PRODUCE PACKAGING COMMITTEE URGES BOX STANDARD

DALLAS -- A produce packaging task force is urging industry partners to evaluate the potential of shipping and receiving produce packaging in a standardized footprint. The dimensions -- 40-by-60 centimeters, or approximately 16-by-24 inches -- are identical to the size adopted by makers of fiberboard and returnable plastic containers.The Joint Produce Packaging Committee, convened earlier this year

DALLAS -- A produce packaging task force is urging industry partners to evaluate the potential of shipping and receiving produce packaging in a standardized footprint. The dimensions -- 40-by-60 centimeters, or approximately 16-by-24 inches -- are identical to the size adopted by makers of fiberboard and returnable plastic containers.

The Joint Produce Packaging Committee, convened earlier this year by the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., and the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va., made its recommendation after its first meeting, held here.

In a joint statement, the co-chairmen of the panel -- Fred Heptinstall, executive vice president, Chiquita Fresh North America, Cincinnati, and Tim York, president of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative -- said "a standardized size for multiple produce commodities could offer significant supply chain cost efficiencies, regardless of what packaging materials are used."

Committee members representing a diverse cross section of the produce industry, including retailers, examined a number of packaging issues such as market forces, international trends, packing and handling efficiencies and quality-control concerns, among other subjects.

"We recognize that a transition from current package sizes to a standardized 40-by-60 centimeter footprint will require significant research and testing by some commodity groups and individual shippers and receivers to ensure that product quality can be maintained, and that issues such as volume or count changes must be thoroughly addressed by business partners," said Tom Stenzel, president of United.

"Our associations will now begin the process of engaging our members in a dialogue on how they might adapt to the standardized footprint," added Bryan Silbermann, PMA president. He said a joint association on-line resource under development will contain information about the standardized footprint and background information on its potential benefits in supply chain efficiencies.

"We'll also solicit industry feedback and opinions on the issues raised, and share that information with the packaging committee," he said.

During the meeting, presentations were made to the committee by the Fibre Box Association, Rolling Meadows, Ill., and the Washington-based Reusable Pallet and Container Coalition, both of which discussed their own members' commitment to the standard footprint.

In addition to the footprint recommendation, the committee urged PMA and United to encourage the packaging industry to work together on stackability and interlocking of corrugated boxes and returnable plastic containers.

"The committee felt that the compatibility of corrugated and plastic containers is a critical issue as retailers, wholesalers and food-service distributors are mixing pallets with both types of containers," said York. "The efficiencies that might be gained by a standardized footprint could be lost if these different packaging types can't be stacked together."

The committee has not yet scheduled a next meeting date, but will be working together through its own internal on-line discussion site to engage in dialogue on an ongoing basis, according to officials.

"This is an important first step," said Heptinstall. "But now it's time for PMA and United to engage the industry in a broader dialogue about what it would take to adapt to a standardized footprint.

A report from the packaging committee will be featured in two workshops on October 30 during the PMA convention in Anaheim, Calif. Subsequent workshops will be held at United's convention in Tampa, Fla., in March 2001.