Chain of Thought

Pallet War Makes Front-Page News

It must have been a slow news day at the Wall Street Journal, as its weekend edition finally got around to reporting on a story that we in the material handling world have been talking about for a couple years: the ongoing, often rancorous, debate between the wood pallet and the plastic pallet manufacturers.

The WSJ gave it front-page coverage, albeit coverage in the traditional “offbeat” slot that earlier in the week were devoted to such quirky topics as a convention of people named Phil Campbell, endangered French hamsters and a Czech cartoon character stowing away on a space shuttle. So the pallet controversy didn't exactly nudge aside the various Middle East crises and the Japanese nuclear disaster for Page 1 coverage. Still, it's nice to see the business press paying attention to material handling, particularly during ProMat week.

Although the WSJ story begins with an account of the “butter battle” that has led to a lawsuit (a story we first reported back in December 2010), the main point of the article (besides working the word “unpalatable” into an outrageous pun) is the finger-pointing between the wood and plastic camps. The story zeroes in on two of the more vociferous combatants, two men whom we have quoted numerous times in the past: Bob Moore of iGPS (plastic) and Bruce Scholnick of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (wood).

While the WSJ does a good job outlining the basics of the butter contamination contretemps, it misses the mark by failing to cite a previous, equally contentious dustup centering on the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol, which initially (and erroneously) was blamed on wooden pallets, which led to some insinuations among the plastic pallet camp that maybe the FDA ought to regulate the wooden pallet manufacturers. So the butter battle is just the latest in a series of PR skirmishes between the two sides.

One issue the WSJ raises, though it doesn't really dwell on it, is the idea that if both sides of the pallet wars are right, then consumers are in big-time trouble because that would mean wood and plastic are both rife with problems. The article quotes Virginia Tech's Ralph Rupert, who neatly summarizes the situation: “I think both sides get hurt” from the dispute.

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