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Cal Giant supporting effort toward cardboard clamshells

In late April, a group of strawberry industry experts gathered in a berry farm in Watsonville, CA, to further the effort of making that packaging more environmentally friendly.

IMG 3736A field test with corrugated, fully recyclable clamshells.The “Ready-Cycle” cardboard strawberry clamshell, introduced by Watsonville’s own Sambrailo Packaging, is being touted by some in the industry as a great way to cut down on the heavy use of plastics in berry shipments. Over the last two decades, the plastic clamshell has grown in popularity and now dominates the industry. California Giant Berry Farms Inc. in Watsonville, has been working with Sambrailo and Markon Cooperative in Salinas, CA, to test the new two-pound clamshell to move its use toward reality. The company has been conducting its own real-world shipments to foodservice customer to both gauge its viability and to help develop a container that works for the industry. Cal Giant reported that after some adjustments were made to the container to ensure fruit integrity, a recent test shipment showed positive results, with the customer committed to introducing the container during peak berry season in 2019.

In mid-April, Markon Cooperative reported that it is introducing the first of its new line of Ready-Cycle, corrugated, fully recyclable clamshells, leading the way to reducing the amount of packaging used in the foodservice industry.

“We are happy to partner with Markon and Sambrailo Packaging to help make a difference and find new solutions for recyclability and ultimately being sustainable,” said Tom Smith, director of foodservice at California Giant. “There is definitely a cost issue associated with this package, but it’s exciting to see an organization focused on making a difference the first priority.”

California Giant advised that this new initiative may not be the final answer to the question about how to reduce plastic headed for landfills, but it helps to have the conversation about what the industry can accomplish together and begin the pathway to find solutions. “The decision will ultimately lie with the consumer and test whether or not they are willing to pay for a fully recyclable container when buying their fresh berries in the future,” Smith said.

Cal Giant Vice President of Marketing Cindy Jewell told The Produce News that the recyclable packaging is expensive, adding about $1 to the cost of a tray of strawberries. While it remains to be seen if the buyer community — and ultimately consumers — will pay for the environmentally friendly option, she expressed optimism that the change will occur. The longtime strawberry industry veteran remembers when the industry transitioned from the green plastic mesh basket to the clamshell. “It didn’t happen overnight. It took at least three years with lots of people saying it wasn’t going to work,” she said.

At its introduction, both the cost and the impact on the berries were cited as disadvantages of the clamshell. Over time, the “new” packaging method proved its mettle and it has been the packaging of choice for many years.