Don’t tell Fred Heptinstall or Hillary Femal reusable plastic containers are losing ground in produce.

The numbers say otherwise, they say.

“It’s not a small niche anymore,” said Heptinstall, president and general manager for Tampa, Fla.-based IFCO Systems’ RPC Management Services Division.

Heptinstall said about 14% of produce packaging is shipped in RPCs, and his organization anticipates that rate to climb as more retailers adopt the process.

“I think the biggest thing that’s new at this point is the continued adoption of RPCs by retailers,” he said.

The RPC industry is servicing 105 retail distribution centers in the U.S. and Canada, and that number is increasing, Heptinstall said.

“I’d say the across the board all are growing — some faster than others, depending on where they are in their stage of adoptions,” he said.

The latest to jump onboard are Safeway, Loblaws and Supervalu, in the last two years, Heptinstall said.

The reason retailers have gone with RPCs is, in part, due to the RPC’s versatility, said Femal, IFCO’s director of strategic market development.

“We are continuously looking at new RPC applications, design,” Femal said.

Those designs employ an ease of folding, stacking, lifting and displaying, Femal said.

“The latest design we have is quite unique and has some nice features on opening and closing and stackability, and the latest have lift-latches, for people stocking the retail shelves to fold the RPC flaps down,” she said.

Retail produce departments see a value in RPCs, Heptinstall said.

“We see concepts with potential applications in produce, as people look for labor savings and way to display,” he said.

Some RPC applications are currently more common in retail dairy departments, but those applications soon will reach the produce aisle, Heptinstall said.

“We have one that has a side wall that folks into the base of the RPC that works well with eggs, but we can see it finding a place in produce, at some point,” Heptinstall said.

Femal said the box is user-friendly.

“It’s a one-touch-system capability, which is important because the less personnel handling the eggs, the less breakage you have,” she said.

A common argument for RPCs is the category has an fewer footprints, while corrugated boxes often were designed for different commodities numbering in the hundreds.

Heptinstall said RPCs also offer advantages in terms of product protection, ventilation and a lower carbon footprint.

The lifespan of an RPC can be 10 years or longer, he said.