Ever since their use by bakers to transport product became widespread, plastic trays and the issue of how to account for their loss have been a source of irritation to the industry. Bakers have adopted a variety of solutions, ranging from sophisticated tracking and sorting systems to accepting that losses were just part of the business model. That is until the past several years, when the amount and value of the lost equipment exploded.
In a 2007 ABA member survey, the annual loss of baking trays was pegged around $75 million. By early 2009, that number was estimated to exceed $100 million. There are several explanations for this 33 percentincrease in losses, including the economic climate. However, the single largest contributor appears to be the organized theft of all plastic containers, including bakery trays. The reason is simple: it is low risk and high reward for theft rings.
As mid-Atlantic-based COMBAT (composed of bakers, dairies and beverage companies) discovered, one Maryland theft and regrinding ring was allegedly responsible for stealing $10 million worth of plastic containers from local businesses. COMBAT and the private investigator it hired cooperated with the state attorney’s office for Prince George’s County, Md., to pursue successful prosecution of the case. In addition, the group successfully lobbied the Maryland legislature to strengthen that state’s container theft laws to encourage other prosecutors to pursue similar cases.
According to a Wall Street Journal article that appeared on June 25, container “thefts have become big business over the past five years as the value of petroleum-derived plastic has climbed along with oil prices. The thieves typically take their loot to recycling centers that shred the plastic and resell it. Prosecutors say bandits collect about eight cents a pound in profits. Recyclers resell it for more than 15 cents a pound to manufacturers.” In a sad irony, many bakers end up buying this same reground material to replace their stolen trays.
In order to effectively address this growing loss, bakers will need to continue to work with other impacted industries beyond beverage and dairy. The ABA and others are working with tray manufacturers and the plastics recycling industry to increase the risk and decrease the reward for stolen containers. Additionally, the ABA is working with the industry’s customers through the Food Marketing Institute and National Restaurant Association and others to educate them on the importance and value of addressing the problem.
Also, there may be some technology solutions on the horizon that could assist in curbing losses. The ABA will host an educational session at IBIE 2010 in Las Vegas to both highlight the extent of the problem and profile possible solutions.
Ultimately, the best resource to tackling the growing loss of bakery trays is the sales force of the industry. As several bakers have learned, their route sales representatives are the best eyes and ears on what is happening in the marketplace. They need to be deputized in the effort to combat tray loss.