Editor’s Note: RPA is beginning a new monthly series of guest interviews with top industry executives from RPA member companies to discuss their insights and perspectives on the reusable packaging industry and the role of RPA in today’s reusable business.
Mike Hachtman is Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development at IFCO SYSTEMS N.A., INC. in Houston, TX. He is also RPA’s Vice Chairman.
IFCO provides reusable, recycled wood pallets and related services (recycling, sort and repair, etc.) as well as reusable plastic containers (RPCs) and related services. IFCO’s pallets play a critical role in moving product safely and efficiently throughout the supply chain, from manufacturer to retailer. IFCO offers warehouse and logistics services as well, assisting retailers and distributors with a variety of pallet and container-related handling services, including reverse logistics. The company’s RPCs are used throughout the fresh supply chain, protecting delicate produce in transit to ensure that higher quality produce reaches stores.
RPA Editor – Describe some of the challenges your company faces in the market.
Hachtman – Because reusable packaging impacts the entire supply chain, many companies view a reusable system as too complicated. In reality, the cost and production efficiencies typically gained through reusable systems far outweigh any additional ‘homework’ required to implement a reusable system. The process of implementing a reusable system also brings greater visibility to your supply chain, a benefit in and of itself. Understanding this is one of the major challenges companies face.
RPA Editor – Describe some of the successes that IFCO or your customers have had with implementing reusable packaging.
Hachtman – The grocery retail industry has repeatedly experienced successful reusable packaging implementations. Several factors contribute to this. First, fresh product is already highly visible in the grocery supply chain due to shrink and food safety concerns. This facilitates the implementation of reusable packaging (namely RPCs) because obstacles can be quickly identified and overcome. Second, the better product protection offered by reusable packaging is particularly critical in fresh produce applications, as produce quality is the top determining factor used by consumers in selecting a grocery store. Finally, the ease of use and ergonomics offered by RPCs (as well as most other reusable packaging) is an immediate benefit to DC and store employees, reducing much of the initial apprehension and/or pushback that is so common with new packaging system implementation.
RPA Editor – What are the key changes you see happening in the reusable marketplace in the near future?
Hachtman – Reusable systems are quickly becoming mainstream. In the past, reusable packaging providers had an uphill battle to try and educate the market before their products and services could be properly understood. This educational challenge has been addressed in many markets today, so the focus has shifted from validating the value of reuse to continued innovation. Markets are no longer satisfied with our products simply because they are reusable; we must continue to show additional value.
RPA Editor – Why did you choose to become a member of the RPA leadership team?
Hachtman – The RPA is the only trade organization focused on the unique requirements of reusable packaging. As a long-time member, I have seen those requirements change as the industry has grown and gained acceptance. I feel we are at a pivotal moment in the development of the reusable packaging industry, and feel strongly about helping guide the RPA to take full advantage.
RPA Editor – What value have you gained personally by being a member of the RPA?
Hachtman – Personally, the RPA has allowed me an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the various types of reusable packaging and systems beyond what IFCO provides. This understanding gives me greater insight into possible solutions for IFCO’s customers. In addition, the opportunity to network with industry peers has proven very valuable in our relatively small industry group.
RPA Editor – What has your company gained from your involvement?
Hachtman – While there are differences between the various types of reusable packaging and systems, there are also multiple similarities. IFCO is able to learn from best practices from across the reusables industry to see how we might may apply them to our businesses and benefit our customers.
RPA Editor – Has the RPA had a positive impact on your business?
Hachtman – Many of the studies conducted by the RPA in the past have helped validate and quantify the benefits of reusable packaging.
RPA Editor – Why would you recommend membership in the RPA to another company?
Hachtman – The reusable packaging industry is not homogenous; each provider has its own unique needs for the association to fill – be it research, networking, marketing, etc. If your company is not a member of the association, you’re missing out on the opportunity to have your unique needs represented and allowing your peers (and competitors!) to shape the marketplace for you.