Polymer Logistics “Goes with the Wood Grain” to Help Retailers Boost Sales
CHICAGO — Reusable plastic crates have their advantages, but giving the produce department a natural appearance hasn't been counted as one of them.
However, the new wood-look RPC from Polymer Logistics has an important and enthusiastic fan in Dorn Wenninger, vice president of produce and floral for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores.
The Polymer Logistics wood-look RPC is functionally just the same crate as other RPCs, with the same footprint and the same reverse logistics, he said.
"In effect it is just the visual impact, but we think that is important," he said June 10 at the Polymer Logistics booth at the United Fresh expo. "This is a game-changer in the RPC industry," he said. "We have great confidence this will be a big success."
Wenninger said Wal-Mart began talking with Polymer Logistics about a year ago about the wood-look RPC. From the first time he saw it, Wenninger said he considered it a positive step and an improvement over existing RPCs, which have changed little in appearance since Wal-Mart first began using them more than 10 years ago.
Wenninger said that Polymer Logistics — an existing supplier to Wal-Mart of standard looking RPCs — was the only company that came to the retailer with the wood-look RPC design.
He said Wal-Mart receives about half of its produce in corrugated cartons and about half in RPCs. While some commodities may perform better in corrugated cartons than RPCs and vice-versa, Wenninger said Wal-Mart supports reusable containers for sustainability reasons.
"We are directionally supportive of RPCs as a general step and we love the look of these; you will see us leaning in more heavily in the coming months," he said.
The wood-look RPCs have been tested in multiple Wal-Mart stores in northwest Arkansas, he said, and the responses from consumers and Wal-Mart associates has been positive. Wenninger also showed them to Wal-Mart store managers in February and received enthusiastic feedback, he said.
The pace of rolling them out will be slowed by a limited supply. He said the chain plans to phase them in on a regional basis.
"This is not about flagship stores, large or small stores, ultimately I want this RPC in all my stores," he said.
Having a container that looks great to consumers is powerful, he said.
"RPCs are always important for creating an efficient means (of moving product) from the farm to the shelf, but to me this is helping focus on the customer experience," he said.
"It is important to signal to consumers and associates that we are different and we are better, and to help demonstrate some of the steps we have made over the past several years."
For example, Wenninger said that wood-look RPC is on-trend with consumer preferences and reinforces initiatives by Wal-Mart to increase local produce sourcing and also boost organic produce sales.
The wood-look RPC conveys a farmers' market feel in the produce department, he said.
"Wal-Mart is outpacing growth of organic produce versus the rest of the industry and we are significantly committed to local produce," he said.
Gideon Feiner, CEO of Netherlands-based Polymer Logistics, praised Wal-Mart's vision to improve the consumer experience.
Feiner said that other RPC makers could try to get on board the trend toward more natural looking RPCs, but he expects the overall market demand for RPCs to grow as a result.
Wenninger said that Wal-Mart supports innovation and first-mover advantage. While Wal-Mart may source from other RPC suppliers, Wenninger said he expects Polymer Logistics will be an important partner with the chain in the coming months and years.