With our unique SmartCycle™ pooling system, IFCO maximizes food supply chain efficiency, saving you costs at every step. When Anastasios Papadopoulos thinks about his 20-year career at IFCO, he sees enormous changes: "IFCO has grown from a small start-up to a global player and market leader with over 1,100 employees worldwide." But one priority has remained – saving our customers time and money.
IFCO – which stands for "International Food Container Organization" – was the first company worldwide to provide reusable packaging solutions, by introducing collapsible reusable plastic containers (RPCs) to the market. Today IFCO delivers RPCs to more than 50 countries, with 314 million RPCs circulating globally. Anastasios, who heads asset management for Europe, knows that IFCO’s success comes from understanding customer needs – and then delivering what customers want, when they want it. "We are working closely with more than 14,000 food producers and over 300 retailers in different food sectors – from fruit and vegetables to meat and fish, and bakery goods," he says. "Our customers are the key to success. We always listen carefully to their feedback and requirements – and we respond to them. This way, they have constantly helped us to shape our business model, from our beginning until now."
In fact, IFCO’s success and good reputation go hand-in-hand with the company’s close customer orientation. Along each step of the company’s logistics chain – called SmartCycle™ – IFCO’s RPC pooling services make customers’ lives easier. As these robust containers go from producer to point of sale, they reduce labor, storage space and packaging waste along the way. "It’s a ‘one touch system’. Once the producer places the produce in a container, no one touches it again until a shopper selects it at the point of sale," says Anastasios.
"In contrast, single-use packaging might cost less when you buy it but you usually have to pay solid-waste disposal fees," the expert explains. "In fact, compared to single-use packaging, IFCO RPCs lowers our customers’ costs by up to 27 percent.
Switching from single-use packaging to IFCO RPCs eliminates EUR 681 million in costs from fresh food supply chains each year," the expert continues.
Also, IFCO’s pooling system revolves around making supply chain management more convenient for its customers: "They only have to order the desired quantity of RPCs. Afterwards, IFCO manages the whole pooling process for them," he adds.
Through its presence in more than 30 countries, IFCO provides its customers with local support and a maximum of planning security. Increasingly, this begins with digital services that simplify the ordering process. "Our clients’ journeys at IFCO begin digitally with the online platform MyIFCO™," explains Anastasios. With this software, IFCO customers can easily order new RPCs, and just-in-time deliveries are fast and convenient, granting quantitative and qualitative punctuality.
"Trucks reliably deliver the right number of IFCO RPCs to our customers on time. Within local markets, IFCO delivers within 48 hours, and within 96 hours internationally," he continues. "Within Germany, for example, we provide this fast delivery even with pallets of up to 700 kg. This is a special service that our customers appreciate a lot," the IFCO expert notes. As an added convenience, IFCO customers can track the current location and delivery status of their crates via the MyIFCO™ platform.
In the transport of IFCO RPCs between growers and retail distribution centers, the high degree of standardization generates a stream of positive benefits. "The stackability of our RPCs allows efficient operation of our customers’ business processes," says Anastasios. In addition, the highly engineered design and standardized footprint makes IFCO RPCs ideal for automated warehouse systems, which increase the efficiency of sorting, storing and order picking.
At the point-of-sale, retailers can depend on the product protection provided by the sturdy construction of IFCO RPCs. This display-ready packaging also reduces the need for handling. "IFCO RPCs are designed to protect the products from damage, which preserves their marketability. And optimal ventilation serves to extend the shelf life of the food," the IFCO expert explains. When it is time for recollection of IFCO RPCs, once inbound quantities and truckloads have been determined, IFCO handles pick-up for customers. And once the RPCs return to IFCO service centers, advanced technology counts IFCO RPCs precisely, with each one checked individually for any damage. "Any defective RPCs are completely recycled," explains Anastasios.
With a washing capacity of 2 billion units annually, IFCO can clean, dry and sanitize large numbers of RPCs quickly. "We use highly automated systems, eco-friendly detergents and disinfectants, and keep a record of any contaminants found," he states. "We ensure that IFCO RPCs are cleaned and sanitized according to stringent industry hygiene standards." Once RPCs have been made pristine again, the huge capacity of IFCO’s storage facilities allows high flexibility for filling orders. "With more than 80 wash depots globally, we have the space necessary to store our crates for on-hand inventory. This lets us respond quickly to peaks in customer demand."
With an eye to retail trends, IFCO is continually developing its RPCs to be as space-saving as possible, such as with its Lift Lock series. "At only 28 mm when folded, it is the flattest crate within Europe at the moment and serves as our flagship," says Anastasios, who also heads IFCO product engineering for Europe. "Because of its reduced dimensions, more RPCs fit on the pallets – increasing cost efficiency."
In the future, he and his team aim to drive even more innovation – while maintaining cost and service leadership. "Maximizing supply chain efficiency with our unique pooling system is a win-win situation. With our efficient business model, we generate more affordable prices for our customers and their customers. And just as importantly, our RPCs benefit the environment. Because our high-quality crates protect products, we’re part of the solution to reducing food waste in all steps of the supply chain," Anastasios notes proudly. "By being the biggest and best provider of pooled RPC solutions, we increase our customers’ success in an innovative and sustainable way – because a better supply chain serves us all."