A revolution is brewing that may change the way you package, label and transport your products. DC will drive many of these changes, but I'm not talking about regulators in Washington. The distribution center—long used to do final labeling and packing of "brites" in the food canning industry—may find greater fulfillment as an on-demand packaging hub in the near future for many other markets. Manufacturing plants can then stay focused on what they do best: producing product.
Tom Andel, editor-in-chief of Material Handling & Logistics magazine, writes in his Chain of Thought blog (www.packagingdigest.com/Andelblog), "The future of logistics is people on bikes. ...It's all about same-day fulfillment, and that's what Google, Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart and Target want to offer you. ...Whom do we have to thank for giving us the logistics business model of the future? The pizza delivery guy."
Amazon has already won the argument for local logistics. It opened 20 warehouses in 2012, plans another five in 2013 and is looking to hire 5,000 more workers. Bloomberg reports that Amazon is opening these centers closer to consumers to reduce shipping costs and speed up delivery (www.packagingdigest.com/AmazonBloomberg).
What might this shift in direct-to-consumer shipping mean to you? I see multiple possibilities:
• Sturdier primary packs designed to withstand the handling rigors of a high-speed automated pick-and-pack operation (yours or a third party).
• Better "designed" shippers. The outer box, bag or envelope is what the consumer will see first. It must make a good impression. Graphics are important but so is "right sizing." A small item packed in a big box will draw criticism for its wastefulness. It's also more expensive. Staples, for example, developed its "Smart-size" Packaging solution late last year. The system determines the optimal case size for each order, then cuts and forms the corrugated box on demand to fit.
• More reusable packaging. In 2012, Office Depot created the GreenerOffice initiative, a program that uses paper bags inside reusable totes for direct delivery to corporate business customers. The company uses the reusable totes internally in its supply chain and then drivers hand deliver the order-filled bags at the customer's location. Not only is there an old-fashioned milkman personal-service feel to receiving products like this, but there's quite a bit of savings in packing materials and reduction of waste.
• A shift in skill sets and new job opportunities for packaging people. The line between "packaging" and "material handling" is getting fuzzier. In the near future, DCs will need packaging professionals who are also well versed in logistics. Funny...LinkedIn just sent me an email with updates on some of my contacts. Among them: Paul Pezzoli, vp at Kellogg and one of the company's packaging executives, has added a new skill to his LinkedIn profile: Supply Chain.
Then there's this: An ad in the Sunday newspaper coupon section touts Schwan's home delivery. "With Schwan's home delivery you get hundreds of delicious foods, flash frozen at the peak of freshness, conveniently delivered right to your door," the ad says. "Open Your Door to Delicious." I think I will. I think lots of other people will, too.