Originally printed in the April 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Pallets may come in various types and sizes, but it’s the bottom line that matters most.
The desire to shave every penny possible from the cost of moving produce from the field to the retailer’s shelf is having its impact even on the wooden or plastic pallets used to carry cases of fruits and vegetables to the distribution center and on to individual stores.
According to the Peerless Research survey of pallet use, 2017 Pallet Market Evaluation Study, purchase price has been the No. 1 Economy is a constant priority and must be included in any discussion of the best tool for the job of supporting the load. More and more suppliers are finding demand for models sized to fit the load or even to fit through the back door of smaller retail outlets.
Less Is More
One cost-saving trend a number of providers see is toward smaller models, frequently just half the “standard” size.
“We continue to see smaller pallets like the CHEP 40-inch by 24-inch half pallet growing in the market place,” says Brandon D’Emidio, director of product management & innovation atCHEP, Orlando, FL. “These platforms are being utilized as a store fulfillment solution that helps both customers and retailers reduce labor, reduce out-of-stocks, and drive increased sales. They are a great platform to help increase promotional sales.”
These economy-sized models can be particularly suitable for smaller stores, both because they can carry smaller loads and because they can fit through narrower doorways.
“Retailers are shifting from large-format to small-format stores,” says Ryan Roessler, plastic pallet product manager at Orbis, Milwaukee. “As more retailers make this adjustment, the demand for more accommodating merchandising, storage and distribution solutions grows. Small-format pallets — sized 42” x 30” — allow retail stores without dock doors to move product through standard-sized entryways. They also optimize truck space and make maneuvering between aisles and tight backrooms possible.”
Failure to downsize to fit the load may actually result in exposing the product to more damage.
“You don’t design a pallet to carry lettuce the same way as you design a pallet to carry pumpkins. ”
— Annette Ferri, National Wooden Pallet & Container Association
“When using a pallet disproportionate with the size of the load to be shipped, there is a significant decrease in product protection and an increase in product damage,” says Gary Sharon, vice president of Litco International, Vienna, OH. “Another application for a smaller pallet is for single-package shipments that are typically shipped via parcel post. These shipments often incur a high rate of damage from the rough manual handling in the supply chain that is associated with parcel shipping.”
Some models take economy to another level by working in the truck, at the distribution center, and on the produce department floor.
“Litco’s ‘Retailer’ pallet is a newer addition to Litco’s engineered molded wood product line,” says Sharon. “It is targeted for use as both the shipper pallet and the base for retail POP (point of purchase) floor displays. They are available in both domestic and European full, half and quarter sizes. The molded process ensures an attractive pallet/base with a dense surface, dimensional consistency, rounded corners, no pests, odors and mold.”
In some cases the “size” of the load has less to do with the length and width, and more to do with the weight.
“You don’t design a pallet to carry lettuce the same way as you design a pallet to carry pumpkins,” says Annette Ferri, vice president of communications at the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, Alexandria, VA. “Fewer board feet of lumber are needed for the pallet carrying lettuce than for heavier produce. Pallets move the world, they help feed America, and they help maintain healthy forests. Good markets for wood products connect to healthy forests and healthy communities.”
Use It Again?
Recyclability and the related issue of cost are the main reason wood is still by far the most common pallet material.
“Wood is the only 100 percent renewable material on the market,” says Ferri. “Plastic, metal and corrugated cardboard pallets are smaller markets, used for niche purposes, because of their limitations in recyclability, load-carrying capacity or cost.”
Nearly a quarter of users surveyed in the 2017 Pallet Market Evaluation Study valued recyclability.
Although the material is recyclable, some shippers are religiously committed to never using a wooden pallet a second time.
“At Gerawan Farming we pride ourselves in making our own pallet,” says Denver Schutz, technical services manager at Gerawan Farming, Fresno, CA. “Our Prima Pallet is fabricated in-house with select wood from trusted mills, each style custom-designed to safely protect the specific package it will carry. Prima fruit is always shipped on new, clean, unused pallets, which are monitored through packing, storage and shipping. All of our Prima Pallets are one-way pallets. We don’t want them back.”
Once used, the pallets from Gerawan Farming are sold to be recycled or repaired and used again by someone else.
“We sell any used and broken pallets to third-party pallet companies,” says Schutz. “They normally fix the pallets and sell them to other companies that may use them. That is just too risky for us. We always stack our fruit on new, and never previously used, Prima Pallets.”
Once a wooden pallet is “discarded” the material may move on to live again in any one of a number of functions.
“There are multiple ways wood pallets are recycled,” says Ferri. “For example, a company that is a recycler or collector will pick up/buy used pallets. They remove the old/broken boards, repair and replace with new boards, then resell those pallets. Those old, unusable boards, make their way to a massive chipper where the fasteners (nails) are removed and they’re converted to other useful products, like landscape mulch, animal bedding or biofuel.”
Technology created primarily for food safety purposes may also play an important role in inventory control by tracking pooled and reused pallets.
“iGPS [Intelligent Global Pooling Systems] has RFID tags installed in each pallet and also uses barcodes to keep track of its assets and determine dwell times,” says Schutz. “The preferred way to keep track of pooled pallet assets is by having the shipper “move” the pallet from origin to destination by entering the specific information into an online application. This has become the preferred way to move and keep track of pooled pallets in our industry.”
This ability to track movement could be the basis of technology taking resource conservation to an entirely new level.