While the production of paper and plastic packaging has come to a standstill in many places due to extended delivery times and acute raw material shortages, the production of wooden crates is still at full speed. "We have the advantage that we can obtain the majority of the wood we need from the region, which is why the current problems affect us less," reports Uwe Groll, managing director of the industry association Grow e.V..
Uwe Groll (l) and Grow member Markus Benninger during FreshPlaza's company visit in 2019.
Although the Corona pandemic has barely been overcome, the next crisis has already surfaced, with the war situation in Ukraine. Groll: "From today's perspective, I don't think the Ukraine crisis will have a big impact on our wood supply because we mainly source raw wood within the region. Thanks to the regional procurement of raw materials and the immediate proximity to the customer, we will be better spared from the increased fuel prices and energy costs, in contrast to reusable packaging. From a purely economic point of view, I also believe that we will thus be the ones less affected by the crisis in the entire transport packaging sector."
In contrast to the encouraging forecasts this year, 2021 has been rather poor for the wood industry, he said. "The Corona situation combined with poorer weather conditions meant that our customers had lower demand overall."
International timber market on the upswing
While the German market has seen a slight stabilization in lumber demand this year, Groll sees a clear upward trend in the international market. "There have been certain turnarounds that no one had thought possible. The Italian fresh fish sector, for example, has clearly opted for wood over plastic after years of research and study. The goal is to use hygienic packaging that does not lead to plastic waste in the oceans. What clearly speaks for the use of wood with regard to Italian fruits and vegetables is the organic certification that has now been obtained, which is why wooden crates may be used for the packaging of all organic products. We are seeing similar upward trends in Spain and France."
The passionate wood representative is particularly keen to keep emphasizing the benefits of wood packaging, especially at a time when countless new (reusable) solutions are being introduced to the market every year. "In the long run, cardboard has a good recycling balance, but the high water and energy consumption always have a negative impact on eco-balances. Reusable packaging also only achieves a positive balance after many cycles, which wooden crates already have with their first use. Wooden crates and pallets always have a positive CO2 balance and are therefore almost unique in the packaging sector. But also with regard to the protection of goods, wood has many advantages and is still the best export packaging," Groll describes.
Uwe Groll (r) and the Grow trade show representation at Fruit Logistica 2020.
Increase in demand is conceivable
Due to extended delivery times and impending shortages of cardboard and plastic, the wood industry is anticipating increased demand for wood packaging, which is already emerging to some extent, Groll said. "Our issue, however, is that we harvest our wood during the brood-free period because we respect nature. Also, in close coordination with nature conservation, we are only allowed to process a certain volume of raw wood per year. It will not fail because of the machine capacity, our companies would be able to process the additional orders accordingly without exception. In terms of raw material and manpower, however, we can only respond to extreme increases in demand in the medium term."
Sustainable processing and recycling on the doorstep
In the longer term, Groll continues, the wooden crate has proven itself predominantly as highly suitable packaging for the fruit and vegetable trade and export. "Similar to Italy, in Germany we also only use certified wood from sustainable forestry. Nevertheless, the German organic industry is very much associated with reusable packaging. We have reliable family businesses that can process regional raw wood practically on our doorstep, which is excellent for supply chains. I am therefore confident that in the near future we will be able to attract even more environmentally and cost-conscious customers to the wooden crates. We are also helped by the growing demand for recycled wood in the particleboard industry and bioenergy sector."