devices. These could be integrated with alternative packaging systems for in-container transport and/or specific container environments.

As a priority, packaging solutions are sought for green beans, sugar snaps and snow peas. Furthermore, solutions are sought for fruits (avocados, mangoes), herbs (basil, rosemary) and flowers (rose, mixed flowers). FPEAK are open to adopting/scaling solutions used successfully for other export crops and geographic locations. 

Specific constraints for different fresh produce are mentioned in the functional and technical requirements and operating conditions sections below. 

To work on this challenge, Innovate UK KTN is working with FPEAK member organisation Interveg Exports EPZ to pilot innovative solutions.


Rewards & Benefits

  • Up to GBP 25,000 seed funding (Subject to T&C)
  • Opportunity to pitch your solution to FPEAK members
  • Collaboration/partnership with FPEAK
  • Technical support from FPEAK team
  • Pitch training facilitated by KTN
  • Sector expertise from KTN
  • Support in the development of a prototype or pilot
  • Invitation to attend or present at KTN events
  • Investor introductions (if investment is required)
  • Application support for any Innovate UK or similar competitions that are relevant.

Functional Requirements

The identified solution must/should address the following:

  • Solution must be suitable for 40ft and other sized sea containers
  • Packaging materials must be robust to eliminate any ingress, infection or rot
  • Solution must involve circular economy/design thinking (to reduce waste/minimise carbon impact)
  • Solution must be viable for green beans, sugar snaps and snow peas (minimum)
  • Solutions also applicable for fruits, herbs and flowers will be preferred.

Technical Requirements

  • Solution must be viable for 30+ days shipping time
  • Solution must result in 99% produce remaining fresh
  • All solutions must satisfy food grade requirements
  • There must be 50% reusable or recyclable materials within new innovations
  • A process/logistics map of stages involved in the solution is required (clear flow of stages)

Operating Conditions

  • Solution should operate in context of normal temperatures and light levels (outside)
  • Internal temperatures, humidity and light levels may be adjusted as required
  • 24/7 operation during transportation period
  • Solution must cope with the changing conditions between supply chain stages as required (farm, pack house, truck, ship, wholesaler, retailer and consumer transitions)

For context, to travel by air currently, produce (for example beans) is harvested in the early hours of the morning from farms outside of the capital city of Nairobi. This is transported in insulated trucks to packhouses close to the airport. The fresh produce is processed (i.e. stems removed) and quality checked and packaged (in consumer-ready packaging) before being stored between 6-8C for the remainder of the day. Produce is then transferred to the airport where they travel overnight to buyers in overseas markets.

Currently produce is transported to the packhouse in plastic crates. Beans/snow peas/sugar snaps to be sold in bulk are packed in cardboard boxes (1.5-5.0kg). Produce to be sold direct to domestic/retail consumers (pre-packs) are packed into smaller perforated plastic bags (150g-1kg) and also in trays/punnets (150g-500g).

Deployment Timescale

  • 08 Aug 2023 – Competition launch
  • 29 Aug 2023 – Information session/Q&A (TBC)
  • 22 Sep 2023 – Deadline for applications
  • Oct 2023 – Selection and notification of finalists
  • Oct 2023 – Pitch day & selection of winner
  • Nov 2023 – Collaboration discussions
  • Dec 2023 – Pilot programme activated

Cost Requirement & Market Opportunity

  • The solution’s operation should aim to be cost-effective in terms of ROI
  • Winning solution providers may become long-term partners, gaining access to FPEAK members supply chains
  • Innovative funding models will be considered if appealing to FPEAK members

Out of Scope

Proposed solutions may not be viable if they are:

  • Unable to be energy efficient
  • Unable to use Circular Economy thinking
  • Unable to be produced locally
  • Unsuitable for Kenyan market conditions

Eligibility & Assessment Criteria

Entrants to this competition must be:

  • Established businesses, start-ups, SMEs or individual entrepreneurs
  • Africa-based entrants, UK-based entrants and those from RoW are invited to apply
    Due Diligence requirements for seed funding:
  • UK applicants must ensure that receiving the £25k seed funding will not exceed the £315,000* state aid threshold under UK Minimal Financial Assistance regulations over the current and last 2 fiscal years [or *200,000 euros for applicants affected by EC de minimis regulations]
  • Further information will be required later relating to company policies, financial history and recent grant funding received.

Applications will be assessed on:

  • Relevance to the topic
  • Innovative nature of the subject
  • Coherence of the proposed business model
  • Feasibility/ economic viability
  • Development potential
  • Maturity of project/solution
  • Ability to launch project quickly/Ease of implementation
  • Price/quality ratio

IP & Potential Commercial Route

  • Existing background IP associated with a potential solution will remain with Solution Provider(s). Where any new IP generation is envisaged, it will be subject to the mutual IP agreement of the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.
  • Any commercial deployment of a transferred solution or newly developed solution, through licensing, joint venture, partnership or direct investment, will be subject to the commercial agreement between the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.
  • Where necessary, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) may be signed to uphold confidentiality in the engagement between the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger. (This would be expected to be after company selection. It is suggested that details of IP not be disclosed initially. Focus on the outcomes of the technology proposed).
  • KTN does not take any share of IP ownership or enter into commercial ventures through the iX programme.