A slice of the eco pie

June 1, 2010
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Everybody loves a winner, and a bakery’s cheesecake-shipping success is powering a bandwagon for its packaging suppliers.

The superior insulating properties of polyurethane foam enabled Jubilations Cheesecake to switch to ground shipments. The containers also speed the packaging process. Source: Sealed Air Corp. Insert: UPS shipping containers that meet certified sustainability standards will bear this endorsement under the Eco Responsible Packaging Program. Source: United Parcel Service Inc.

A cost-cutting project by a Mississippi baker of gourmet cheesecakes took a few twists and turns on the way to right-sizing its shipping container. By the end of the process, the bakery had a tool that’s expanding sales, while its development partner saw the opportunity for a new service model.

Jubilations Inc. has catered to fundraising groups, restaurants and mail-order customers since it opened its Columbus, MS cheesecake bakery in 1989. Shipping costs severely restricted the geographic reach of mail order: Unless United Parcel Service (UPS) Inc.’s ground service could quickly reach the customer, Jubilations had to use next-day air, at a cost easily exceeding the price of the cheesecake. Owner George Purnell consulted with UPS, which identified “dim weight” as one opportunity for savings. Dim weight is the dimensional factor in shipping costs, explains UPS Market Manager Arnold Barlow, but right-sizing the box would not expand the reach of ground transportation. That would require superior insulation, so UPS put Jubilations in touch with the light-density foam division of Sealed Air Corp., Danbury, CT.

Sealed Air has produced light-density foams from polyurethane since the early 1970s, but “most shippers aren’t even aware there is an option to EPS (expanded polystyrene) coolers,” acknowledges Matt Thompson, Instapak product manager. Polyurethane is superior to EPS in insulating value, though the cost is higher-in Jubilations’ case, $5 more.

Preliminary UPS simulations of ground-shipment thermal conditions were disappointing. A custom solution was needed. Fortunately, Sealed Air’s ability to construct inexpensive wood and plastic molds made customization feasible.

Purnell worked with Sealed Air Engineer David Hagood, who devised a lidded container with pockets to hold dry ice and sufficient R-value to maintain a frozen state in ground shipments to most of the continental US.

By Christmas 2009, the program was running flawlessly. “Sending a 3- to7-lb. cheesecake next-day air costs $30 at the very low end, which is more than the cost of the cake,” says Purnell. Offering ground shipment to individuals as far away as New York opens new possibilities. The container also simplified workflow, cutting one minute off the packing time for each cake. With shipments already hitting 600 cakes a day, the 10-hour savings “is like eliminating the cost of a full-time employee,” points out Purnell.

The carbon footprint of ground shipments is one-eighth that of air, adds UPS’s Barlow, and the company is capitalizing on that with its new Eco Responsible Packaging Program (ERPP). Shippers of frozen foods and other products pay a fee to have their improved containers tested and evaluated for sustainability by Société Générale de Surveillance. Packages that pass muster are eligible to use shipping containers bearing ERPP’s sustainability statement.

For more information:
Matt Thompson, Sealed Air Corp., 203-791-3500

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