CUTLER, Calif. — A mountain of plastic bins stacked eight high stands at the ready for citrus from Mulholland Citrus’ Cutler packinghouse.

The bins, however, are not the property of the Orange Cove-based grower-packer-shipper. They are part of new shipping system from Palogix International, Sandton, South Africa.

Palogix debuts produce bin rental program in California

Don Schrack

Eugene Punelli (left), production coordinator for Orange Cove, Calif.-based Mulholland Citrus, and Brian Dawson, vice president of sales and marketing for Palogix International, Sandton, South Africa, check in rental bins at Mulholland’s Cutler packinghouse. Palogix launched its bin rental program this year in California.

“It’s rental on demand and designed to provide the grower additional bins on a relatively short-term basis,” said Brian Dawson, vice president of sales and marketing for Palogix.

New to California this year, Palogix has an inventory of 35,000 rental bins, Dawson said, with more added weekly. The company plans to have 100,000 bins by early 2011, he said.

The Palogix program is simple and flexible, Dawson said. Bins are rented on a daily basis with no minimum number. Rental rates are fixed for the term of the agreement and are due monthly or quarterly — not in advance, Dawson said.

“Regardless whether a grower is scaling up or scaling down, the invoices mirror the actual number of bins he has in use,” Dawson said.

Mulholland Citrus took advantage of the program in April, with weather switching from a few days of sunny, warm weather to a few days of rain and back again.

“We picked like mad during the dry days,” said Eugene Punelli, Mulholland’s production coordinator. “That led to uneven storage demands.”

Periodic telephone calls to the Palogix depot — in Fowler, about midway between Bakersfield and Modesto — resulted in delivery of additional bins within hours of each call, Punelli said.

“There’s no way new bins could have gotten here that quickly,” he said.

The rental program also helps trim production costs. By using the program, a grower-shipper is able to avoid purchasing occasional use bins, which can represent a substantial investment. The cost of the 100% recyclable Macro Plastics Series 26 bin used by Palogix is more than $150, including delivery and other fees, said Ken Shields, Palogix salesman.

Growers who have sufficient bins to avoid renting are able to participate, too. The citrus and stone fruit seasons in the San Joaquin Valley overlap, but only for a month or two.

Grower-shippers who contribute their bins to the Palogix rental pool during their off seasons have a new revenue stream, Shields said, while simultaneously eliminating annual storage headaches.

Every Palogix rental bin is bar coded. Scanners mounted on forklifts record the bins via the company’s track, trace and logistics management software systems, Dawson said, and the data are available to the grower-shippers via the Internet.

“They are able to determine how many rental bins they have in use, and they can identify the grove or orchard from which each bin of fruit was harvested,” he said. “We’re on the same side as the grower.”