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Methods Among Madness: A Q&A With Candice Herndon, President, IFCO North America

Methods Among Madness: A Q&A With Candice Herndon, President, IFCO North America


ontrol is an illusion today’s world is bent on breaking. Between difficulties in obtaining consistent supply, rising cost inputs, manic weather, and a historic pandemic, preparation has been the only method amid life’s madness.

To give back a measure of mastery, as well as assist in a sustainable, circular packing solution, IFCO has served the industry with a reusable option that recycles itself and redistributes to ensure dependability for 30 years. Candice Herndon, President of IFCO North America, stepped in to guard that mission at one of the most challenging times to do so—January of 2021.

The aftershocks of 2020 were rippling throughout the supply chain, and the impacts of a year made up of shutdowns were beginning to solidify. Amid all this, Candice took the helm. Calm and collected, she offers a strong foundation as she focuses not on the past’s obstacles, but on how the present can better shape the future.

Settle in with me as we discover together just what that looks like from the commander herself.

Melissa De Leon Chavez:
For as long as I have known IFCO, sustainability has been a key pillar of your business model. Can you tell me how the company continues to develop and deliver on that concept?

Candice Herndon, President, IFCO North America: Sustainability and the elimination of waste truly define our business, so our focus is on enhancing and growing our business model and using it to support our customers in their sustainability, supply chain efficiency, and food waste reduction efforts. We have been perfecting the circular business model for many decades now, and we’re driven by our goal of making the fresh grocery supply chain sustainable.

As we continue to build on this foundation, we recently announced an updated Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy and released our first ESG report outlining our commitment to a “Thriving Business, Thriving Society, and a Thriving Planet.” By 2025, we want to double the environmental benefits we bring to the fresh grocery supply chain, and by 2040, we want to be a net-zero carbon business. These bold goals will help us to remain focused on working together with our customers, suppliers, and industry to eliminate waste and redefine the future of the grocery supply chain.

MDC: It seems common knowledge now that reusable plastic containers (RPCs) are a benefit to the environment. How are those environmental savings proven, and do your customers share in those benefits?

CH: You are absolutely correct that RPCs are a benefit to the environment. Using RPCs to package and ship fresh foods uses less CO2, waste, water, and energy, and we take a scientific approach to quantifying these impacts. The environmental benefits of using IFCO RPCs have been calculated and validated by independent, third-party life cycle assessments (LCAs) of our products. Each year, these benefits are used to determine the total environmental impact of using IFCO RPCs in place of other less sustainable packaging options.

We then work with our individual customers to determine the portion that can be attributed to their annual impact through the usage of RPCs so we can support them in quantifying, tracking, and communicating CO2, solid waste, energy, and food waste savings in support of their own sustainability goals and metrics.

MDC: I imagine that, throughout 2021, RPCs would have been even more useful than ever amid all the packaging shortages that affected so many aspects of the supply chain—corrugate, lumber, plastics, and many others. Did IFCO experience RPC supply changes, and how did it continue to come through for its partners?

CH: The supply chain saw many pandemic-related challenges throughout the last few years and, unfortunately, many of these are still ongoing. It is no secret that disruptions and volatility caused by the global pandemic have created labor and transportation shortages, sent costs skyrocketing, and left many raw materials unavailable.

Within IFCO, we took early action in some key areas to help overcome these obstacles and build the resilience required to support our customers’ growing and changing needs. For example, we’ve expanded our service network and our RPC pool, we’ve invested heavily in automating our network, and we’ve secured additional transportation and supplier capacity. Most importantly, we’ve communicated and collaborated closely with our customers to better understand their evolving demand needs and work together to find solutions to challenges so we can keep fresh products moving through the supply chain safely, efficiently, and sustainably.

MDC: On the flip side of those challenges, there has also been quite a bit of expansion and demand spikes. How has growth at retail, grocery, and beyond affected RPCs and IFCO’s own strategy?

CH: It has been great to see retailers and growers choosing to make sustainable decisions around how fresh products are shipped and protected, and we are certainly seeing increased demand. Retail produce volume sales have grown with the rise in eating at home and a general increase in healthy living. These things definitely impact the demand for IFCO RPCs, but we see the future need to address labor, transportation, and other raw material shortages and cost inflation through the smarter design of supply chains, increased automation, product innovation, and less waste as the real opportunity for supporting and growing with our retail and grower partners.

In looking toward the future, we are also putting an increased focus on innovation and technology. Digital is continuing to shape the world we live in. IFCO wants to ensure we have a digital strategy capable of helping evolve and improve our own business while also helping to support and advance the digital and technological ambitions of
our customers.

“Everywhere we look these days, we can see the challenges across supply chains and retail. We no longer live in a world where companies can solve these issues alone; we need partners and solutions that can help us tackle more than one challenge at a time and turn them into opportunities.”

Candice Herndon, President, IFCO North America

MDC: Even with such a holistic solution, I imagine there are difficulties. What would the greatest be and how can IFCO help solve it? Essentially, what would you say is the closing argument, so to speak, for making the transition to RPCs?

CH: Everywhere we look these days, we can see the challenges across supply chains and retail. We no longer live in a world where companies can solve these issues alone; we need partners and solutions that can help us tackle more than one challenge at a time and turn them into opportunities. It’s not often you find a solution that can help you decrease costs, improve the quality and freshness of your products, enable automation, and improve the sustainability of your operations, but that’s exactly what IFCO can offer. Our team is full of local and global experts that understand the fresh grocery supply chain and are ready and willing to help.

Why settle for an illusion of control when there is the power of preparation and partnerships? In RPCs, I will say there is preparation, and in IFCO, there is partnership.

Together they help forge a hammer. May we find clarity in the shards, helping us better understand the present and reshape the future.