Under the leadership of Fred Heptinstall, senior vice president of global business development for IFCO Systems, reusable plastic containers – RPCs – went mainstream in the produce business.

Before his promotion last year, Heptinstall was president and general manager of IFCO Systems U.S., Tampa, Fla. Now he oversees all emerging markets, among them Russia, China and India. He came to the company in 2004.

“When he joined IFCO, it was before RPCs were prolific throughout the North American supply chain,” said Karen Caplan, president and CEO at Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif. “Only Wal-Mart used them widely, and I believe it was his relationships with suppliers and retailers and their trust in him that helped launch an entire new industry.”

“The RPC business was in an embryonic stage and had been since about 1996,” Heptinstall said. “The challenge for the industry was to move it from more of a boutique way of shipping produce into most of the other major retailers in North America at some level of conversion.”

Besides Wal-Mart, now retailers such as Kroger, Safeway, Raley’s, Loblaws Supermarkets, H-E-B, Stater Bros. Markets, Schnucks and Whole Foods use IFCO reusable plastic containers.

“Those retailers are all at some level of RPC penetration,” Heptinstall said. “Conversion takes time.” Market share in retail produce ranges from about 10% to 14% depending on time of year.

Compound annual growth rate since 2004 is around 25%. “I expect you’ll see the same level of adoption and conversion in the next 10 years that you’ve seen in the last 10,” he said.

Before IFCO, Heptinstall was executive vice president at Chiquita Fresh North America. His main responsibility was consolidating Chiquita produce businesses across North America. He was with the company from 1990 to 2003.

A past chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association, Heptinstall has served on its board twice. He is a past chairman of the Reusable Packaging Association and the International Banana Association.

“I recall him leading (United Fresh’s) first private roundtable of retailers and suppliers when we discussed food safety, third party audits and how to create a more collaborative approach to ensuring the security of the supply chain,” Caplan said.