Who's Keeping Score?

If ever you want to start an unremitting debate, all you need to do is drop the 'W' word: Wal-Mart. Suddenly, everyone has something to say. This is not surprising, as the retail Goliath has managed to couple itself with controversy over everything from health care to organics.      But no matter what side you are on, overlooking Wal-Mart's influential role in the market - including the food industry - is out of the question.

If ever you want to start an unremitting debate, all you need to do is drop the 'W' word: Wal-Mart. Suddenly, everyone has something to say. This is not surprising, as the retail Goliath has managed to couple itself with controversy over everything from health care to organics.
     But no matter what side you are on, overlooking Wal-Mart's influential role in the market - including the food industry - is out of the question. With over 60,000 total suppliers, Wal-Mart's capacity to catapult trends into the industry is perhaps unrivaled by any other retailer in the world.
     In many instances, this type of power can prove damaging, but it is also possible for suppliers to benefit from it. Wal-Mart's Packaging Scorecard initiative, for example, could help the food industry fight its never-ending battle to reduce manufacturing costs. If we can avoid looking at this scorecard as a competition amongst suppliers for Wal-Mart's attention, its value to the industry is legitimate.
     Wal-Mart's packaging scorecard is a measurement tool evolved from a list of favorable attributes known as the "7 R's of Packaging: Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew, Revenue, and Read." For the one-year trial period of February 2007 to February of 2008, Wal-Mart will be using the packaging scorecard to measure its entire supply chain based upon each company's ability to "use less packaging, utilize more effective materials in packaging, and source these materials more efficiently relative to other suppliers."
     The Arkansas-based king of discount consumer goods promises that this scorecard will reduce packaging across its supply chain by five percent by 2013.
     More and more, manufacturers are finding that less packaging is a competitive advantage. Reductions in packaging mean less waste and less materials used, and thus savings on transportation, shipping and storage. Reducing the fuel needed to make and ship packaging materials is also crucial for the environment, as well as a draw for green-conscience consumers.
     Simply put, the packaging scorecard is a way for suppliers to expand their push for waste reduction while simultaneously pushing their way to the front of Wal-Mart's line. In this case, not only will a little competition not hurt anyone, it may help in the struggle to improve the most important line of all - the bottom one.

To share your comments about this article, please send an e-mail to Karen Langhauser, Editor-in-Chief, at karen.langhauser@advantagemedia.com.

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