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2011 RFID Journal Award Winner: RFID Green Award—The Greening of Mission Foods

RFID made it economically feasible for the tortilla manufacturer to switch from disposable corrugated boxes to reusable plastic containers.
By Bob Violino
Jun 01, 2011—When Gruma Corp.'s Mission Foods subsidiary decided in 2009 to replace the disposable corrugated boxes it was using to ship products with reusable plastic containers—and to deploy a radio frequency identification system to track those containers at its Dallas, Texas, warehouse—the goal was to reduce packaging costs and improve warehouse management. Today, the RFID solution has not only fulfilled those business and operations objectives—it also has met Gruma's corporatewide green initiative.

Mission Foods is one of the world's largest producers of corn flour and tortilla products, providing nearly one-quarter of all tortillas sold throughout the world. It also manufactures wraps, salsas, snacks and other food products. The company operates production plants throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and China. Food products come into the company's 34 U.S. warehouses and plants from its manufacturing sites, and go out when Mission Foods' independent distributors pick up orders.

The company was shipping tortilla chips and other light food products in corrugated boxes that cost $1 apiece. "We were basically throwing a dollar away," says Eduardo Valdes, VP of management information systems at Gruma, in Irving, Texas, because the box was used only once. Mission Foods was purchasing nearly one million boxes annually for just its three Texas facilities, he says. Including all its U.S. locations, Mission Foods was spending more than $5 million per year on the boxes.

In addition to cost, Mission Foods managers were well aware that the corrugated boxes, which ended up as waste, were negatively impacting the environment. "The major environmental issue our company was trying to address was the lack of recycling and sustainable culture in our manufacturing plants and warehouses," Valdes says.

Management decided to replace the corrugated boxes with plastic containers, to save money and promote recycling. The reusable containers cost approximately $7 apiece, and the company estimated it needed to use each one roughly eight times to break even. But there was a hitch. The company was already using plastic containers to ship heavier products, and a number of those containers were often lost in transit.

To ensure the move from corrugated boxes to plastic containers would be economically feasible, Mission Foods decided to deploy an RFID system to track when containers were shipped out and returned to company facilities. "We were looking for a system that wouldn't create extra work for our warehouse personnel," Valdes says, "something that would follow the natural picking and shipping process."
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