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03/19/2014 04:26:00 PM
David Mitchell

IFCO Systems’ reusable plastic container for bananas hasn’t officially hit the market, but the new RPC already is garnering attention from the industry.

IFCO’s Caja de Oro, or box of gold, recently was nominated for a product innovation award during Fruit Logistica in Berlin. The container, which is made of 100% recyclable polypropylene, has been in trials with several North American retailers in the past 18 months, said Hillary Femal, vice president of global marketing.

“The RPC has performed very well during the trial programs,” she said.

The container has air vents for ripening rooms, which typically maintain a humidity level of 95% to 98% to keep moisture in the fruit. Femal said the high humidity can pose a problem for corrugated containers, leading to damaged fruit.

The improved air flow in the ventilated box helps maintain a consistent temperature in the bananas and saves time when air stacking, the ventilation practice retailers use to keep heat from building up in boxes. With corrugated boxes, air stacking involves taking the lid off a box, pulling plastic off of the bananas and inserting the bottom of the container into the upside down top of the box for reinforcement during stacking.

“Anyone that has banana inventory in the back room for more 24 hours will have an air stacking protocol for their stores,” Femal said. “High-volume stores can be required to do this on as many as 50 boxes a day. Air stacking 50 boxes a day is very taxing and time consuming. Pulling a lid, replacing the bottom, and cross-stacking can take 30 seconds a box.”

The RPC doesn’t need a lid, which reduces time when filling displays, Femal said. Bananas are packed directly in the container at farms and remain in the containers during transport, storage and ripening. The container’s air vents also provide optimal cooling during packing, 30% to 40% faster than with cardboard, according to IFCO. Improved ventilation also ensures uniform fruit color.

Femal said the company’s trials also revealed a reduction in neck injury, the black bruises that can occur near the top of the peel when too much pressure is applied to the fruit.

According to IFCO, 85% of produce managers surveyed indicated a preference for the RPC over corrugated box for bananas. Seventy-five percent said the RPC saves time, and 80% said the RPC is easier to handle than a corrugated box.

Femal said timing for a full rollout of the banana RPC is dependent on “solving some logistical challenges in terms of pallet quantities.”

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