US Foods is nothing short of a powerhouse. It offers more than 350,000 national, private-label and signature brand items to more than 250,000 customers. One reason it has become a leading, nationwide foodservice distributor is the high-quality products it offers. Equally important, the company’s ongoing success is also being fueled by its understanding of what it means to be sustainable.

During the past 10 years, sustainability has become somewhat of a catch-all term, thrown into the marketing jargon mix for the sake of relevance. But companies that developed solid responses to customer demands for eco-friendly alternatives are now the role models for responsible business practices.

In 2006, for example, Walmart released a packaging scorecard to assist in its commitment to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013 — which led to Walmart becoming a major driver for changes to packaging in multiple market segments.

“Sustainability is about ensuring that our company, products, services and partnerships make a credible, honest and robust contribution towards creating a sustainable economy,” said Sylvia Wulf, senior vice president of US Foods’ Center of the Plate division.

Once considered an invisible part of manufacturing, the supply chain has become key to the growth of successful sustainability programs in all industries. US Foods partners with distributors that have enacted sustainable practices plus it creates collaborations that extend the reach of those practices.

When Rose Hill, NC-based House of Raeford, a poultry supplier to US Foods, began working with Chuck Kersnick and Bob Misita of Georgia-Pacific’s Doraville plant using GP’s Packaging Systems Optimization (PSO) program, it wanted to reach the goal of quantifying its sustainability efforts.

Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific is a global manufacturer of tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, building products and chemicals. It operates approximately 300 manufacturing facilities throughout North America, South America and Europe, ranging from large pulp, paper and tissue operations to gypsum plants, box plants and building products.

GP’s PSO program was developed at the company’s Innovation Institute, which it defines as a creative, collaborative environment designed to help customers identify opportunities to reduce supply chain costs, increase shelf velocity and measure sustainability efforts.

PSO, which was launched in 2002, has allowed its customers to save more than $24 million per year. It embraces a total cost perspective for key supply chain areas, not just cost shifting. Using GP’s five-step process of (1) planning, (2) site assessment, (3) initiative generation and quantification, (4) customer presentation, and (5) implementation and tracking – PSO helps GP customers achieve innovation as well as sustainability.

Cutting costs

When asked what packaging challenge House of Raeford was facing when it contacted GP, Rodney Garrison, the poultry processor’s packaging manager, explains: “Since wax is a derivative of petroleum and that cost has been extremely volatile, our initial challenge was to stabilize the price of our packaging. Secondly, our company realizes the importance of protecting our natural resources. Packaging that can be recycled is much better for the environment, and provides a disposal cost savings for the end users of our poultry products.” Greenshield packaging was the solution for House of Raeford.

As a growing number of US retailers began requesting alternatives to wax packaging, GP answered with Greenshield – a recyclable and sustainable option to wax and Styrofoam packaging, GP says. The alternative is part of Georgia-Pacific’s family of recyclable, sustainable products developed through its Doraville box plant and the Innovation Institute. These products are designed to keep water out and reduce water-vapor transmission. Fully recyclable and printable, the company says this is a great alternative to wax packaging for the meat and poultry industry.

Getting the wax out

“All of our CVP chicken products were the first to use the Greenshield packaging,” Garrison says.

US Foods recognized the untapped potential presented by House of Raeford in its current packaging at that time and was convinced there was value in extending the G-P’s wax replacement packaging line into its Patuxent Farms private-label brand. The Patuxent Farms label, which was established in 1994, offers a range of proteins including value-added chicken, turkey, pork, beef, lamb and veal. House of Raeford switched to Greenshield boxes in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The processor has since expanded its use of the new boxes to the remainder of its poultry processing operations throughout the Southeast. This change generated $690,421 in sustainability value dollars, greenhouse gas reduction (calculated to be 24,329 tons of CO2), and total energy savings (approximately 3.351 million BTUs).

“Certainly, the cost savings we are realizing by using this new packaging option over the long term is a realized benefit,” Garrison says. “In addition, House of Raeford’s focus on being environmentally friendly is a positive step in building lasting relationships with our current and prospective customers.”

By adopting Greenshield, the processor also eliminated more than 3,900, thirty-cubic yard dumpsters of non-recyclable boxes from the waste stream. House of Raeford was able to offer its customers — like US Foods and its customers — a recyclable alternative to the wax-curtain coated boxes traditionally seen in controlled vacuum-packed poultry applications.

Equally important, end-users saw no cost increase and benefited significantly from reduced waste-disposal expenditures — all while preventing tons of non-recyclable wax boxes from ever reaching the landfill.

“We are extremely pleased with the results and quality of packaging we are receiving from Georgia-Pacific,” Garrison says. “We have also received very positive feedback from our customers. House of Raeford has received not only an excellent packaging product from Georgia-Pacific, but also very reliable and timely service.”