Reference case: Rolling out fresh packaging solutions for modern egg supply chains

written by IFCO SYSTEMS, 26th July 2022, in Success Stories

NestFresh is a top US supplier of specialty eggs with an ambitious goal. Minimize damage rates in the egg supply chain and reduce its environmental impact. Our close collaboration was the key driver to innovation. "Gregg", our customized collapsible dairy and egg crate, cracked this puzzle for good.

The tricky task of protecting fresh shell eggs

Eggs may come in their own protective shell, but they crack easily under pressure. That’s not the only challenge for egg producers. The typical egg supply chain involves many time-consuming manual steps. Each touch increases the likelihood of egg cracks and damage.

We partnered with NestFresh, a top US supplier of specialty eggs, and hatched a clever plan to deliver the necessary extra care without extra costs. Our close collaboration delivered the innovative collapsible dairy and egg crate. And with it a reusable packaging container (RPC) and sustainable packaging solution that the egg supply chain so desperately needs. Why now?

"Old-fashioned, single-use crates don’t reflect the ethical values of today’s egg producers," notes Candice Herndon, President, IFCO North America. "One-way containers are a symbol of waste. And the negative knock-on effects of using them can be extensive."

One false move and the eggs can shatter and splatter inside of weaker crates. The unboxing experience becomes an unpleasant task for retailers and consumers alike.

Important steps to support the modern supply chain

As anyone who’s dropped an egg or two will know, it’s a messy job to clean up. It’s even messier when this happens in grocery stores – in more ways than one.

"Damaged eggs quickly damage your reputation and your margins, which are generally already tight in this sector. As well as being a waste of eggs and money, it’s also a huge waste of your valuable labor and resources. These things matter for our business," says Jasen Urena, NestFresh’s Vice President. "And IFCO shares our concerns."

To address the issue, NestFresh decided to team up with us in the search for an innovative packaging solution and reusable packaging container to improve the end-to-end supply chain for eggs.

A network of family-owned farms is more sustainable

To appreciate the urgency behind the search for more sustainable packaging, it might help to understand the ethos that defines NestFresh.

What began as a small-scale, family-owned farm in 1991 in Colorado has evolved into a close-knit network of like-minded specialty farms across the US. Their innovative and sustainable collective of small family farms came about in response to growing consumer demand for a more humane approach to egg production.

The focus of the NestFresh network is firmly on connecting regional family farms with local stores and health food markets to deliver fresh eggs more sustainably.

"We strive to be the leader in sustainable, local, humane and natural eggs," Urena explains. "By working with a producer network of individual farm families, NestFresh is working toward this goal while keeping the American dream alive for hundreds of small-scale US farmers."

To be sustainable as an egg producer, you first need to keep your damage rates low at every step of your supply chain. This is why protecting the eggs produced by NestFresh’s farmer network was such a priority for the company.

“Old-fashioned, single-use crates don’t reflect the ethical values of today’s egg producers”

Candice Herndon , President, IFCO North America

Reducing high damage rates in the egg supply chain by 50%

In general, you might accept a 2% damage rate with fresh shell eggs, but not one that stayed consistently as high as 5%. It isn’t ideal. This was the case for NestFresh and their partners. By replacing single-use packaging with our innovative collapsible dairy and egg crate, that rate was radically reduced by 50% — a significant improvement to their supply chain.

How could switching from single-use packaging to reusable packaging make such an impact so quickly? By carrying out pilot testing under real-world conditions with NestFresh partners over a two-year period, we ensured that the final design of the crate would bring the improvements they needed. Throughout the project, NestFresh shared their specific needs and provided feedback into each design iteration along the way.

Most importantly, the end result ensured that the estimated damage, cost, labor and emissions savings would be realized in full, and not just on the drawing board. By designing the crate with its use and users in mind, we delivered an innovation that truly worked.

What makes the collapsible egg crate better?

By collaborating closely with a national egg producer and performing real-world trials at full scale, we made sure that the final design of the dairy and egg crate is ideally customized for the end-to-end supply chain for fresh shell eggs.

This collapsible RPC brings key advantages to egg producers, including:

Structurally robust and highly protective to keep weight off the eggs, bearing the load on the crates instead to reduce egg damage rates.

Easy to handle at the farms, along the supply chain and in the stores. Designed to reduce manual handling of individual egg cartons for faster shelf replenishment.

Food-safe sanitized and designed to provide superior ventilation for faster and more efficient cooling of fresh eggs along the entire cold chain, ensuring a longer shelf life as a result.

RFID-enabled individual crates to ensure better transparency, traceability and digitalization in the supply chain.

Foldable to cut down on transport costs and emissions. Designed to hold industry-standard egg cartons.

Tackling all kinds of waste in the egg supply chain

Without question, reducing damage rates by 50% is a huge achievement. Reducing labor and transport costs are others. But there’s more. In addition, NestFresh was able to solve other long-standing issues that had resulted from using single-use packaging.

"Not only do you waste time and money dealing with single-use packaging at the farms and at the retailers, but you also become a contributor to waste," explains Urena. "One-way containers are used for a single delivery – and then they enter the waste stream at the end of their short service life. Creating waste simply doesn’t tie in with our values."

What are those key values? "Many of our farms, like those that produce our pasture raised, non-GMO, or organic eggs, go to extra lengths in order to protect the earth," notes Urena. "This includes rotational pasturing to protect the land from overuse or avoiding harmful pesticides. We believe IFCO has a similar mindset to our own. Their circular business model shows they are just as committed to protecting the environment as we are."

The circular economy model works for egg crates

The reusable and 100% recyclable design of the collapsible dairy and egg crate rolls perfectly into our successful circular economy business model. As with all IFCO RPCs, the reusable dairy and egg crates are designed for a long life. They are also reused up to 120 times, which reduces CO2 emissions by up to 60% and consumes 64% less energy and 80% less water than single-use packaging.

At the end of their service life, when they can no longer be repaired, IFCO RPCs can be infinitely recycled into new IFCO crates within the closed pool, thereby cutting down significantly on solid waste. In fact, IFCO RPCs produce 86% less solid waste over their entire life cycle compared to single-use packaging.

This sustainable circular economy model suits NestFresh perfectly, as Urena makes clear. "The circular business model of IFCO goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to sustainability."

“The circular business model of IFCO goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to sustainability”

Jasen Urena , Vice President, NestFresh

What are the benefits of the IFCO share-and-reuse system?

As the collapsible egg crate is integrated into the IFCO SmartCycle™, NestFresh sees other clear gains from the partnership. "We don’t have to invest the capital upfront to create our own pool of crates or worry about wash processes, returns or management of assets," highlights Urena. "This makes the IFCO solution much more cost-efficient for all suppliers, especially small specialty farms. We all benefit from IFCO’s best-in-class food safety program and a much more efficient system."

The backbone of this system is the IFCO SmartCycle™ pooling system. This is where we manage and maximize use of our reusable packaging containers for the benefit of all our customers and the planet. By sharing and reusing our RPCs, you help eliminate waste in the fresh grocery supply chain and cut down on emissions, costs and waste, all in one go.

Crucially for producers, switching to the collapsible egg crate is a smooth process. Handling the IFCO RPCs is easy, thanks to the one-touch system. You don’t complicate the workload at any step of the supply chain. In fact, thanks to the ergonomic design of the crates, you simplify the steps.

Reusable packaging stands out on the shelves and in minds

If you’re concerned about animal welfare and environmental sustainability, you will probably want to take a similar innovative approach to egg production as NestFresh has. And you are no doubt keen to demonstrate your commitment to reducing your impact on the environment to retailers and consumers alike. An innovative reusable packaging container helps you do exactly that.

"At a time when consumers are increasingly picky about the eggs that they are putting in their baskets, it was imperative for NestFresh to make this important change," says Urena. "It took a team of insiders with an understanding of the end-to-end supply chain for eggs to bring about the improvements we felt were long overdue."

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