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Wal-Mart backtracks on RPC-to-paper carton switch

Don Schrack
The Packer

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 5) Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has changed directions yet again in the company’s push to display-ready corrugated cartons from reusable plastic cartons for some commodities.

In e-mails Aug. 4, Wal-Mart notified its apple, citrus and stone fruit suppliers that the scheduled switch to corrugated cartons for the commodities will no longer occur in mid-October.

“The packaging transition set for WK-39 will be delayed until the in-market trials are completed,” according to the e-mail sent to suppliers. “After the trial data is evaluated a detailed transition plan will be communicated.”

Information on those trials was not available Aug. 5.  Wal-Mart has been using RPCs for fresh produce since 1998, but it also accepted shipments in corrugated cartons.

On June 15, Wal-Mart notified apple, citrus and stone fruit grower-shippers who supplied the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain that it expected them to transition to the corrugated cartons in early September.

“In an effort to improve our customer’s experience we will be moving our Orchard Fruit category into display-ready cases (DRC) based on the corrugated common footprint (CCF) guidelines,” the letter said. “This change will provide better product identification and will help educate our customer and improve category navigation and product selection.”

The display-ready cartons, the letter said, would be “high-graphic design-specific to the variety.”

The use of RPCs, however, does not eliminate the ability to use graphics and other forms of communicating with shoppers, said Andy Hamilton, Atlanta, Ga.-based vice president of eastern sales for IFCO Systems N.A. Inc., Houston, a worldwide supplier of plastic RPCs, wood pallets and pallet management services.

“There is a variety of consumer messaging options available with RPCs, and those consumer messaging options have been presented to Wal-Mart,” he said.

On July 27, another Wal-Mart directive to grower-shippers said the transition was being delayed six weeks as the company conducted a series of in-market trials.

Wal-Mart has declined to comment on the decision to move its suppliers back to corrugated cartons.

Hamilton said other major retailers continue to rely on RPCs.

“RPC use is expanding throughout the U.S. and Canada as more retailers – including Safeway and Kroger – validate supply chain cost savings, improved product quality and environmental savings over display-ready cartons,” Hamilton said.

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