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Amy Wise holds one of the new milk jugs -- which she is not a fan of. Despite the cost savings and environmental benefits, Wise remains pertrubed, as she says the new design results in her spilling milk all over the place.  (Source: David Maxwell for The New York Times)

Superior Dairy offers a list of the benefits of the new design.  (Source: Superior Dairy)

Greg Soehnlen stands next to a pallet of the new jugs at Superior Dairy in Canton, Ohio. Mr. Soehnlen's has championed his company's adoption of the new design which has brought massive cost savings, some of which are passed on to the consumer. Better yet, he says, the milk gets to the market quicker and fresher.  (Source: David Maxwell for The New York Times)
Is the new milk carton design brilliant to insane?

No matter if you're 25 or 65, a staple of your daily shopping experience has likely always been walking past grocery coolers or fridges stacked with jugs of milk.  The milky plastic square jug, tapered at the top, with a handle, is one of the iconic images of the petrochemical industry.

However, with oil costs driving plastic costs up and with concerns about environmental impact, two of the nation's largest retailers, Wal-Mart and Costco, decided to give the old fashioned milk jug a green makeover. 

Enter the stackable milk jug.  The new milk jug is a bulk cylinder, without the tapered top of the standard jug.  The plastic composition has also changed and benefits are tremendous.  The square design allows it to be packed more tightly saving shelf space and shipping costs. Companies are passing on the savings.  The cost of the average jug was $2.18 to $2.58 a gallon.  On average they were around 10 to 20 cents a gallon cheaper than traditional jugs.

Another benefit is that filling the jugs at the farm processing facilities takes less labor as they can be stacked.  With traditional designs, crates were used during filling and shipping, which were unwieldy and space consuming.  There were also sanitary concerns about the crates used to transport the classic design.  Dan Soehnlen, president of Superior Dairy states, "Birds roost on them."

Sam’s Club is impressed by the benefits of the jug and has been demoing it with plans for a full-scale adoption.

Some customers appreciate the ergonomics of the new design, which allow for better fridge utilization. "With the new refrigerators with the shelf in the door, these fit nice," said Sam's Club shopper April Buchanan.

How did the new container come about?  Here the story returns to Mr. Soehnlen and Superior Dairy, which spun off a unit called Creative Edge which creates food packaging.  They devised the clever jug which can be packed tightly with no crates.  They think that one of its strongest points is that it allows for faster packing, allowing the milk to arrive at markets fresher.

The gains are staggering.  They have cut their labor costs in half and their water costs (used to wash the crates mainly, formerly) by 60 to 70 percent.  Meanwhile, they now only need two trips a week to each Sam's Club store, instead of five.  And Sam's Club is happy as it can now store 224 gallons of milk in its fridges, up from 80 gallons.

However, all is not perfect with the new jug.  It has left many consumers bewildered and frustrated.  As the jug does not pour quite the same as the old-fashioned jugs many report bad spills.  "I hate it," said café owner Lisa DeHoff.

Another disgruntled customer was Amy Wise, a homemaker.  She stated, "It spills everywhere."

A grandmother shopping for her grandchildren, Lee Morris stated, "It’s very hard for kids to pour."

However, despite the numerous complaints it appears that customers across the country will only be seeing more of the jugs.  With soaring food costs, it's hard to justify not adopting the jugs from an economic standpoint.  And companies can always market the jugs as "greener" thanks to their resulting energy, fuel, water, and plastic savings from farm to shelf.

The new milk jug is just one example of how the changing world economy, fossil fuel depletion, and environmental concerns may profoundly affect little parts of our life in surprising ways.  For the most part, these changes make sense, but there are sure to always be some who will cry over a little spilt milk.





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