The Importance of Product Protection in Ensuring Collaborative Supply Chains: The Case Study of the Egg Carton

Product damage leads to finger pointing until egg carton delivers a win-win solution

Invention of the egg carton by Joseph Coyle -- the Coyle Egg-Safety Carton advertisement and logo, Chicago, 1927. Photo Courtesy of the Bulkley Valley Museum, Smithers, BC.

The Coyle Egg-Safety Carton advertisement and logo, Chicago, 1927. Photo Courtesy of the Bulkley Valley Museum, Smithers, BC.

The year is 1911, and diners pause as an argument erupts at a Smithers B.C. hotel where a number of patrons, including 40-year-old newspaperman Joseph Coyle, are having breakfast. The disagreement is not a new one, according to Fergus Tomlin, director of the Bulkley Valley Museum. Hardly a week goes by without an altercation between a local egg supplier and the hotel owner. The farmer thinks that the hotelier is trying to avoid paying for the entire shipment by saying that some eggs are broken. Meanwhile, the hotelier feels that the farmer is trying to get away with shipping broken eggs and charging for them.

Joseph Coyle is the owner of the locally based Interior News. Born in Ontario in 1871, he began his news career there, with subsequent moves to New Jersey and Alaska. In 1906, he takes up residence in B.C.’s Bulkley Valley and begins operating his newspaper. Having overheard the dispute, he goes back to his office and performs his own root cause analysis. Over ensuing weeks, he invents a solution to the contentious problem – the paper egg carton.

The new egg carton is a success! He continues to manufacture the new invention by hand and eventually develops a machine to automate the process. He is issued a patent for his carton in 1918, and in 1919, and leaves the Bulkley Valley to set up production in the larger metropolis of Vancouver. The carton finds new friends everywhere it is introduced, and Coyle moves with his machine next to Toronto, and then Chicago as well as to Los Angeles.

Coyle returned to British Columbia in the late 1930s, and took up residence in New Westminster, near Vancouver. He passed away in 1972, at the age of 101. Over the course of his career, he also invented a vehicle anti-theft device as well as a cigar end trimmer.

Ellen Myton, Coyle’s daughter, told the historical association in the early 1980s that his invention had generated great wealth – but not for her father. “As is so often the case with inventors, he was no match for the sharp practices of big business and their sharper lawyers,” she said. “The Coyle carton made several millionaires, but dad was not one of them. We lived comfortably, but not affluently.”

As for the egg carton, his patents, including US (US1269394) and Canada (CA181662), were issued in 1918 and would become the standard for decades. Overall he had over a dozen patents during his career. The most commonly used egg carton design used today was invented by H.G. Bennett in 1952. Foam containers came later. Jon Huntsman, in a joint venture with Dow Chemical, patented the first foam egg carton in 1967.

While a simple story, it serves to underscore the relationship between supply chain reliability and collaboration. Given the lack of attention that even today is often given to packaging strategy, it provides a reminder of how a good package can help build and sustain great supply chain relationships.

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