Speaking to journalists at Walmart's recent sixth annual Sustainable Packaging Expo, Rutledge pointed out that an increasing number of exhibitors were displaying packaging solutions designed to reduce material usage, standardize retail displays and reduce labor costs.
"Labor is Walmart's No. 1 cost, so there are operational benefits to making the packaging easier to open and display," Rutledge says, adding that's the reason RRP is part of the company's go-forward strategy.
RRP is used to improve merchandise appearance on the retail shelf through the use of self-contained display boxes or trays. Proponents say this type of secondary packaging makes it easier for customers to identify products. Consumer packaged goods companies have been using these techniques to enhance their branding at the store level, especially in Europe, where it's been in use for years.
Perhaps the largest advantages for stores are that retail-ready packaging eliminates the need for unit stocking and is easy to open. Most RRP containers are designed to prevent damage to the product during opening through the use of devices such as pull tabs and slide-off lids. Razors that cut into labels or the products themselves are quickly becoming a thing of the past with RRP.
Rutledge says that that some may question the sustainability attributes of retail-ready packaging "because you're putting the box in a box." However, he adds, "If it's done right and you use the systems approach, in most cases we've been able to reduce or stay at least neutral from a cost perspective. There may be packaging trade-offs...but for the most part when you look at it as a component call...it works."
Ron Sasine, senior director of private label packaging at Walmart, echoes that opinion, saying the dominant trend is to eliminate extraneous materials. "People are selectively thinning walls or shrinking caps or eliminating layers. They're doing it in such a way so that the structural components remain intact, the printing surfaces are attractive and presentable to consumers, but they're taking out whole chunks of what we would consider a standard carton or a regular slotted shipping case or a regular walled bottle. It's all about structural strength where you need it, printing surfaces where you want them and combining that in unique ways."
While Rutledge says Walmart is first concentrating on using RRP for its grocery operations, a visit to any Walmart store quickly reveals the increasing use of retail-ready packaging throughout the stores, in such areas as pet foods, automotive and household goods, too.
One factor that will continue to affect the U.S. adoption rate of retail-ready packaging is getting the CPGs and retailers aligned on its use. Both groups, he says, must "think more holistically" in the future. Meanwhile,at the expo, Rutledge says he was working with suppliers and Walmart merchants to help them "connect the dots."