For business’ of all kinds getting product safely and efficiently to customers is vital.  So it goes without saying that deciding on how to package and transport goods is a debate worth having.   One such debate is whether to opt for single use cardboard packaging or multi use returnable plastic crates for delivery of bread, confectionary, and baked goods.  We recently carried out a project with a bakery who decided to weigh up switching away from cardboard in favour of returnable plastic crates.  When we worked through the numbers, the cost saving and other benefits made it a no-brainer.

With a thriving and growing wholesale business the bakery had been using cardboard boxes for deliveries. Boxes went to customers full of product and delivery was made but only rarely were boxes returned and on these occasions, re-use wasn’t always possible as cardboard could not be cleaned, making them unsuitable for delivery of food product once soiled.  As demand went up so did the bakeries monthly spend on cardboard, not helped by the fact that, like everything in 2022, the cost of cardboard was on the rise.  Repeatedly buying cardboard was costing the business circa £1200 per month, which was one of the drivers to explore the option of switching to returnable plastic trays. They began weighing up the option of switching from monthly orders of cardboard boxes to a pool of suitable returnable plastic trays.  This is where Onit Direct come in! After a review of the process, products and supply chain, we put forward our BT8 bakery tray.  An 8 loaf general purpose distribution crate, which given the products and process involved was a good fit.  The crates are very much designed for repeat use, offered space saving features, plus unlike some bread trays have four sides enabling use with a wide range of different product types which suited the comprehensive selection of baked goods and confectionary items being transported.

On running the numbers in this case the annual spend on cardboard boxes was circa £15,000 vs a one off spend of around £4000 for a suitable number of re-usable crates.  Even allowing for some loss, damage or theft from the pool of plastic crates there was a very worthwhile financial benefit in switching to plastic, represented by a healthy £10,000+ annual saving.  But that wasn’t the only benefit, plastic trays were easy to store thanks to the space saving stack / nest function.  Meaning that whilst not in use the trays took up a lot less space, especially compared to assembled boxes which don’t store easily when assembled.  Plus the light weight yet robust nature of the plastic crates enabled easy handling but also offered more protection in transit to the precious baked cargo within.  Environmental impact was also a key consideration, as it should be with any forward-thinking responsible business.  For good reason single use plastic is being phased out and replaced with more sustainable alternatives where possible.  We feel it is important that repeat use items such as plastic delivery crates should be looked upon as part of the solution.  Whilst plastic, they are designed for repeat use and actually cut down the reliance on single use packaging by offering may years continuous service.  When crates do reach the end of their usable life, rigid plastic trays, tote and crates can be easily recycled at multiple facilities here in the UK.  The trays are turned back into a raw material which can then be used to make something different or simply more crates.

A key factor with managing reusable pools of equipment is retention.  When using crates to deliver outside of your business, it is vital to reduce risk of them not being returned, either stolen, lost or mixed in with crates from another supplier.  We are able to print on all of our crates and can also supply them in a range of colours, helping them to be more easily identified.  The bakery in this scenario opted for brightly coloured crates that would easily stand out, printed with their company details.  The crates were supplied with a number of compatible wheeled dollies to ensure easy movement throughout the business and supply chain.

In this case the switch to plastic crates offered a significant cost saving along with other benefits that made making the switch an easy decision for a business to make.  However it goes without saying that in some circumstances plastic may not be the best option, for example plastic crates are only feasible when they can be collected or easily returned, which isn’t possible in some supply chains.  Ultimately what this case does show is that where plastic crates are viable the benefits are clear and well worth exploring against the supply chain a bakery or business operates.  If you would like an open discussion about your supply chain, our team are always on hand to talk through the options available.