Feedback from Walmart SVN, 2:3

May 16, 2012


Today we are going to discuss the next portion of the Walmart SVN meeting I attended on May 7th; this was scheduled in conjuncture with the Walmart/Sam’s Club Sustainable Packaging Expo in Bentonville, Arkansas. For feedback from the first portion of the meeting, visit May 9th’s post.

After a quick break the Packaging SVN re-assembled inside the conference hall. Soon after, Ron Sasine took the stage, exclaiming excitement for the next presenters, the “Future Packaging Team.” Quickly a group of High School students from Wisconsin filed on stage and the SVN was introduced to a packaging case-study that demonstrated an item-specific approach to packaging sustainability, as encouraged by the former presenters.

Narrating the case study, the students each took a turn describing their efforts, which began with isolating “fluffy” products, like pillows and blankets, as a Walmart product that could use a packaging makeover. Because said “fluffy products” contain so much air, the shipping is presumably ineffective when compared with a more condensed format. The students decided to focus their initiative on pillow packaging, hoping that if a solution was developed, it could be applied to other fluffy products sold at retail.

The students began their investigation by visiting the pillow manufacturer and Walmart inventory, where it was discovered that the pillows were packed inside a tall, rectangular corrugate box. Issues of package bowing and seam busting were observed, leading the students to conclude that if the pillows were to be further condensed, thereby allowing for more efficient shipping, outer support would be needed to keep the corrugate container intact.

Subsequently, they approached a binding machinery manufacturer, where they proposed the idea of developing a binding machine that could be used on the exterior of the box. The students then developed a more compact corrugate box, which would fit the same amount of pillows in a box that consumed around 40% less material. They added rivets to the box’s exterior, providing a valley for the plastic binders to rest.

Though still in the pilot stage, the students determined that if Walmart were to replace its pillow packaging with the new, condensed format, it would save in shipping the equivalent of removing 884 trucks from the roads a year; not to mention, the savings in inventory and shelf space.

The students then informed the SVN of their upcoming appointment with the pillow buyer at Walmart AND the pillow manufacturer sold at Walmart to pitch the idea of condensed packaging and exterior binding to the stakeholders.

The kids finished to a standing ovation as the SVN was delighted by the simplicity yet functionality of the students’ proposal.

Who knows…maybe we will see a new, condensed pillow packaging format at Walmart stores soon!

The implication of this presentation is clear: Walmart wants its suppliers to take an item-specific approach to sustainability gains and cost savings, demonstrated by the students’ isolation of pillows as an item that could be re-engineered to yield higher value in the eyes of the retailer.

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