Less is More
When supplier Chep promo’d its half-size pallet at Pack Expo in Las Vegas in late September, company reps prefaced the unveiling by noting it’s the first major product innovation for the United States market in about two whole decades. So, to paraphrase famed news anchor Ron Burgundy (who returns to cinemas this month), it’s kind of a big deal. The pooled half-size pallet is designed as a more efficient option for retail merchandising as an in-store display. About 60 percent of the total cost comes from moving products and getting them to stores, and the half pallet cuts down on a lot of that cost. The reduced-size product is designed to enhance the profitability of fast-moving products, especially bottled water. It’s tougher and tougher to make money off of bottled water, especially when 24-packs are being sold for as low as $1.99 in some major American retail establishments. The half pallet, the company says, will take out a significant amount of the labor cost of getting it to retail, thereby enhancing its profitability. So, it may be half the size, but it enhances distribution efficiency manifold.
Automatic for the People
Originally used in manufacturing operations, automated guided vehicles are playing a growing role in material movement in beverage distribution centers and warehouses. And many beverage distributors are finding AGVs a cost-effective way to move pallets through a facility while also adding automation to their operations. Besides reducing labor, as AGVs are guided by laser, vision or magnetic tape systems, the vehicles also can help boost productivity, improve product handling and increase safety while reducing costs and product damage. AGVs also offer flexibility as they can interface with distribution centers’ racking systems, block stack pallets and deliver cases of beverage products to and from automated storage and retrieval systems.
On the Move
Outside of urban areas, many beverage distributors are faced with the challenge of servicing markets hundreds of miles away from a centralized distribution center. Demountable Concepts, Inc. developed an innovative way for beverage distributors to more efficiently get products from the warehouse to smaller and medium-sized retail stores requiring mixed pallet or hand-truck-to-store service. Demountable Concepts offers refrigerated and freezer versions of its Warehouse on Wheels System to U.S. beverage distributors. The system allows operators to deliver temperature-sensitive goods by refrigerated straight-truck in remote markets up to 250 miles from a distribution, eliminating the need for regional warehouses or cross-docking. Besides streamlining delivery operations, the Warehouse on Wheels also makes it more cost-effective for distributors to expand into new markets without investing in brick and mortar facilities.
Reacting to member complaints and concerns about kegs that go missing or returned to incorrect locations the Brewers Association, the non-profit trade association representing craft breweries launched kegreturn.com, a site dedicated to helping consumers, homebrewers, retailers, wholesalers, brewers and scrap yards redirect kegs back to the breweries that own the kegs. This is big for the bottom line because according to the Brewers Association, keg loss costs craft brewers between $0.46 and $1.37 per-barrel of annual keg production. Assuming 2011 craft beer sales of 11.5 million barrels, that is a total direct capital charge to craft brewers of $5.3 million and $15.8 million annually. The website is aimed at reducing those costs and getting property back where it belongs.
Roll With It
When folks in the industry talk about the SKU explosion, everyone envisions a storm of pallets and cases, each holding a high volume of a single item. But the reality of today’s market is that so many of these new SKUs—in fact a vast majority of them—are slow movers with very limited volume. In a lot of instances, there’s a lot of single-bottle picking going on with these ultra-slow movers. That’s why racking suppliers are developing solutions specifically designed for these not-so-fast movers. For example, Twinlode recently developed a gravity bottle flow rack for low-volume wine and spirits SKUs, allowing for 22 SKU facings per eight-foot linear space. All bottles slide to the front position, eliminating the need for order selectors to rummage through boxes or reach underneath beams to pick items. The company touts the rack’s space-saving attributes, as it’s more efficient than having to always store wine and spirits in full cases. And that’s music to the ears of distributors dealing with a dearth of space in their warehouses thanks to all of the new product constantly flowing in.
Weight Off Their Shoulders
Humans handling 170-pound fully-loaded beer kegs may be a good test of brute strength, but it is not the safest or most efficient way to delivery hundreds of kegs from a warehouse to a bar or restaurant. Most companies have devised keg handling solutions in an effort to reduce delivery driver injuries. The Levelizer Kegavator, from 1 Stop Material Handling, is a steel rack that holds eight kegs and fits in a standard truck bay. The rack includes a panel that swings down to form a shelf and that shelf allows a delivery person to safely move the keg down to a workable height, then slide it off the rack. Rehrig Pacific’s KegRack Delivery System utilizes a winch and sling system to facilitate unloading kegs from a horizontal position from side-bay trailers and box trucks. With the KegRack, kegs are gently lowered using the handheld remote, eliminating the need to grasp, turn and drop kegs on the ground. The KegEvator, from J.D. Packaging, is another lifting system that aids delivery drivers with off-loading beer kegs. Also, now, thanks to Benko Products’ Erg-O-Cart, danger of injury can be minimized for drivers. The Erg-O-Cart uses a retractable lift plate to eliminate the driver’s back bending. Using the Erg-O-Cart they can load and unload product at waist level in a standing position.