(April 1) NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Two major retailers see returnable plastic containers as the best way to ship and display fresh fruit.

Speaking at a California Grape & Tree Fruit League annual meeting workshop March 25, Ron McCormick, vice president of produce and floral for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., and Roger Harkrider, business development manager for produce for H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, stressed that the most important thing is converting to containers and cartons that fit a common footprint on a pallet.

The five-down corrugated Eurobox fits a common pallet footprint they said.

Wal-Mart considers the Eurobox an improvement over traditional cartons, but it favors returnable plastic containers for most fruit shipments, McCormick said.


But many fruit shippers are leery about using RPCs, which they say have been going up in price. Others don’t want to be locked into one type of shipping container.

“We oppose the one-size-fits-all approach,” said Richard Matoian, president of the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League. Matoian added that the goal is to get produce to markets in the best possible condition.

Several shippers at the workshop said Styrofoam containers seem to keep fruit fresher than other kinds of boxes. However, other factors, including ease of display at the store level, must be considered, McCormick said.

McCormick said returnable plastic containers of fruit can be displayed and look fairly good in the store. When fruit needs to be replaced, the plastic container is removed and replaced with another, he said.


That eliminates stacking new fruit on top of older fruit, he said. With fewer trained produce clerks, it is a much easier system, he said.

He added that as Wal-Mart opens stores and increases its use of the containers, the cost to shippers should decline.

“There are more washing stations and distribution networks (for RPCs),” McCormick said. “Critical mass will turn the containers faster and that will help.”

H.E. Butt is not quite as committed to returnable plastic containers as Wal-Mart, but it prefers them, Harkrider said during his presentation.

“We accept anything in a standard footprint,” Harkrider said.

Harkrider agreed that in some cases a different box style might be necessary. He cited the bikini box used by the apple industry. That box has a large open area in the upper half of the container to allow many of the apples to be viewed.

Yet returnable plastic containers have their advantages, Harkrider said. Space in the supermarket is limited, and RPCs are an efficient way to build a compact display, he said.

Also, with RPCs the fruit can be replaced faster, Harkrider said.

“We do have flexibility, but our commitment to RPCs is increasing each year,” Harkrider said.