Wal-Mart delays switch from reusable plastic cartons for display of fresh produce to display-ready corrugated paper cartons, informs suppliers it will evaluate in-market trials before issuing transition plan

LOS ANGELES , August 8, 2011 () – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has delayed a switch from reusable plastic cartons (RPCs) to corrugated paper cartons for the display of fresh produce, The Packer reported Aug. 5.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer notified its apple, citrus and stone fruit suppliers on Aug. 4 that it would no longer implement the transition in mid-October as was originally scheduled. The company said it would wait until in-market trials had been completed, review the data and then relay a "detailed transition plan."

Walmart wrote to apple, citrus and stone fruit grower-shippers on June 15 saying they would be expected to use display-ready corrugated cartons from early September.

A second letter on July 27 communicated a delay in the switch until mid-October to allow time for in-market trials. The letter was sent by senior directors of produce Michael Cochran and Craig Carlson and director of packing Chet Rutledge.

Walmart identified Georgia Pacific LLC, Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging Inc., Pratt Industries, RockTenn Co., Temple-Inland Inc., Boise Inc. and International Paper Co. as preferred suppliers for orchard fruit packaging. The company said graphics had been finalized and were available from SGS International Inc. of Louisville, Kentucky.

Walmart pioneered the move to RPCs for the shipping and display of fresh produce more than 10 years ago. The retailer has declined to comment on the transition, which also wasn't noted in its 2011 Global Responsibility Report.

Andy Hamilton of RPC supplier IFCO Systems said the use of RPCs is increasing across the U.S. and Canada as retailers, including Safeway Inc. and Kroger Co., experience supply chain cost and environmental savings and better product quality compared with display-ready cartons.

But a paper packaging manufacturer noted that RPCs stack well and minimize produce damage, and the paper packing industry must come up with common footprint boxes between commodities and suppliers.

According to grower-shippers, one problem associated with RPCs is contamination due to limited sanitizing facilities. Labor and storage costs are also associated with collapsing the cartons and waiting for them to be collected.

The primary source of this article is The Packer, Lenexa, Kansas, on August 4 and 5, 2011.

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