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Rethinking the Whole Package

Rethinking the Whole Package

The act of taking fresh food from the fields to the retail produce department is a precarious one, not unlike the way I jump up onto the kitchen counter to grab plates from the high shelves. Getting the plate and having the plate are two different things, and if my balance is off, it all falls apart. Likewise, exceptional produce is only as good as the process that gets it into consumers' hands. The journey to market contains many variables, but there is one particular that has been gaining steam in our industy for some time now. I've said it before and I'll say it again, sustainability is a boat you don't want to miss. the initiative has gone well beyond environmental stewardship, and is now emerging as a highly profitable endeavor.

When I think of recyclability, my mind first goes to consumer-end packaging and the reusable and compostable innovations that have hit the market in the recent years. But as Craig Kelly, IFCO's Vice President Grower Sales North America, explains to me, companies throughout the supply chain—IFCO included— have followed through on initiatives to introduce that reusae quality to their operations.

“With the advancement of operational, innovational, and environmental sustainability, the Reusable Plastic Container (RPC) business has flourished,” he tells me. “It is the perfect answer that complements many industry initiatives. The ability to reuse packaging and avoid one-way packaging has a huge impact on the environment.”

With sustainability such a hot topic in the industry, packaging innovation is inevitable, and IFCO’s offerings remain on the cutting edge, providing an eco-conscious and entirely workable solution.

“IFCO RPCs have a standardized footprint and design elements specifically engineered to transport perishable fresh goods,” Craig says. “Our RPCs use fewer natural resources than single-use packaging alternatives throughout their lifecycle, from the energy and materials used in their manufacture through cleaning and repair to eventual recycling. And because they perform better in transit— stacking securely and maintaining their structural rigidity—they offer indirect environmental benefits for retailers and growers. Less food is wasted so less energy and resources are required to replace damaged stock.”

By their very nature, RPCs are sustainable because they allow for the sharing and reuse of equipment— it’s right there in the name: reusable.

Each container is used between 30 and 120 times before being removed from service due to natural wear, tear, and design changes. IFCO takes it a step further, grinding up retired containers and using them to create the next generation of RPCs. With each RPC circling a supply chain infinity loop, it goes without saying that the process has a significant impact on the company’s waste output.

“Using IFCO RPCs instead of single-use packaging equates to a significant reduction in CO2. This is due to IFCO RPC design and the purpose of being reused again and again. No need to recycle and remanufacture them after every use like single-use packaging,” Craig assures me.

Craig lists off an array of truly impressive stats to me, but what stuck out was just how lucrative the switch to RPCs can be—the alternative packaging method reduces product damage by over 96 percent. Think about just how much money is lost every year through damaged goods. Now think about what that 96 percent could add to your bottom line. But there are many other benefits that come from RPC use. As they say, come for the profits, stay for the sustainability.

"The ability to reuse packaging and avoid one-way packaging has a hug impact on the environment."
- Craig Kelly

“RPCs use fewer natural resources and are maintained for consistently high performance throughout their lifetimes, reducing food waste in transit,” Craig shares with me. “Compared to single-use packaging, IFCO RPCs produce up to 60 percent less CO2 emissions and 86 percent less solid waste, while using 64 percent less energy and 80 percent less water.”

When speaking with Craig, I very quickly realize he is a bonafide expert not just on RPCs but on the complexities of the produce industry as a whole—someone with a deep understanding of the produce world that comes from years of experience and a natural aptitude.

“I have seen many changes in the industry,” he says. “This broad perspective allows me to better understand growers’ needs and provide a service that meets their needs that is environmentally friendly.”

Craig is unique in that he has amassed a comprehensive understanding of the food industry as a whole after spending more than 20 years in the sector. Chiquita was the first stop in Craig’s career, but after working for the banana provider, he stepped across the aisle, spending the next 18 years with Kraft Foods. However, the produce world was still calling his name, so he jumped on an opportunity with CHEP, a pallet company and previous sister company of IFCO, at a time when IFCO was looking for ways to work with the grower community and North American retailers.

IFCO has been delivering fresher food since 1992, a year that brought us both Wayne’s World and Ross Perot as a presidential candidate—remember him? Since then, IFCO has become a global juggernaut and one of the largest RPC providers in the world, able to deliver premium produce daily to customers on five continents. With nine wash centers strategically scattered across North America, IFCO has cemented an extensive operations network in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., positioning it as a highly valuable industry partner.

“IFCO has dedicated enough resources to substantially add value to more levels of our commercial partners,” notes Craig. “We have three commercial teams including Grower Sales, Retail Sales, and Commodity Management. As commercial teams, we work together to solve our customers’ challenges by offering solutions to operational, merchandising, and harvesting opportunities.”

From soil to shelf (or perhaps bin), the produce supply chain provides numerous opportunities for sustainable initiatives that are as beneficial to the environment as they are to profit ledgers. There’s no reason why we can’t apply our own money-saving reusable practices to the produce supply chain in a way that benefits everyone, and for IFCO, such practices are a no-brainer for those who think outside the package.