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Tosca reusable containers help streamline logistics, reduce supply chain challenges

By Rena Archwamety


Photo courtesy of Tosca

HANDLE WITH CARE — Tosca has been handling reusable 640-pound cheese boxes for the industry since the 1960s. The company owns a pool of these durable, sustainable wood and steel containers that it leases to its customers to fill and distribute. The containers then are returned to Tosca to clean and condition for the next use.
 Photo courtesy of Tosca
SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS — Tosca offers food and beverage industries sustainable, reusable alternatives to traditional corrugated cardboard containers and wooden shipping pallets. Since the company began issuing its reusable plastic containers (RPCs) in 2000, Tosca estimates it has diverted nearly 1.5 million tons of corrugated packaging from entering the supply chain.

ATLANTA — Tosca has been helping cheese companies operate more efficiently since the 1960s, handling the reusable boxes used by manufacturers of 640-pound blocks to transport their cheese to processors, and then preparing them for their next use.

“Today’s cheese cutting plants have become more sophisticated; 640 blocks are more efficient, and they improve the yield compared to 40-pound blocks,” says Steve Schenkoske, director of sales, Tosca “Originally the cheese companies owned their own boxes, and Tosca’s involvement was washing and reconditioning them. Over time, by the mid-1980s, Tosca had purchased everyone’s inventory of those boxes to make one cohesive pool of containers that everyone could draw from. This made it much more efficient — not only for Tosca but for cheese manufacturers ­­— by consolidating the inventory, so there were not as many needed nationwide.”

Tosca continues to find success in this container business model, not only for the cheese industry but with the egg, meat, poultry, beverage and most recently seafood industries that it serves. Tosca owns the asset — the package or box — which it leases to its customers to fill and distribute, and the containers are returned to Tosca to clean and prepare for the next circle of use.

While Tosca’s cheese industry customers primary are 640-pound manufacturers, it also does some business with Feta, Provolone and other Italian cheese manufacturers to provide bulk cheese bins. The 640 business has continued to grow, and Tosca has grown along with these customers.

Schenkoske notes that Tosca is providing reusable packaging to a recently built new cheese plant, as it works with other customers that have expanded or built new plants as well.

“As the popularity of these cheese boxes grew, Tosca grew its available pool to supply everyone,” he says. “Over the past 10 years, cheese inventory nationwide has continued to grow along with manufacturing and consumption, and we’ve made investments along the way to be able to support that.”

The company’s 640 cheese boxes are made with waxed wood held by steel frames, providing safety, durability and sustainability. To minimize freight costs, these cheese-specific boxes are supplied from four of Tosca’s many locations nationwide: Green Bay, Wisconsin; Salt Lake City, Utah; Springfield, Missouri; and Canton, New York.

Unlike plastic, wood inhibits bacterial growth, and Tosca thoroughly cleans, maintains and sanitizes the containers after every use. All of its facilities are ISO certified, providing well-documented sanitation and testing requirements for food-handling equipment.

By leasing Tosca’s reusable 640 containers, customers reduce labor and inventory needs while implementing a safe and sustainable solution. They order the 640 containers, and Tosca trains personnel to use its proprietary stretch wrap machine to help pack the product for delivery to conversion plants. These plants then disassemble the boxes and return them to one of the four reconditioning facilities, where Tosca prepares the boxes for reuse.

• Supply chain

Like others in the industry, Tosca has seen similar issues in supply chain and availability of materials, Schenkoske says. At one time, the lead time for the wood and steel used in the boxes reached nine months versus the typical 90-day lead time.

However, because Tosca deals in reusable packaging, sourcing issues are minimized, notes Jon Kalin, chief commercial officer, Tosca

“One of the beauties of reusable packaging is once we obtain the materials, it protects us from some of these challenges,” he says. “Interestingly in 2020, the challenges didn’t seem to be nearly as severe as they were this year. Now we hear about ocean containers being backed up on the ports, as well as transportation and truck container challenges. But largely we’ve been able to fill customers’ needs.”

While 2021 has presented more supply issues than other years, Schenkoske says overall, Tosca’s service record has been very good. He also sees some of this year’s challenges starting to lift.

“We’ve seen some improvements, not only in lead times, but the costs have come down from an all-time high that we saw earlier this year,” he says. “But I think we’re still going to be facing these for quite some time before we see any significant supply chain improvements.”

• Sustainable solutions

In addition to the advantages reusable packaging has brought to supply chain issues, it also offers more sustainable solutions as Tosca offers companies alternatives to corrugated cardboard containers or wooden shipping pallets.

“We’ve seen a lot more interest recently in reusable containers due to supply chain issues, where things like corrugated cardboard have become more expensive and more difficult to procure,” Schenkoske says. “We’ve also seen companies add staff and focus more on sustainability. We’ve added more people to look at new opportunities to help customers be able to save money on reusable packaging and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Tosca estimates that its reusable products already have prevented millions of pounds of corrugated packaging from entering landfills. As of August 2021, it has diverted nearly 1.5 million tons of corrugated packaging from entering the supply chain since it began issuing reusable plastic containers (RPCs) in 2000. Tosca also has partnered with the creator of COMPASS, a tool for modeling environmental impact, to expand its capabilities to compare the value of RPCs versus corrugated, wood and foam in terms of meeting companies’ specific sustainability goals.

A recent white paper from Tosca, “Achieving supply chain stability with reusable packaging” (www.toscaltd.com/sustainability) highlights some of the many benefits that Tosca’s state-of-the-art pooling capabilities provide for companies looking for consistent asset availability while also reducing waste, freight costs and labor needs.

The recent lack of stability in the supply chain has highlighted the need for new approaches in packaging and shipping, Tosca adds, “There were a lot of things (suppliers and retailers) had to worry about (during the height of the pandemic), and we were not one of them,” notes Tosca CEO Eric Frank in the white paper. “The pandemic, it’s almost an inflection point. It’s opened people’s eyes to say, ‘There’s a better way to do this.’”

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