Many growers who ship locally and nationally use some type of metal carts or racks to deliver their plants. Some growers will tell you that carts are a necessary evil when it comes to moving a large quantity of plants relatively quickly. Maintaining and tracking carts during the busy spring shipping season can sometimes be overwhelming. When trying to fill orders in a timely manner, growers can be hindered if they don’t have an adequate inventory of carts and can’t recover them quickly enough to keep plants moving out to customers. Growers also have to be concerned with cart loss and theft.
Packaging companies have seen the love-hate relationship growers have with carts and are working to develop economical, recyclable shipping systems to make it easier for growers to avoid the issues with cart recovery and theft.
Grower-Designed Shipping System
Andy Krieger, co-owner of Krieger Greenhouses in Jefferson, Iowa, started looking for an alternative to metal racks about nine years ago. The reason for his interest in an alternative shipping system was the company’s desire to ship product longer distances.
“We were looking to ship further out and having to back haul shipping racks was just cost prohibitive,” Krieger says. “We were very strong in a three-state region, but we kept getting calls from potential customers in five to seven states. In order to make it worthwhile for us, we had to sell these customers more product than they needed. It was good for us in the short run, but it hurt our customers because they had to take product they didn’t necessarily need. At the time, we were shipping primarily to big box stores, independent garden centers and other growers.”
Looking to expand its market reach, the company designed a cardboard shipping system that could be used for both starter and finished plants.
“The GreenWay Plant Shipper we designed was developed based on a 40- by 48-inch pallet footprint for distribution centers,” Krieger says. “In the past we had to have a complete trucking department with dozens of vehicles and drivers who could only go so far. Increasing regulations and investments were becoming cost prohibitive. We wanted a system that we could ship LTL (less than truckload) into any number of trucking distribution centers. This enabled us to send our product further without having to do it ourselves.”
Krieger says the GreenWay has completely changed the way the company ships its products. It no longer runs a full fleet of semi-trailers or straight trucks.
“We use common carriers and retail backhauls which have allowed us to get back to our core business of growing great bedding plants,” he says.
Krieger says the company was also able to add grocery store chains that use distribution centers.
“We could ship our product into grocery store distribution centers and get our product into any store one rack at a time,” he says. “We are able to ship product literally all over the country.
“We looked at wood and metal for the shipper, but grocery stores are very environmentally conscious. They are used to dealing with cardboard recycling. The grocery stores that we are dealing with really like the GreenWay because it fits in with their recycling efforts. The cardboard is treated with a coating that makes it water-resistant. It’s not a wax coating because then the shipper wouldn’t be recyclable.”
Easy To Assemble, Load And Move
Krieger says the growers who use the GreenWay range from large to small size operations, and most customers are small to medium sized.
“About 50 percent of the growers who use the GreenWay produce liners and plugs,” Krieger says. “The other half ship finished plants. The system we developed for starter plants enables growers to put more plants on the GreenWay, and then they can ship it LTL.”
Krieger says there is a learning curve when assembling the shipping units. On average it takes about six to 12 minutes to put one of the shippers together, depending on the configuration.
“Growers designed the GreenWay so it’s simple and functional,” he says. “No additional supplies like shelves, extra wood or supports are needed. It’s a complete unit that only needs to be stapled together. And it’s easy for the end customer to break the shipper down just like a cardboard box.”
Krieger says the GreenWay shipping units for both starter and finished plants come in standard sizes based on design discussions with the plug and finished plant growers. Although custom sizes could be produced for quantity orders, creating the cutting dyes would be very expensive.
“We’ve found that our standard sizes are very universal,” Krieger says. “Plug and liner producers usually use 6- or 9-inch shelf spacing. Finish producers use 9- or 17-inch shelf spacing. The standard size for finished plants is 12-inch containers, including hanging baskets, but we have shipped 20-inch fiber pots on them without any problems.”
One of the advantages of the GreenWay, especially for distribution centers, is its standard pallet size footprint.
“Warehouses, distribution centers, semi-tractor trailers are all based on pallet systems,” Krieger says. “Some large growers have gone to square metal racks because it is more efficient. That’s what the GreenWay is, only it’s cardboard, and it can be moved easily with a forklift or power jack”
New To The Market
The FlowerForwarder, a shipping unit designed by Jim Carbone, national accounts manager at S&S Incorporated in Cleveland, Ohio, has been on the market for less than a year.
“It became a conceptual product at the end of February last year,” Carbone says. “A grower told me his company was struggling to find a non-returnable shipping display. He asked if my company could develop a unit that was low-cost and would provide safe transportation for his product.”
The FlowerForwarder has the standard size footprint (40- by 48-inches) of a grocery pallet and measures 72 inches tall. The unit can be designed to fit any pallet size and can be any height. The FlowerForwarder has received certification from the International Safety Transit Association for safe transportation and distributor centers.
Carbone says big box stores provided the major impetus for the development of this shipping system.
“These retailers were looking for a way to ship plants through their distribution centers,” he says. “Rolling racks do not work well in distribution centers because they are primarily pallet movement and stacking operations. Rolling carts can’t do either one of those.”
The company offers two versions of the shipping unit. One consists of multi-layered paperboard and the other co-mingles paper and plastic. The paperboard unit, which can be recycled with cardboard, can withstand the residual water that can leak out of the bottom of pots. However, plants in the paperboard unit should not be watered directly with a hose. The paper/plastic unit is waterproof and disposal can be handled the same way a retailer recycles other plastic waste.
Built For POP Display
The FlowerForwarder can be both a safe transportation shipping unit and a point-of-purchase display. The unit frame can be different colors and can be printed with a retailer’s logo or with a sale campaign design.
“There really isn’t a standard configuration in regards to the shelving because every plant size is different,” Carbone says. “If the plants are tall, a unit might only have three shelves. For shorter plants, the unit might have five shelves. When the unit exceeds six shelves, the cost starts to accelerate. The shelving frame is a patented design and that is what costs the most.”
A standard four-shelf unit can be constructed in less than five minutes. The unit doesn’t have any straps or clips and is assembled using a pneumatic staple gun. The units should be stretch-wrapped with plastic to keep the plants from moving around during shipping.
Carbone says the units are particularly cost effective for shipping product longer distances, outside the 300- to 400-mile radius in which a grower would typically use rolling carts.
“Usually within this shorter shipping distance, growers have the mechanisms in place to recover the carts in a timely and cost-effective manner,” he says. “If a grower has an opportunity to ship longer distances, the FlowerForwarder offers a good choice for delivering finished product that creates a win-win situation for both the grower and retailer.”