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.