Take control of cost, location, and supply with returnable asset management software

A pallet or crate is much more than a mere piece of wood or plastic: It’s a valuable link in the supply chain, which — if lost, damaged, or misdirected — creates knock-on effects. Growers may not be able to ship their produce on time. Retailers may fall short of stock for their customers. Poolers, too, lose valuable time and business in the (often convoluted) process of replacing the asset itself.

As such, pallets, crates, and other returnable assets aren’t just crucial load carriers — they’re really becoming a square meter of real estate. They’re worth every journey that they facilitate. They’re worth every product that they enable to get from A to B. They’re an investment that needs to be protected and utilized to their cost-efficient maximum.

Yet tracking returnable assets, ordering from multiple providers, and ensuring cost- and emissions-effective returnable asset usage is far from simple. Simultaneously, however, sector players across growers, traders, retailers, and poolers are motivated to see this change. Improving their operational sustainability; pushing for sector innovation to package and ship responsibly; increasing circularity while reducing emissions. Not to mention complying with ever-increasing sustainability regulations.

In defining responsible, future-facing business models, the ability to track returnable assets is key. In this whitepaper, we firstly explore the challenges facing all links in the logistics chain when it comes to tracing — and safeguarding — returnable assets. Secondly, we outline what we see as key features for a returnable asset management platform that’s designed to meet these sector-specific priorities.

Part 1 

Returnable assets: What are the challenges?

  1. Who owns a returnable asset?

As things stand, growers, retailers, and poolers themselves experience huge difficulty in tracking crates and pallets:

  • Where are these returnable assets at any given moment?
  • Do the numbers ordered match the numbers delivered?
  • If disputes over deliveries occur among recipients, individual drivers, carrier companies, etc., how are these resolved?
  • Are growers and retailers under- or over-purchasing, and how does this affect operational cost-efficiency and returnable asset availability?
  • If returnable asset damage, loss, or theft occurs, how is this accurately tracked and resolved?
  • Who takes responsibility if and when returnable assets aren’t where they should be when they should be?
  • What happens if demand and supply experience an imbalance, causing supply chain friction?

In terms of how tracking actually occurs, players in the logistics sector should have the freedom to choose:

  • RFID technology: Auto-scanning via stickers or tags on each returnable asset, which are logged when the item reaches a scanning portal within a pooler’s physical infrastructure.
  • IoT: Enables enhanced tracking, for example including ‘open’ and ‘closed’ statuses for individual returnable assets. If any light is measured, this indicates a container has been opened in transit. Likewise, IoT tracking enables temperate monitoring that’s vital for guaranteeing fresh produce quality.
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth tags enable returnable asset identification, and sense temperature and filling grade. Using energy harvesting technology, they can operate battery-free. Combined with Bluetooth bridges and a gateway, tags enable tracking assets in the field and during transport.

As returnable assets increase in intelligence, they naturally increase in cost. Adding value to each square meter, making returnable assets an investment that’s increasingly worth tracking, utilizing to their maximum, and protecting. 

  • Ensuring cost-efficiency and returnable asset availability

For growers, the ability to monitor how many returnable assets they currently have available — as well as forecast and prepare for additional needs — is vital. Whether for predictable seasonal and event-related peaks or bumper harvests, having the right number of crates and pallets, at the right time, ensures efficiency and avoids fresh produce going to waste. From a cost, food security, and environmental perspective, this is crucial.

Conversely, over-ordering returnable assets would also ideally be avoided. For growers and retailers, unused returnable assets mean wasted spend. It is, logically, also in poolers’ interests that assets avoid sitting unused with one customer when they could be sent to another that requires them. With enhanced forecasting and tracking, parties throughout the logistics chain can ensure their capital and goods are utilized and shipped in a streamlined, efficient way. 

  • Evolving beyond black-box stocks

Growers and retailers utilizing stocks from multiple poolers (as is very common) currently face dealing with siloed information per provider. For poolers, too, total inaccessibility to data from other players in the sector means sustainability-boosting collaboration is difficult to achieve.

For example, this could mean combining asset pick-up from the same location, therefore using only one provider’s truck while also reducing emissions. By enhancing precompetitive trust and visibility here, the sector can meaningfully evolve.

  • Better for the logistics chain, better for the environment

The better the insights into returnable asset status, location, and actual usage throughout the logistics chain, the more efficient the chain can become:

  • Growers and retailers can avoid over-ordering, meaning returnable assets aren’t delivered needlessly, reducing transport emissions
  • Poolers can purchase only the returnable assets needed to meet real demand, streamlining manufacturing emissions
  • With enhanced and shared returnable asset location data, growers and poolers alike can collaborate with local players to ensure trucks are traveling filled

Part 2

Returnable asset management platforms: What does the logistics sector need?

✓ Track returnable asset balance across multiple providers, via one platform

No need to remember login details for multiple providers — with a platform combining various poolers, you can simply log in once to manage all returnable assets. From grower to pooler, all parties should be able to view the same returnable asset tracking data, avoiding duplicate administration and time-consuming, error-prone shadow IT.

From the pooler perspective, offering this ease and quality of service to (potential) customers is a real advantage. Each customer will be able to view their returnable asset orders and movements from one platform. Enhancing visibility, for easier (predictive) planning and management.

Crucially, the core aim here isn’t to provide a platform designed to enable browsing to compare pooler pricing and service offerings. Instead, transparency is contained and per customer, simply allowing growers and retailers to manage all their previously-agreed pooler provisions via a single, user-friendly interface. This enables stringent data governance in line with global regulations, ensuring asset tracking data remains private to the relevant parties. 

With time-saving automation, growers can also easily reorder in bulk, adjusting for seasonal and event-specific demand peaks as needed.

✓ Information is available in real time

Speed across forecasting, ordering, and delivering is vital, from pooler to grower. As a result, real-time insight into freight while it’s on the move is a valuable advantage. Rather than manual logs that take days to be delivered, simply using a collaborative interface would enable accessing rolling updates from throughout the logistics chain. Including notes, images, and reports per barcoded item or shipment.

With a traceable returnable asset location log — updated in real time — disputes over failed or delayed delivery, damage, or loss can also be far more easily resolved. With the ability to pinpoint the link in the logistics chain where an issue occurred, liability and its associated cost-covering can be fairly allocated. Eliminating back-and-forth and improving sector working relationships overall.

✓ Gather all tracking data in one platform

Whether your preferred tracking system utilizes RFID, IoT, or Bluetooth, your returnable asset management platform will ideally be able to gather and display it all. A platform with flexible, sophisticated application programming interfaces (APIs) will enable this.

✓ An independent provider

Enhancing collaboration and visibility in the pooling sector means moving beyond hidden agendas. Working with a trusted, independent software platform, you can rest assured that equal loyalty lies with all customers. The only agenda is up-front and clear: Enhancing efficiency and sustainability in pooling, through smart software solutions and business-boosting collaboration.

✓ Stringent data protection

Hesitancy to join a platform where your direct competitors are also sharing data is, of course, natural. Thorough, diligent authorization protocols are legally required, and essential to ensure you retain control over your data.

In addition, working with an independent provider ensures that data-sharing is facilitated purely in the interest of evolving pooling operations for the benefit of all links in the sector chain. If you do choose to share additional data in the interests of collaboration, visibility, and moving the pooling sector forward, this must be equally carefully controlled. 

Discover TrackOnline

TrackOnline is the only data exchange platform offering end-to-end logistics chain visibility, from grower to pooler.

Designed with over 20 years of software solution experience, our flexible plugins set a new industry standard for strategizing efficient, collaborative, and sustainable returnable asset management. As an independent software provider, we are a trusted partner for multiple industries, supporting precompetitive collaboration to enhance sustainability and circularity in logistics.

To find out more about TrackOnline and arrange your free demo, contact our team via email hello@trackonline.com. To stay updated on insights and news from TrackOnline, follow us on LinkedIn.