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In a move that is estimated to eliminate over 17 million pounds of corrugated cardboard shipping boxes, Safeway Inc. has transitioned to using reusable product containers (RPCs) to ship many types of produce from the farm fields through the distribution channel and to final store destinations.
Safeway, which has introduced a broad range of successful sustainability practices across its operations, has used RPCs for decades on many of its consumer brand categories, including bread, milk and soda. The company began testing RPCs in its distribution system for fresh wet-pack produce — fruits and vegetables kept on ice until they reach the store — in early 2010.
Making the transition for produce, which continued throughout 2011, was a more complicated process than for other products because of the requirements the shift placed on the Pleasanton, Calif.-based retailer’s distributors and grower partners.
The company's major supplier, IFCO Systems, says Safeway's implementation of RPCs was the fastest and most aggressive program roll-out of its kind to date.
Explained Tom Nartker, Safeway’s VP of transportation: "This expansion into produce is a natural extension of best practices in logistics. Safeway will continue to look for opportunities to expand the usage of RPCs into additional categories to have an even greater positive environmental impact."
The use of RPCs not only keeps non-recyclable shipping containers out of the supply chain, adds Nartker, but also has an even greater positive environmental impact, since RPCs can be stacked higher and more densely than traditional boxes, allowing for more efficient shipping and requiring fewer trips to transport the same amount of product. This, in turn, decreases trucking emissions and traffic volume.
Safeway Inc. operates 1,678 stores in the United States and western Canada and had annual sales of $43.6 billion in 2011.