Wal--Mart has for several years now pushed the use of returnable plastic containers from the field all the way through the supply chain onto store displays. And, where Wal--Mart goes, so does everyone else, eventually.
Already, several other supermarket chains have followed suit, displaying their produce in RPCs. The trend reduces labor and potential produce damage by cutting down on handling.
This is just one of the advantages of RPCs, say its proponents. And with Wal--Mart on board, RPC manufacturers are looking forward to growing market share.
One--touch merchandising—as produce moves through the supply chain in RPCs—is one of the more popular reasons that companies select RPCs over single--use corrugated containers. "When you use RPCs from the field on through to the stores, you have less product handling," says Per Oshtrom, director of marketing at CHEP USA, Orlando, FL. "This eliminates the need for knocking down boxes and setting up displays. Retail stores can realize significant labor savings with this method."
Damage reduction can be big as well, adds David Rodgers, vice president of sales and marketing at Orbis Container Services in Arroyo Grande, CA. "With the reduction in product handling, you can cut shrink by up to 2 percent," he says.
RPCs also cut down on packaging costs and waste, says Eric Fredrickson, sector manager at IPL Material Handling, Worcester, MA. "A single, reusable container can replace 100 single--use containers," he says. "One RPC costs much less than 100 single--use containers. Plus, single--use containers generate waste each time they are used. It all comes down to resource utilization—RPCs are much more efficient."
Fredrickson says that another RPC advantage is its ability to better protect the produce it carries. "By nature, they are much stronger than single--use containers because they are designed to last for many years," he says. "This means that RPCs can better sustain weight shifts in transit or damage inflicted by lift trucks and other sources."
Cleanliness is another benefit of RPCs, says Frank George, business development manager at Linpac Materials Handling, Georgetown, KY. "Using plastic materials removes the risks of contamination in corrugated boxes and wood, as well as other concerns such as corrugated dust and wood chips/splinters," he says.
Energy savings and environmental benefits also result from RPC use. A study commissioned by the Returnable Plastic Container Coalition revealed significant savings in these areas. All of these factors make an easy case for RPC manufacturers to argue the benefits of RPCs. "Any application where single--use containers are used successfully, RPCs can do better," says IPL's Fredrickson.
In spite of the benefits touted by RPC manufacturers, RPCs are still fighting an uphill battle for market share with single--use containers. Rodgers of Orbis estimates that total market share is around 8 percent to 10 percent and growing. "As retailers continue to get on board, RPC utilization is going up," he says.
Fred Heptinstall, senior vice president and general manager at IFCO Systems' RPC division in Tampa, FL, says that market share is growing rapidly. "Just nine years ago, market share was almost non--existent. Today we're around 7 percent."
Right now, RPCs make about 115 million trips per year, but Heptinstall predicts that they could be making more than a billion trips a year within the next 10 years or so.
CHEP's Oshtrom agrees, saying that market share is growing "at a clip of about 15 percent to 20 percent a year."
Designed For Efficiency
"To keep market share growing, RPC manufacturers are continually looking to improve thier designs. One of the latest steps many manufacturers have taken is to strengthen the containers' walls. Because the trend is to use RPCs all the way through the supply chain, most manufacturers are working to develop more durable containers," says Fredrickson.