During 2005 Smithers set up and undertook a ground-breaking test method development project specifically for consumer goods merchandized through the multiple retail grocery supply chain in Europe. The objective of the project was to deliver test methods for use in the package test laboratory, to simulate the specific handling and shipment issues arising in distribution through multiple-retail channels. Existing package test procedures and standards did not address the specific issues associated with the retail supply process.

Prior to 2005 Smithers had undertaken a multitude of test development projects on a single-client basis, but this was the first ever multi-client project anywhere in the world, focusing on testing for retail supply chain conditions. The project was funded by a consortium of leading brand owners and packaging suppliers.

Summary of the Retail Test Method

A key feature of this project was to investigate and document the loading conditions of mixed arrangements of goods (roll cages, mixed pallets), which was not addressed in any other distribution or package test method. Mixed loads as roll cages and pallets commonly appear in the retailer controlled parts of the supply chain. The project showed that mixed loads were the most critical aspect of retailer distribution in terms of damage; this is due to the complex product mix that retailers manage and the need to generate mixed orders for dispatch from retailer distribution centre to retail store.

The test method also addressed order picking handling at distribution centre, automated conditions associated with retail fulfilment centres and in-store operations (from back of store to shelf-filling).

Benefits of the Retail Test Method

The Smithers retail supply chain method has underpinned Smithers efforts supporting the European packaging community with materials reduction, light weighting and validation efforts since its induction.

Smithers continues to use the method to support pre-launch validation of high value consumer goods products in the retail sector. Projects using the method have identified damage prone designs, supported product re-design as part of a cost reduction, shown where shelf ready corrugated packs might fail and validated packaged products to a high degree of assurance before launch.

The project was presented at the ISTA Dimensions event in 2006. In 2008 ISTA progressed its own project with Sam's Club in the US to develop a US equivalent test for club stores.

Smithers' European test method is now available as an internationally recognized test as an ISTA Project under the identity '3K'.

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