PHILADELPHIA -- Responses coming in to date on the common packaging footprint indicate some commodities are making faster inroads than others, according to the joint industry committee formed to examine the issue.
A study gauging acceptance of the standard -- 40 centimeters by 60 centimeters, or roughly 16 inches by 24 inches -- is not designed to measure the advantages of the two primary containers used, returnable plastic containers or corrugated cardboard, so much as the dimensions, said Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative, Salinas, Calif., one of the committee's co-chairmen.
"It's about the size of the box, rather than what the box is made of," he said.
The targeted survey is collecting data primarily from commodity groups and associations, who were asked to query their grower/shipper members.
Specifically, the poll is measuring the level of standard-footprint penetration for the most popular fruits and vegetables.
Retailers have also been asked to share some data on their use of common footprint packs in order to supplement the supplier responses.
"This is a more quantitative study," said co-chair Fred Heptinstall, executive vice president of Chiquita Fresh North America, Cincinnati. "But it's still directional in nature."
Apples were one item that demonstrated great strides, according to Heptinstall. Up to 25% of apples shipped by the largest Washington state growers travelled in common-footprint containers, the preliminary findings revealed. Still, it is a work in progress, the poll indicated: While the optimum weight threshold of 40 pounds, agreed upon earlier by the joint committee, was met in corrugated boxes (averaging 30 pounds gross), RPC weights ranged up to 49 pounds. Officials believe this may be because RPC walls are higher than corrugated, by an average of three inches.
The data also shows RPCs can exhibit some transportation inefficiencies in the form of wasted space, but "buyers and sellers seem to be accepting this trade-off," Heptinstall said.
Use of the standard reduced the number of apples per corrugated box, from 72 to 50, though the number increased in RPCs, from 72 to 75. This is due to the higher walls of the plastic container, and also explains the increased weight of the RPC, Heptinstall said.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was no move to common-footprint packs for asparagus, the poll is showing. Here, shippers are still using the traditional corrugated or wooden pyramid-shaped packs designed to protect the spears and tips. And there appears to be very little demand for the standard box from retailers, as shippers reported no requests for the packs.
The initial results, released during the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit 2001, will be further developed and posted on the Web sites of PMA and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, by the end of this year, officials said.