Wal-Mart rethinking RPCs for fresh produce

08/04/2011 02:45:00 PM
Don Schrack

File photoWal-Mart, a U.S. pioneer in reusable plastic cartons for the shipping and display of fresh produce, is revisiting the decision and considering a return to corrugated paper cartons starting with apples, citrus and stone fruit.

According to a letter sent this summer to suppliers, among the reasons for the change, originally scheduled for early September, is improved sustainability.

Whether the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s decision to return to paper cartons is final seems uncertain.

The grower-shipper community was hesitant to talk about Wal-Mart publicly.

“Wal-mart is asking the industry for input on RPCs for citrus shipments,” a spokesman for a California citrus grower-shipper said.

“Wal-mart is sending mixed messages,” said a spokesman for another grower-shipper. “We’re still not certain whether we may use RPCs after Sept. 10.”

From yet another grower-shipper:

“The directive from up top is that it is cardboard and not plastic, going forward,” he said. “The plastic containers were good in theory, but store-level execution for Wal-Mart was lacking.”

Apparently to give grower-shippers time to obtain supplies of the paper cartons, a subsequent July 27 letter from three Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executives, Michael Cochran, senior director of produce; Craig Carlson, senior director of produce; and Chet Rutledge, director of packing, delayed the transition until mid-October and provided additional reasons for the switch.

Wal-Mart declined to comment further on the letter, which says it is “conducting a series of in-market trials” and the change will provide better product identification, educate consumers, improve category navigation and product selection.

While the timeline has been modified, Wal-Mart requirements are not flexible.

“Suppliers will be required to use the Wal-Mart designed graphic corrugated boxes ... and should transition as seasonally relevant,” the letter said.

One letter identifies seven preferred corrugated carton suppliers for orchard fruit packaging:

  •   Georgia Pacific;
  •   Longview Fibre;
  •   Pratt Industries;
  •   Rock Tenn (Smurfit-Stone);
  •   Temple Inland;
  •   Boise Papera; and
  •   International Paper (Regionally)

The letter also indicated graphics have been finalized and are available to suppliers from Southern Graphics, Louisville, Ky., along with pre-press/adaption and printing plates.


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John Oliver    
Rio Rico az  |  August, 04, 2011 at 09:12 PM

Walmart is the countries largest distributor of plastic bags at the check out counter! How is that for sustainability?

Jose Baez    
San Jose  |  August, 05, 2011 at 10:39 AM

We told WalMart years ago that the freight alone to move them around would kill any savings, the store merchandisers kept filling up the partial ones becasue no one wanted a half empty RPC which was more labor, and who is going to clean them. The answer we were told is that "we already bought the carts so we have to make it work". The lesson is get your suppliers involved first and it might save you a lot of money down the road.

Nathalie    
NY  |  August, 05, 2011 at 01:41 PM

This story is absolute untrue, the reality is that the returnable RPC's is much more sustainable then just a one way cardboard box , that's trowing away over and over again.

Tony    
California  |  August, 05, 2011 at 03:17 PM

You are correct about them using many plastic bags for retail level however, the RPC's (reusable plastic containers) are exactly what their name says they are "reusable". The same container can be used for years and the companies that supply them clean them and return them to the fields where they get packed with produce over and over. If they go back to corrugated, it hurts the environment which makes them not sustainable and green which is their biggest claim. It's a bad move in the wrong direction.

Michael Dunkin    
Greencastle, IN  |  August, 05, 2011 at 02:12 PM

Cardboard stacks poorly has bulging bottoms and is hard to lift if there are no hand holds. It does not like the abuse of repeated stacking and weakens under the high humidity of coolers.

Phil Jones    
Roswell GA  |  August, 12, 2011 at 01:11 PM

Developments in recyclable barrier coatings and performance of paper and paperboard packaging has advanced since the days when Wal-Mart moved away to plastics. The use of renewable resources such as paperboard is an essential step towards a sustainable economy. I applaud Wal-Marts sense in driving in this direction

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