Should fresh produce packaging provide the best option to ensure product quality, or should it offer a standardized format that helps your supply chain run seamlessly? When it comes to optimizing supply chains, standardization versus flexible sizing cannot be an “either-or” proposition. Standardization is needed to power best-in-class logistics, and diversity is required to provide the best possible container sizes for a range of products. Both criteria are critical to success.
Standards have evolved over time. A little more than two decades ago, the landscape of fresh produce distribution in North America looked somewhat different than it does today. Palletization, for example, had become increasingly popular for shipping fresh produce versus floor stacking, yet at that time there were still many different sizes of pallets being used for produce - more than 30, according to one industry report from the mid-1990s. A variety of pallet sizes were used, depending upon such variables as the commodity and the growing region.
That variety of pallet sizes caused headaches for transportation planners and distribution center managers alike. Distribution centers were increasingly requesting that product be palletized on 48x40-inch pallets. The standard pallet size helped retailers to optimize essential functions such as receiving, storage, picking, and shipping. They could easily count the number of cartons being received on a standard pallet, and line up rows of incoming product neatly on their receiving floor. They could quickly place standard pallets in their racking system without incident. The 48x40 had already been established as the standard size for dry grocery products, and retailers could see the logic of also extending that requirement to produce.
The Need to Fit on the Standard Pallet
In creating a pooling solution, RPC providers recognized the importance of creating containers that would perfectly fit on the 48x40-inch pallet without product overhang, bulging or leaning boxes. As a result, the RPC footprint was designed to allow a layer of five RPCs to fully cover the deck of a pallet, developing a packaging system that helped fully cube pallet loads.
While RPCs come in a variety of sizes, they are designed to fit securely together. As such, they create a robust unit load (the combination of the pallet, the product, and any other stabilizing material such as stretch wrap or corner boards.) Likewise, when empty and flattened, RPCs of different sizes can be stacked together on the same pallet at retail to minimize the space required to accumulate them until they are picked up for the return to the service center for sanitization. Sanitized RPCs, no matter what size, are shipped in pallet quantities that are 52 inches high. Typically they are double stacked, to allow 60 pallets of empty RPCs per trailer to be delivered to a grower.
A Variety of Sizes to Provide a Best Fit for Products
Several RPC sizes are available, to meet the needs of particular products. Considerations include the need for air flow to maintain temperature, product crushability, and item size. Small, delicate products such as berries, mushrooms, and tomatoes are packed in shallow trays to avoid crushing and to promote ventilation, while more sturdy produce such as cabbage, head lettuce and spinach generally utilize deeper containers. Beans, onions, corn, and broccoli are typically best served by intermediate sizes.
How to Interpret RPC Sizes
RPC options can be confusing at first blush, but the system for identifying sizes is surprisingly simple. Take for example the 6408. This description indicates that the container is the standard footprint of 60 cm by 40 cm, with a height of 8 cm, a size commonly used for small, sensitive items. Likewise, the 6429 is a 60 cm by 40 cm container with a height of 29 cm, more appropriate for sturdy produce items. The different sizes fit together to make a sturdy unit load for shipment.
When you size it up, RPCs definitively bridge the challenge of optimal sizing to ensure the quality of fresh produce and providing an integrated system that optimizes the handling of palletized fresh products in the supply chain. Pool diversity is critical, and IFCO RPCs provide a bridge between standardization and the flexibility need to deliver the best fit for each product.