Fresh food suppliers use RFID technology to save packaging costs

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When fresh food distributor Reynolds Catering Supplies no longer uses disposable cartons to transport to restaurants, cafes and hospital customers, it introduces a more durable, reusable, and higher value plastic crates. Known as a tote bag. But this shift has brought new challenges to the company, which transports nearly 1 million boxes of food a year across the UK: managing the handbags and ensuring they are returned.

The company decided to use RFID technology to develop a solution and use its own IT team to create software that can be integrated with its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. It obtained a fixed RFID reader from Impinj and worked with Avery Dennison to determine the most durable and effective label.

The system automatically recognizes when each crate is packaged according to a specific order, when it is shipped, and when it returns. With this data, the company can now identify where its handbags are eventually being delayed or lost, thus solving the problem. Since the system was used with some customers a year ago, Reynolds’s director Richard Calder said that saved the company’s replacement handbags at a cost of about £150,000 ($197,000). “We believe that when a plastic tote bag is fully launched to all customers will have an annual savings of more than £350,000,” he said. In addition, this technology can also be used to track food orders in the future.

Now, when using each crates, the RFID system tracks the packaging, shipping, and return processes. First, each crates are linked to a specific customer order, which is printed with the barcode on a paper sticker affixed to the side of the crate. The crate is then transported by conveyor belt where it is loaded with the required food items. The Impinj reader installed under the conveyor reads the label on the crate, while the barcode scanner scans the shipping order ID on the side of the same crate. This way, specific crates can be linked to specific orders and customers.

Calder pointed out that the cost of deploying RFID solutions is not high, and the company achieved a return on investment in less than three months, due to the prevention of the loss of crates. The box itself costs less than £5 per share, while the disposable carton costs 40 pence (53 cents). With this in mind, the company needs to reuse at least 10 to 12 crates to reimburse the cost of each crates. He added that with RFID systems, companies can reuse more crates.

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