Spanish Agricultural Group Calls for Free Choice of Corrugated or RPCs for Fresh Produce

A Spanish agricultural association is pushing back against supermarket requirements that its members ship in reusable plastic containers. It is opposed to extra cost it says that growers must absorb because of this requirement. The correct selection of shipping container is a key factor in producer competitiveness, attendees heard at a panel discussion held on April 8 in Spain, as reported by the Association of Organisations of Producers of Fruit and Vegetables of Almería (COEXPHAL).

According to the account, Coexphal partners joined forces to “denounce distribution chains, with the imposition of certain packaging reusable plastic pools, are making us lose money.” A report discussed at the meeting suggested that Almeria fruit and vegetable producers could save 57.2 million euros using cardboard packaging just for products listed in the study, a number that would be higher if a broader range of products was considered.  

In regard to the meeting, European Supermarket Magazine reported that:

Economist Ramón Tubío, who specializes in the agri-food sector, referenced his own study, Comparatve Analysis of Packaging Costs, to explain that the excess cost involved in using reusable plastic crates instead of corrugated boxes is between 0.20 and 1.20 euros per box, or between 2 and 30 cents per kilo of product.

An analysis of the two box types also found that corrugated board has a lower environmental impact. Furthermore, it was discovered that single-use, versus reusable, packaging minimizes contamination risks, and can even prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

The results are highly divergent than the results of several other studies, such as the recent IFCO Life Cycle Assessment, which support sustainability and quality retention attributes of RPCs.

The group was told that French tomato producers had been successful in resisting a conversion to RPCs, and that  Walmart in Canada had recently made ​​the decision “to leave their fruit and vegetable suppliers  (to) freely choose which package is best suited to their product…”

Resistance to change is nothing new, when it comes to complying with inbound shipping container requirements. In 2006 I reported on a court case involving the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland, which was sued by a supplier which objected to being required to ship on EUR pallets versus cheaper alternatives (Is the Customer Always Right When It Comes to Pallet Standards). The supplier lost the case.

Market power can be an important issue, however, and when the fragmented group feels like it is shouldering extra burden so powerful trading partners can reap even greater benefits, there is inevitably going to be a disconnect. Ultimately, successful supply chain reform can only come when there is a collaborative process, one that transcends functional and corporate silos to neutralize me/you and either/or thinking, a legacy of disfunctionality that continues to impede more sustainable solutions. And the last time I checked, we were running out of time.