Redesigning Shipping Containers To Reduce Food Costs

CED-78-81: Published: Apr 28, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1978.

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The cost of food distribution is an important element in food costs. Processed and fresh products for retail sale are transported in shipping containers to their destinations. The variety of container sizes and shapes has made it difficult to develop efficient handling techniques.

Modularization, a concept that geometrically relates food shipping container sizes to one another, offers a way of reducing food costs. This concept has been used in European countries with good results, but little has been done in the United States to implement such standardization. If used, it would permit more efficient transportation and handling of goods, eliminating wasted space and resulting in less damage to goods. Because of diverse package sizes and large capital investments in the packaging industry, modularization can involve high initial equipment costs, but costs can be reduced as size changes are coordinated with new products and normal equipment replacement. Manufacturers would bear the greatest burden of conversion costs and benefit least, while wholesalers would benefit most. Conversion to the metric system would simplify geometric relationships which could help in modularization. If the food industry should convert to the metric system, some manufacturers may design new packages in modular units. Increased food system efficiency could lead to lower food prices, but with neither government nor industry promoting modularization, this is unlikely.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Department of Agriculture should initiate the advancement of modularization and enlist the participation of the food industry. Such an effort should include: (1) identifying and quantifying costs and benefits of modularization; (2) determining the most feasible method to coordinate modularization with industry changes; (3) exploring with the food industry what further steps may be necessary; and (4) obtaining the assistance of the National Bureau of Standards. The U.S. Metric Board, when formed, should consider modularization in actions to change food package sizes. Congress should examine the status of efforts to coordinate metrication and modularization and examine food industry progress toward modularization. (HTW)

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