Operations and Management: Pillow Talk and Reduced Breakage

Nobody wants customers to receive a broken or damaged product — but when the order is a gift, it’s especially important that the merchandise arrives intact. With that in mind, Fullerton, CA-based Wine Country Gift Baskets, a subsidiary of wholesaler Houdini, worked to reduce its percentage of damaged shipments from 7% in 2000 to near zero last year. The breakage rate for its Country Morning gift basket alone, which includes a syrup pitcher, dropped 42%.

“Maintaining the integrity of the basket in shipping is as important as the product that is contained in the basket,” says John Pitzen, general manager of Wine Country Gift Baskets. “Everything depends on that first impression. It sets the tone for how the gift will be received.”

The cataloger credits a relatively new packaging material, StoropadPlus from Cincinnati-based package supplier Storopack, with the drop in damages. StoropadPlus is a plastic bag packed with Styrofoam peanuts to create a cushioning pillow.

Previously, the cataloger used loose packing peanuts as dunnage, but they would settle at the bottom of the container during transit, leaving glass jars and ceramics exposed. Unlike loose peanuts, the StoropadPlus pillows don’t shift, and they can be placed in the box to ensure that trouble spots are supported. “We have a lot of ceramic products in our catalog,” Pitzen says, “so the product nicely holds them in place.”

What’s more, Styrofoam peanuts tend to be messy for both the cataloger and the customer. And Jim Foley, director of marketing for Storopack, says that packers may tend to overpack peanuts or Kraft paper, leading to higher-than-expected dunnage costs.

Of course, StoropadPlus isn’t the only pillowlike packaging solution available. Other options include protective air bags from Saddle Brook, NJ-based Sealed Air Corp. and polypropylene and polyethylene protective sheets from Lake Forest, IL-based Pactiv Corp.

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