Offering an alternative to traditional singleuse packaging methods, Svenska Retursystem has been in operation since 2001 as a pooling system for returnable crates and pallets. The company is a 50/50 joint venture between Svensk Dagligvaruhandel, the trade association for food retailers, and Dagligvaruleverantörers Förbund (DLF), the Swedish grocery manufacturers and producers association. Encompassing the entire supply chain from manufacturers and producers to wholesalers and retail, Retursystem is an environmentally friendly and cost effective return system for the food industry.
To date just under 90 per cent of Retursystem’s business is within the Swedish domestic market, which includes all retail chains in the country. Approximately 65 per cent of volume across the company’s crate products is made up by fresh and processed meats, followed by 27 per cent fruit and vegetables and eight per cent cheese. The pallet aspect of the business has a wider range of uses including beverages from breweries, dry goods such as hygiene products or detergent. Approximately ten per cent of Retursystem is based around export to international clients within Europe.
Manufactured out of durable recyclable plastic, Retursystem’s returnable crates and pallets are designed to meet the grocery industry’s strict requirements. In terms of developing these products, Retursystem works closely with all three of its suppliers – Linpac Allibert in the UK, Shuert Industries in the US, and IPG in Sweden. Tryggwe Göransson, export director, elaborates: “We are not just a buyer, but more of a co-operative partner with our suppliers. We work very closely with them to ensure that we develop products that suit our customers’ needs, as well as to continue to improve our existing offering. This enables us to fulfil our obligation to supply the market with products that fit the demands of the market, supported by our stringent quality agenda.”
Naturally the environmental benefits of any product that can be used over and over again, as opposed to the production of single-use packaging, are clearly apparent.
Each crate within Retursystem’s portfolio has an average life cycle of ten years, which is equivalent to approximately 120-150 single-use cartons, with its pallets boasting a life cycle of up to 15 years. Once a delivery has taken place, the crates and pallets are returned to one of Retursystem’s four washing facilities located within Sweden to be cleaned, before being put back into the system for reuse. Compared to the energy and resources required to produce a single packaging carton, the energy used in the washing process is minute.
“One major difference with our returnable crate system is that it doesn’t produce any waste materials, which in turn reduces the costs of transporting and handling this waste. Given the emphasis on reducing landfill volumes this is a major benefit. There is also a benefit to personnel within the production and retail chain in terms of the work place environment by removing potential hazards caused by single-use packaging, such as dust and injuries,” highlights Tryggwe. “Additionally once our products reach the end of their lifecycle, or in the unlikely event of a fault, we send them away to be ground up and the material is reused to make new pallets and crates.”
Maintaining this stance on efficiency, Retursystem works closely with the courier services and transport companies delivering its products to ensure that they are employing the most cost effective and environmentally friendly transportation methods. Additionally the business is focused on improving its own efficiency performance within its wash plants in terms of energy usage and water management. By using water in different stages from fresh water for rinsing, right down to used water for the pre-rinse when the products arrive on site, Retursystem ensures high hygiene levels with minimal waste.
Having established extensive coverage of the Swedish market in the fruit and vegetables, meat and cheese sectors, Retursystem is looking at ways to penetrate other markets such as dairy and bread. The company is also working to grow its presence in the food service industry through the supply of restaurant wholesalers. “We are constantly increasing our exports, which means sending empty products to be filled elsewhere in Europe and then brought back into Sweden filled with goods. The import market is much more active in the winter months, so we are looking to maximise our empty item exports between October and April,” notes Tryggwe.
Certainly the growth of the business is apparent when you compare the first year figures of 2.5 million crates, with 2011’s estimated volume of 106 million crates. To achieve such an uptake in just ten years is not only testament to the environmental benefits of the products, but also the competitive pricing, which often sees one trip using the Retursystem crates and pallets as cheaper than buying the equivalent single-use items. Additionally the consistent shape, weight and quality of the products make them ideally suited for automation and effective handling.
With thoughts on the future, Tryggwe concludes: “Naturally I would like us to have bridged the potential markets that I mentioned previously, and to have a strong presence in these areas. Our focus for the crate products is very much within the fresh food industry, but already we have seen the potential for our pallets within other areas. Although the food industry remains a core focus, I believe there may beopportunities for us to branch into being a returnable system company for other products that are not currently within our portfolio.”
Svenska Retursystem AB
Products Reusable crates and pallets