Tell it to The Packer | Letter to the editor

Fred Heptinstall
IFCO RPC Management Services NA
Tampa, Fla.

The growth of reusable plastic containers for produce has consistently increased since they were introduced into the U.S. market in 1996.

The number of distribution centers and retail stores using RPCs has doubled since 2005, and this has driven an annual volume increase of more than 85%. Today in the U.S. there are 71 distribution centers and 6,714 retail stores that are actively using RPCs for produce.

While we have positive growth, and many grower-packers and retailers have learned the value of RPCs, old paradigms and myths about RPCs are problems that the industry still needs to address.

Statements and comments in The Packer article titled “RPCs slow to catch on with grapes,” published on July 27, is another example of the general misunderstanding that seems to remain about RPCs.

I will address some of those misunderstandings in this column and certainly invite additional questions. First, the reasons for the escalating RPC growth are simply based on solid supply-chain fundamentals.

  • One, they are a lower supply-chain cost versus other forms of transport packaging. Today’s economics require that we all consider the total supply chain cost and not just a part that may be self-serving.
  • Two, RPCs deliver superior quality produce through increased product protection throughout the supply chain and cooling/ventilation.
  • Three, RPCs are more environmentally sustainable, with lower carbon emissions, energy consumption and waste.
  • Finally, RPCs are ergonomically designed and are easier and more efficient to handle. They reduce pulls and strains and eliminate expensive trips to the corrugate bailer.

Now, I’ll address some of the points in the article:

RPCs are not “just another pack style.” They are an alternative to traditional transport packaging that provide many features and benefits to the supply chain.

Letter: RPC category's growth shows the concept is catching on

The cleaning of the RPCs is handled completely by the RPC companies and at no expense to either the retailers or grower-packers. RPCs are sanitized to food grade cleanliness and delivered to packing locations based on demand.

We say “our RPCs are as clean as the plates you are served food on in an upscale restaurant” because all of our service centers are AIB certified at their highest levels.

Rejections are a costly industry issue and not just an RPC issue. Louie Galvan, managing partner at Fruit Royale Inc., Delano, Calif., said it well in the July story that the solution is to be fully aware of customers’ specification and meet or exceed those criteria, eliminating the possibility of a rejected load.

We have a national program with Second Harvest, and, along with other wholesalers and re-packers, we have more than 230 locations nationally where rejected loads can be managed.

Retrieval of the crates has not been a problem, and in five years only one grower-shipper has been billed for mis-shipped crates, and this isolated incident was for RPCs shipped to Japan.

The good news about RPCs is they have up to 75% lower rejections versus traditional transport packaging. This is a testament to the better cooling/ventilation and supply chain protection that RPCs provide.

Tracking of RPC shipments is required just as they are for pooled pallets and other farm use assets. Many of the advanced users of RPCs have automated their tracking and submit RPC movements through EDI.

One grower asked me recently, “If a grower-packer can’t track something as simple as an RPC shipment, how can they keep up with their own assets, materials and food safety reporting?”

RPC shipments are confined to the retailers who have set up an authorized RPC system. Today, with a significantly larger numbers of retailers who have implemented an RPC system, the incidence of mis-shipments of RPCs is rare.

RPCs are returned on the retailers’ reverse logistics system that is already in place. The RPC providers handle the collection and sorting and return the RPCs to their respective service centers for washing. Today, the other forms of transport packing returns use either the retailers’ reverse logistics system, a third party return system, or are shipped to a landfill for disposal.

The grape industry has caught on and is actively packing grapes in RPCs.

RPC shipments for grapes are up more than 38% versus last year, and the grower-shippers using them tell us they would like to see more retailers request RPCs for grapes.

The grower-packers that have real experience using RPCs view them as the future and fully understand their benefits to the supply chain.

In the future, we will be doing more to communicate how RPCs work and their benefits to the produce industry. Some day in the not too distant future those old paradigms and myths about RPCs will be history.