GMA Pallets: What are they?

Grocery pallet, GMA pallet, standard pallet — all are names for the common 48” x 40” pallet used over 90% of the time any pallet is shipped anywhere. However, if you asked ten different people what a “GMA” pallet was, you would easily get ten different answers: “A GMA pallet is a 48x40,” or “A GMA pallet is for food,” or “A GMA pallet is brand new hardwood.”

Let’s get rid of the mystery. This article will answer a few questions:

Where did the GMA pallet specification come from?
What is the true GMA pallet specification?
What are some of the variations within the “GMA” pallet family?
When is a true GMA necessary, and when can a cost-effective alternative be substituted?

Where did the GMA pallet specification come from?

GMA stands for the “Grocery Manufacturers Association.” This group established the standards in order to standardize racking and transportation for the grocery industry in 1908. It is now an organization that acts as a liaison for its member companies, completing studies for best practices in food manufacturing. It also is a hub of information for consumers regarding industry trends and scientific advances in chemistry and processing for the industry (read more at www.gmaonline.com). The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) accepts the GMA specification as one of the standard types of pallets transported around the world.

What is the true GMA pallet specification?

The GMA standard pallet is constructed with high density hardwood, seven top deck boards that are 40 inches wide, and five bottom deck boards that are also 40 inches wide. There are three stringers that are 48 inches long, 3 1/2 inches tall, and 1 3/8 inches thick. Although robust, this spec has been largely disregarded, and most companies that demand a “GMA Specification” will make exceptions on multiple aspects of the requirement such as lumber type, lumber use, and lumber thickness. The reason these companies have loosened their specification standards is due to cost. It is no longer cost-effective for many manufacturers to purchase these brand new, made-to-spec pallets when a lower-grade new pallet or a high-quality recycled pallet would perform at the same level for a significantly decreased cost.

What is the practical difference between a new and a recycled GMA pallet? 

Now that we have made the distinction between the slight variations in the GMA Pallet specification, there are a few established, commonly accepted versions of the GMA Pallet many companies use on a regular basis:

New Hardwood Pallets: More common than the aforementioned GMA Pallet specification is a new hardwood pallet with seven top deckboards, five bottom deckboards, and three stringers. Instead of the deckboards having a standard 5/8 inch thickness and stringers that are 1 3/8 inch thick , manufacturers who need a new hardwood pallet will often purchase a 9/16 inch deckboard and 1 1/4 inch stringer. This saves a significant amount of money, while only slightly lessening the strength rating.

New Softwood Pallets: For most parts of the country, softwood is more readily available than hardwood. Not only is it more available, but it is more easily processed and resawn than hardwood lumber because it is less dense. The typical dimensions of a softwood “GMA” pallet are 48 x 3.5 x 1.5 inch stringers, seven total 40” wide x 11/16” thick top deckboards, and five deckboards on the bottom.

Recycled Pallets: Practically speaking, the majority of food manufacturers and distributors do not require a new wood pallet even though they may have specifications that call for the official GMA Pallet as described by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Most industries that require a 48” x 40” pallet utilize various grades of a recycled 48” x 40” pallet which are still often referred to as “GMA” pallets, even though they do not meet the official GMA specification. Here are a few commonly recognized grades of recycled GMA pallets:

#1 / A Grade Recycled:

These are pallets that do not have any repairs or plugs on the stringers. These are functionally brand new pallets that have been lightly used and well-maintained. In many cases, it is difficult to tell the difference between a #1 / A Grade pallet and a new pallet. This pallet grade is most cost-effective than new pallets and has a comparable if not equal strength rating to a new pallet because it is lightly worn and has likely has completely dried out over time. Many companies move from new pallets to a #1 / A Grade because this version of the GMA specification is as clean and strong as a new pallet.

There are a couple drawbacks to the #1 / A Grade pallet. First, they are not always available. Being a product of recycling by definition, a pallet recycler can only repair and sell as many pallets as are available on the market to repair and recycle. Second, a pallet that has been repaired no longer maintains a uniform specification. While it may be the GMA footprint of 48” long by 40” wide, the repair process introduces different lumber types for repair boards which creates a mixture of hardwoods and softwoods, different deckboard thicknesses, and likely a variation of different lumber types, board thicknesses, and board configurations on the pallet.

#2 / B Grade Recycled:

This is the lowest grade 48” x 40” pallet and is only occasionally referred to as a “GMA” pallet. At the beginning of their pallet life, they started off as one of the varieties of GMA pallets described above. Over time and through many uses, they lost boards, sustained cracks, and endured product spills making it the least aesthetically pleasing or clean pallet of the “GMA” family. The only resemblance the #2 / B Grade Recycled Pallet has to a true GMA pallet is that the #2 / B Grade is 48” x 40” and also may end up in a grocery store aisle.

This specification is the most plentiful in the market and also the least expensive. The reason they do not qualify for most traditional GMA Pallet usages is because they are more dirty and less trackable than any other pallet type

How do I know if I need a GMA pallet?

We have covered the official GMA specification, commonly accepted variations of that specification, and the recycled pallets that ultimately do not cut the mustard. This may leave you with the question, “When do I know if I should use a true GMA pallet or a cost-effective alternative?” The best answer is this:

Get to know your customer. 

Your customer may require your product to be delivered on a true GMA pallet, and they may provide you with a spec sheet that denotes the true GMA spec described earlier. After touring their facility you may find out that other vendors ship product in on recycled pallets or other variations of non GMA 48” x 40” pallets.

For example, one company asked their pallet provider to quote a pallet for a “Walmart project”, and consequently sent the specification for a Walmart-approved pallet. This specification outlined the classic new hardwood pallet. The pallet company got to work on a quote right away and gave a competitive price for that premium pallet. The customer was surprised at the price and asked the pallet company to make a few small concessions. The manufacturer did so, but the price was still out of the ballpark. Eventually the manufacturer did give a price for the lowest grade 48” x 40” we had available and we were finally able to meet the price point with the necessary caveats and disclaimers. After delivering the first load of pallets, everything worked well and the manufacturer had won a loyal customer.

Conclusion

Each person has a different idea of what a “GMA” pallet is, so when discussing what each application calls for, be sure to ask whether or not the “GMA” pallet needs to be new, hardwood, or maintain a strength rating greater than 2,500lbs. If not, chances are that the company requiring the GMA pallet is flexible in their need and can use a more cost-effective option.