Wild Oats uses bases and lids made of PLA for dozens of refrigerated deli products at 11 of its stores in the Portland, OR, metropolitan area. Why Portland? "We have a nice concentration of stores there. But more importantly because PLA helps meet the commitment and passion of our employees and our customers to the environment. Oregon has a long tradition of supporting environmental causes," says Mark Cockcroft, the company’s western field marketing manager.
Wild Oats began using the containers in May, for 8-, 16- and 32-oz sizes for items such as fruit, salads, cheeses, and desserts. The company plans to expand its use of what Cockcroft calls "corn-tainers" later this year into its nearly 80 retail outlets nationwide. The PLA bases and lids are thermoformed by Wilkinson Manufacturing, which earlier this year became the first North American converter to produce containers from PLA.
Products are packed manually and labeled at Wild Oats’ foodservice kitchen in the Portland area. Label specifications were not available at press time. Bases and lids are also distributed to outlets for manual filling.
"Customer response has been terrific to this new packaging," says Kurt Luttecke, Wild Oats’ area director of operations. "Not only are these containers 100-percent natural, they’re as functional or better than [conventional] plastic tubs as far as strength, clarity, and sealing in flavor and aroma."
Cockcroft says the PLA containers replace plastic versions even though the corn-based trays are "40-odd percent more [expensive]." The justification? "If you want to be a leader and innovator, sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is," he states. "We try to filter all our decisions through our mission and values. One of those is to try to reduce our negative impact on the planet, and this is a great [step] towards that. As time goes on and other retailers and manufacturers [use PLA], economies of scale will come to fruition and the price will come down," Cockcroft believes.
To make customers aware of the trays, he says, "we’ve made a huge effort to educate them through banners, posters, brochures, and ‘stickers’ on the packs that say containers are made from 100-percent renewable resources. People have been just tickled by this whole thing," Cockcroft concludes.