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Made in Transit, supply chain concept for on the way growth

Article index
 Part I: A synthesis of production and distribution
 Sequential, isolated & hyper-specialized
 Transport = dormant time
 Trapped inventory
 Role of packaging
 The Made in Transit hypothesis
 The chain reconstructed: an ideal model
 Why make the shift: ideal model benefits
 The ideal scenario
 Distribution is more than just delivery
 PART II: From ‘best before’ to ‘ready by’
 Fresh chains?
 Damage control
 Paradigm shift
 Mushroom growth packaging
 Role of designer: product design as system intervention
 Further research
 Objections raised
 Interviews & discussions
Made in Transit is a supply chain concept working towards the development of packaging that operates on the paradigm of enabling growth rather than preserving freshness, a shift from ‘best before’ to ‘ready by’ for fresh perishable goods.

The aim is to enable growth throughout the entire supply chain so that the consumer harvests the product when he’s ready to consume it, resulting in a higher quality fresh good.

Part I: A synthesis of production and distribution

Sequential, isolated & hyper-specialized

Let’s begin with a basic examination of a typical chain. Supply chains follow a logical sequence of events; with some variations they more or less all work like this:

The steps are quite logical. We start by extracting or harvesting the raw material, cotton for example, we turn it into a semi-finished good like thread, then a textile, and then use this textile to make a final product, the shirt. Most of the time the shirt incorporates some other previously semi-finished parts, like buttons or zippers, each having gone through their own chain before final assembly with the garment. And then comes the packaging (also with its own chain), followed by distribution via several layers of warehousing to the retailer, which ultimately the consumer may choose to visit in looking to buy a shirt.

In this model we conceive each step as an isolated process that begins only once the previous process is complete. Quite reasonably it is assumed that we need thread before we can make a textile, that we need the textile before we can sew a shirt, and that the shirt needs to be finished before it is shipped.

Most chains follow a logical sequence from raw material to finished good in the market. Each step within the sequence is considered in isolation, therefore the best result is a series of optimized steps linked by reliable and efficient transportation. Within this, the role of transportation, is limited to carrying loads from a to b.

Transport = dormant time

If we look to the chain again, we can see there are many stages in which nothing productive is happening (indicated in blue). Each time goods are hauled into a vehicle, production stops and the goods enter hibernation mode until they reach the next production point, or the consumer. Products are created in order to be consumed and anything we do outside of production or consumption is merely an indirect enabler, a means but not an end.

Transportation is essential in connecting distant factories, and in bringing the goods to the market, but it only serves to relocate the goods, and not to transform them in any productive way.

Trapped inventory

Just like a production line, a chain cannot afford down time. Trapped inventory occupies time in which production or consumption is suspended, therefore is a form of down time for the chain. UPS addresses the issue of trapped inventory in one of their Trade Direct supply chain solutions, Inventory in Motion:

“Logistics visionaries have talked for years about eliminating or, at least, drastically reducing the role of inventory in modern supply chains. The most efficient, slack-free supply chains, after all, wouldn’t require any inventory buffer, because supply and demand would be in perfect sync. This vision certainly has its appeal: the death of inventory would mean dramatically reduced logistics costs and simplified fulfillment”1.

UPS proposes a direct-to-store approach to distribution - instead of moving the goods from the factory to a store via a distribution center, they propose to bypass the warehouse and deliver directly to the retailer. By skipping the warehouse, UPS is offering a way to “shrink the fulfillment cycle and eliminate inventory costs”. Beyond recognizing that manufacturers cannot afford trapped inventory is recognizing that inventory on the back of a truck is just as trapped as inventory sitting in a warehouse - inventory in motion is still trapped inventory.

Inventory on the back of a truck is just as trapped as inventory sitting in a warehouse - inventory in motion is still trapped inventory.

Role of packaging

Distribution is designed to minimize impact on the goods it carries. A delivery is successful precisely when nothing happens to the goods on board. Protective packaging, careful handling and driving are essentially a form of damage control preventing impact from the roughness of the road. Packaging protects and preserves the product, minimizing vibration, preventing movement and impact shock, and isolating the contents from the effects of outside disturbances, like the weather, temperature, humidity. Succinctly put in conversation with Michael Nieuwesteeg, director of Netherlands Packaging Centre, “By definition packaging as an act generates waste, it is the thing you add to be thrown away later on”. Like transport, packaging is viewed as an essential yet expensive and wasteful activity - ”the best package is no package from an economic perspective”.

“the best package is no package from an economic perspective”

The Made in Transit hypothesis

It’s a given that transportation and packaging are needed in the production-consumption cycle, yet we take for granted that they can only protect and relocate and not create or transform. We see them as essential yet expensive and wasteful. But if we take a total chain perspective from the outset and skip steps, merge steps, or reverse the order of events, maybe we can factor in transportation as a productive creator of value and reprogram the ever-increasing amount of time and space captured by dormant goods in transit.

Made in Transit represents a shift in the way we conceive transportation. It is a total chain redesign in which production is merged with distribution, changing the role of transportation from the mere relocation of material to its productive transformation. Made in Transit is a holistic reconsideration of the product supply chain in which a synthesis of production with distribution creates a new mode of production.

The chain reconstructed: an ideal model

Working with the basics,


Let’s reconsider the role of packaging and distribution. Currently,


If we can turn the package into a growth condition, then the new chain becomes:




And the new roles:


Why make the shift: ideal model benefits

The consequences of merging production with distribution could be:

the end of the factory
Distribution space simultaneously becomes production space thereby eliminating the need for a land-based production facility.

on-demand production
If the product can be created on the way to the market, then it does not have to be made until the order comes in. This prevents overproduction and consequent waste.

Production at the level of the package may be more conducive to customization than production on a mass scale.

a shorter chain
Merging production with distribution shortens the chain, enabling a faster response rate to changing market demands.

slow transport
An alternative to shortening the chain, it is possible to slow transportation down while maintaining the same overall supply time. This could mean the use of cheaper and more energy efficient transport modalities, such as the boat rather than the plane.

The ideal scenario

The ideal scenario exploits the properties of fungi for textile production, replacing the land-fixed factory condition with an on-the-way growth condition. Packaging becomes the growth condition in which a fungi-based textile proliferates on its way to the consumer. As part of the packaging, a custom mould serves as the growth substrate. This is an on-demand mode of production, which synthesizes production with distribution to deliver a custom good directly to the consumer.

Distribution is more than just delivery

An investigation of the field of distribution reveals that the discipline has already shed its traditional boundaries. While the trend for mainstream global manufacturers is to outsource every little part of the production chain (consider Walmart-it is the biggest company in the US and it doesn’t make a single thing), distributors are taking on more, insourcing work outside the strict definition of distribution. “Our ambition is not just to get things from here to there, but to enable commerce,” says Mike Eskew, CEO of UPS, “And enabling commerce can encompass an awful lot.”3 Succinctly put in an article in USA Today:

“Along with carting boxes and envelopes around the world, UPS employees today repair Toshiba laptops, run warehouses full of spare parts for Bentley autos and pull Nike athletic shoes off the shelves. It all falls under the prosaic heading of “supply chain management,” a fast-growing business that has UPS reshaping the production and distribution of products throughout the economy.”4

In a visionary series published nearly ten years ago, The Journal of Business Logistics predicted that the future of logistics will go beyond increased efficiencies: “The relevant operational paradigm will shift from cost reduction to value creation.”5 A visit to any of the world’s leading transportation and logistics providers’ websites shows a plethora of smaller business unit service options, all honed to adding value to their various client groups. Take DHL’s ‘Customer Program Management’ as an example:

“CPM is a worldwide organization within DHL Global Forwarding that designs, implements, and manages supply chain services & programs that build upon our core transportation products to create more value for our customers.”6

Distributors are building upon their “core transportation products” to do more than just deliver within the product supply chain. Beyond improving transport efficiencies they are establishing deeper operational partnerships with their business customers, offering services outside the strict definition of their discipline and establishing a broader role for themselves.

“our ambition is not just to get things from here to there, but to enable commerce.”

Consider the case of FedEx, a courier company delivering everything from documents to heavy freight. Its document printing business unit, Kinko’s offers “outsourcing solutions” for anyone needing to print documents. By integrating document printing into their scope of services, FedEx is essentially making itself the producer of the goods it then distributes. FedEx is capitalizing on its global distribtion network, offering “unlimited points of access around the world”7 to its clients and establishing a vertically integrated expanded array of services for itself. FedEx-owned Kinko’s creates new business for FedEx.

On a larger scale, we have the case of Maersk, one of the leading shipping companies in the world. Maersk belongs to the A.P. Moller - Maersk Group, with business units that control everything from oil production, to shipbuilding through to distribution, logistics and retailing. At the beginning side of the chain, Maersk Oil operates an oil production of more than 550 000 barrels per day, and towards the end, Dansk Supermarked, one of Maersk’s retail outlets, has become Denmark’s second largest chain of food and general merchandise stores8. This massive form of vertical integration by a transportation company demonstrates that the landscape of distribution is changing - distributors are no longer upholding traditional boundaries of their discipline.

While manufacturers are looking to do less, distributors are looking to do more. If we take this trend to its extreme we can imagine that a distributor could become the manufacturer of the goods it delivers. The Made in Transit hypothesis is a projection of observed developments within the field of distribution. Current developments show that the Made in Transit hypothesis is not so far fetched.

distributors are no longer upholding traditional boundaries of their discipline.


In summary, here’s how my thinking patterns led to the Made in Transit hypothesis: Typical chains are conceived as a series of isolated steps, almost always executed in the same order. If viewed in isolation, the role of transport is strictly to carry loads from a to b. As a result, transport time represents a form of down time for the chain, a suspension of inventory outside of the production line and the consumption process. If we can turn the package into a growth condition and enable growth along the way, then we can synthesize production with distribution and create value within the time and space it takes to carry loads from a to b. The necessity of transport presents an opportunity if we can reprogram precisely what it accomplishes when hauling inventory from a to b.

I presented an ideal scenario in which a fungi-based textile would proliferate within its package on the way to the consumer, delivering a custom grown good and changing the land-fixed factory condition into an on-the-way growth condition. The next section pulls the concept into a pertinent problem area which may benefit on a present-tense level, the production and supply of fresh perishable food. And in the final section we return to fungi and develop a new system of mushroom cultivation seamlessly integrated within the distribution network. The same thinking that led to a fungi based t-shirt held true for the production and delivery of fresh edible mushrooms in the supermarket.

the necessity of transport presents an opportunity if we can reprogram precisely what it accomplishes when hauling inventory from a to b.

PART II: From ‘best before’ to ‘ready by’

Fresh chains?

The harvest separates a crop from its source of life. The instant a crop is removed from the ground or separated from its parent plant, a steady process of deterioration begins. Methods to compensate for the loss of quality, taste and nutrients can only slow the process of deterioration down, but the result will never match what we have at the source of life. Current fresh food supply chains operate on the paradigm of preserving freshness between the moment of harvest and consumption, employing post-harvest technologies to slow down the eventual decay. If we can shift the paradigm to enabling growth along the way, then we automatically deliver absolute freshness and the consumer can harvest his own food. The result is systemized distribution with zero post-harvest preservation.

“in food, processes are already happening by nature and you can influence them. It is respiring, it’s always decaying, the decaying process starts from the harvest.”9

“We’re fresh obsessed” reads the flyer of Canadian supermarket chain, Dominion. “Every retailer wants to be the best in fresh,” 10 explains Toine Timmermans, of the Fresh Food & Chains business unit at Wageningen University. And rightly so. In a study conducted by Choice, an independent Australian consumer research organization, it was found that the word ‘fresh’ on a food label has more influence on brand choice than any other quality descriptor in the survey - ’pure’, ‘real’, ‘natural’, ‘premium’ and ‘home-made’ being the other contestants. Only 6% of respondents said the word ‘fresh’ doesn’t influence their buying decision. 59% of those surveyed interpret the word ‘fresh’ to mean that little time has elapsed between harvesting and preparation, packaging or delivery.11 Yet when bananas are shipped it takes five weeks before they are sold. They are harvested prematurely and ripened upon arrival in ripening rooms with ethylene, a gas produced by many fruits and vegetables to accelerate the aging processes. Definitions of fresh are somewhat vague.

“In this chain of constant decline in quality only the first period comprising no drastic changes in composition may really be defined as the time of freshness,”12 writes a scientist in ‘Freshness as a Part of Vegetable Quality’, an article addressing the need for developing objective methods to evaluate freshness. The Food & Drug Association regulates the term fresh when it is used to suggest that a food is raw or unprocessed, allowing its use only on food that is raw, has never been frozen or heated, and contains no preservatives.13 With this definition the tomatoes from your backyard and tomatoes picked two weeks ago fall into the same category of freshness.

only 6% of respondents said the word ‘fresh’ doesn’t influence their buying decisions.

Damage control

Everything that happens between the point of harvest and consumption largely defines the final quality of the good and industry works hard to slow the natural process of deterioration down. Yet desipite its efforts, in the Netherlands alone the yearly loss of income from expired perishables is estimated at 500 million euros, or 5-10 percent of the total turnover.14

the cold chain
The internal biological and chemical processes of fresh produce continue after harvesting. Produce continues to respirate, absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide and ethylene. Lowering the temperature slows respiration and prolongs shelf life.

Worldwide, there are at least one million refrigerated road vehicles and 400 000 refrigerated containers in use - all working to establish an uninterrupted temperature controlled supply chain for the transport of perishable goods.15 Tuna is brought into the Japanese sushi and sashimi market in ultra-low temperature transport, which can keep temperatures as low as -60°C.

modified atmosphere packaging
Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) lowers oxygen levels to slow down respiration, and thus, the natural aging process. Permeable films and atmosphere conditions are optimized for each crop, extending the shelf life of strawberries from 14 to 21 days and doubling the life of an avocato from 42 to 84 days16.

fast transport
Among the first commodities carried by air were perishables such as fresh produce, dairy, chilled meat and cut flowers. During the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, 12-15 million stems of Latin American flowers will arrive each day at Miami International Airport17. Air transport uses the most amount of energy and gives off the most amount of carbon dioxide when compared to other transport modalities, like a heavy truck, rail or a sea container. A Boeing 747-400 uses 2.00 kilowatt hours per hours per tonne-kilometres (kWh/tkm) compared to a sea container, which uses 0.01818. But the expedience also comes with greater economic costs.

By definition, perishable food begins to decay from the moment it separated from its source of life. Packaging, the cold chain and faster transport are employed to slow down the eventual decay. Yet the extent to which the products our global supply chains deliver are fresh, nutritious and delicious is questionable.

Shifting the paradigm from preservation to one which enables growth could mean the end of post-harvest, the end of preservation, slow transport, unlimited distribution range, consumer harvest, zero harvest labour and the use of distribution space as growth space.

Futher questions include:
Which perishable commodities could benefit from this concept?
Is this a viable system of food production, with equal or lower input costs?

Paradigm shift

from ‘best before’

to ‘ready by’

Mushroom growth packaging

The Made in Transit concept does not apply equally to all commodities. It wouldn’t make sense for bananas, because then we would either be shipping the trees or working on in vitro methods of fruit tissue cell proliferation (and I explored this path). Mushrooms, however, are highly perishable, relatively easy to grow and produce a fruit body which is fully edible. There are also a lot of varieties that currently cannot reach our supermarket shelves precisely because they are so perishable. The rice straw mushroom is one such example, with cultivation limited to China, Taiwan and Thailand. Beginning to liquify as soon as refrigerated, it is available in the world market only in canned form.

“The fact that mushrooms are fragile and have limited keeping qualities means that the trade in fresh mushrooms is limited to a particular geographic area,” (Griensven 432). As a consequence, 55% of the mushrooms traded in the world market are in a processed form - 50% canned and 5% dehydrated. If we can grow mushrooms on the way then their distribution in fresh form theoretically becomes unlimited. The Made in Transit hypothesis becomes a system of mushroom cultivation which can supply the world with the most perishable mushrooms by growing them on the way.

Harvesting mushrooms is labour intensive, often accounting for 40% of the cost of production. With fierce competition from lower wage countries such as China and Poland, the Netherlands, although still the world’s third largest producer (China is number one followed by the United States) is facing some serious threats. The number of growers and prices are steadily dropping. The Dutch mushroom industry faced a similar problem in the 1970’s with the arrival of low cost canned mushrooms from China. Mechanization was the response then. As said by Johan Baars from the PPO Mushroom Group at Wageningen University, “the Made in Transit concept solves the labour problem.” The same reason we are able to deliver absolute freshness to the consumer eliminates the cost of harvest. Made in Transit can be an intensification strategy - a way of increasing production - coupled with market expansion, and lower input costs, such as land and labour.

Made in Transit proposes an alternative system of mushroom cultivation imbedded within the distribution network, shifting the role of distribution from slowing down the process of post-harvest deterioration to enabling growth and involving the consumer for harvest at the point of consumption.

Role of designer: product design as system intervention

Approaching the topic with an opportunistic attitude, I was interested in finding a unique angle on a ubiquitous reality, knowing that it held potential for systematic change. Initially considering in the impact of transportation on product design, I then reconsidered role of transportation within the total product supply chain. The result is simultaneously a system redesign (a supply chain concept) and a product innovation (mushroom growth packaging).


In my research I conceived myself as an investigative designer somewhat employing the methodology of an investigative journalist. After some background research and reflection, I was brought up to speed to some of the main issues within fields outside of my domain by consulting people intimately tied to those issues. My role was to synthesize what I had learned in a new way, which would inform the next level of research and design. I consulted people at various levels of the chain, including growers (mushroom and plant), packaging companies and industry leaders, distributors, horticultural chain experts, retailers and scientists (mushroom experts, control engineers). Their involvement in the project is precisely what my proposition is built upon. I see the value of design in applying its process of analysis to disciplines outside of itself, and after identifying a problem, finding a unique angle which then is synthesized into a system and/or product innovation.

I was interested in finding a unique angle on a ubiquitous reality, knowing that it held potential for systematic change.

Further research

In corresponding with numerous experts, individual and group discussions led to the formation of a team interested in pursuing the Made in Transit hypothesis, as it coincided with their scientific interests while presenting a cohesive framework and objective. Currently we are in the process of submitting a proposal to continue further research and development at Wageningen University involving six supervisors and three PhD students, including myself. Correspondence with commercial parties has also spawned interest in possible involvement.

Although in the context of this thesis, the mushroom application is intended as a realistic and present-day possibility, scientifically it is futuristic. As explained by scientist Johan Baars, “Mushroom cultivation is an art, not a science. We know it involves bacteria but we don’t really know how, we know it involves temperature, humidity, but we don’t really know why…” - cultivation must first become a science before we can rely on the sort of on-demand growth precision required to realize this proposition. The scientific questions posed by the proposition coincide with intentions of the government, industry and academia. The significance is that as a supply chain concept, Made in Transit anchors this scientific research within a larger framework, within an alternative mode of mushroom cultivation.

Objections raised

Experts, both from academia and from industry have raised valid questions, which simply have been incorporated into my research, and pose further challenges in ongoing research. As an example, one of the first mushroom experts I consulted, Peter Oei, a well-respected mushroom expert in the Netherlands, hypothesized mushroom bodies are too brittle to stand the vibration of transport while they are growing. This question was later incorporated into the experiment conducted in collaboration with Wageningen University. There, scientist Johan Baars hypothesized that it may depend on the stage of development, for example, if we subject it to vibration prior to pinning, the breaking and reforming of mycelium strands may take too much energy, leaving not enough for pinhead formation. We also suspect that different species will tolerate vibration differently. Objections posed have been valuable in directing research.

Reactions have also depended on the sort of time frame that the listener had in mind while hearing the story. With a visionary concept, there are times in which the listener is asked to suspend his disbelief and acknowledge that futuristic concepts by intent pose challenges that take time to answer. More important is to assess whether the proposition is worth pursing than it is to pose objections to its immediate viability.


1 Zamsky, David. “Inventory in Motion — a direct alternative to global fulfillment” United Parcel Service of America, 2005.
2 Toine Timmermans, interview
3 Lynch, David J., ”Thanks to its CEO, UPS doesn’t just deliver, ”USA TODAY, 2006.
4 Lynch, ibid.
5 Bowersox, Donald J. “Introducing the strategic visioning series”, Journal of Business Logistics, 1998.
6 DHL website (
7 Kinko’s website (
8 Maersk website (
9 Toine Timmermans, interview
10 Toine Timmermans, interview
11 “Food labelling: ‘fresh’, ‘pure’, ‘real’?”, Choice online publication, 2004.
12 Schwerdtfeger, E. “Freshness As A Part Of Vegetable Quality,” ISHS Acta Horticulturae 93: Symposium on Quality of Vegetables.
13 “The Food Label”. FDA Backgrounder, May 1999.
14 Kreft, Fátima. “Communicative Packaging in distribution chains of perishable food products,” Sustainpack SP6 Conference, Wageningen, May 2007.
15 International Journal of Refrigeration, Volume 25, Issue 5, August 2002, Pages 501-503.
16 Jobling, Jenny. “Modified atmosphere packaging: Not as simple as it seems.” Sydney Postharvest Laboratory Information Sheet.
17 Stewart, Amy. Flower Confidential Fact Sheet.
18 “Constant Care for the Environment.” Maersk Line brochure.


Griensven, LJLD Van. The Cultivation of Mushrooms. Sussex: Darlington Mushroom Laboratiories Ltd., 1988.

Hine, Thomas. The Total Package. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.

Pawlick, Thomas F. The End of Food. New Jersey: Barricade Books Inc., 2006.

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire. New York: Random House Inc., 2001.

Stewart, Amy. Flower Confidential. New York: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.

Interviews & discussions

Albert Voges, Voges Packaging
Anton Sonnenberg, PPO Mushroom Group, Wageningen UR
Campbell J. Smith, Reefer Manager, Maersk Line
Ed Hendrix, PPO Mushroom Experimental Station, Wageningen UR
Gerard van Willigenburg, Systems and Control, Wageningen UR
Gerrit van Straten, Systems and Control, Wageningen UR
Jago van Bergen, Architect, van Bergen Kolpa Architecten
Johan Baars, PPO Mushroom Group, Wageningen UR
John Verbruggen, mushroom grower, Verbruggen Paddestoelen, Erp
Kelly Rude, design journalist, Toronto
Maarten Dekkers, DHL
Mark Keulen, Seedcare
Mark Langen, Sligro Supermarket
Martijntje Smits, Philosopher of Technology
Matijs Slangen, Reefer Marketing, Maersk Line
Michael Nieuwesteeg, Director, Netherlands Packaging Centre
Olaf van Kooten, Horticultural Supply Chains, Wageningen UR
Paul Bartels, Wagenigen UR
Peter Oie, mushroom expert
Reinout Hesselink, Soft Tissue Engineering, Technical University Eindhoven
Robert Vanloo, Plant Breeding, Wageningen UR
Toine Timmermans, Fresh Food & Chains, Wageningen UR


Head of Department
Gijs Bakker

Louise Schouwenberg
Joost Grootens
Chris Kabel
Madje Vollaers
Ronald Rietveld
Barbara Visser
Sjeng Scheijen

Agata Jaworska

Agata recently graduated with a Master in Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven. 'Made in Transit' was her master thesis project

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