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The latest trend in grape packaging

A new style of retail consumer packs for fresh grapes, which was seen to a limited degree last year, appears to have burst into widespread popularity for the 2012 season. It is a gusseted, often high-graphic stand-up bag with a handle, which some refer to as a grab-and-go bag.

Similar style bags have been used for some time now for various food products, and have begun to find application in other produce commodities as well.

Many California grape shippers will 003-EarlySJV-Packagingbe packing some of the gusseted bags this season, citing interest from retail customers as their motivation.

"The biggest trend in packaging is the gusseted handle bag that is gaining a tremendous amount of momentum," said Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Sales Inc. in Tulare, CA. "We are excited about anything that the retail community is trying and looking at. We strongly encourage any of our [customers] to look at us for new trends in packaging."

There is "a certain amount of the marketplace that wants" the gusseted bag, Mr. Stockton said. "It is becoming more commonplace to put premium fruit into the gusseted handle bags." Sundale will be doing some of the bags this year, along with its conventional slider bags and various sizes of clamshells.

"I am transitioning my [customers], if I can," from clamshells into "the new stand-up gusset bag, [which] we will be introducing this year," said Shaun Ricks, president of The Grape Guys in Culter, CA. "It is cheaper, and it is a lot more practical." One advantage, he said, is that "I can go anywhere" with fruit packed in the gusseted bags, whereas "the clamshells are very account specific."

This summer, Fruit Royale will be packing some of its grapes in a high-graphic stand-up bag with a handle and a header, said Louie Galvan, a partner in the company. "The customers are asking for it, so we are making sure we do what we can to fill those requests. I imagine we will start it with our first grapes the week of the 9th of July."

Fruit Royale packed some of the bags last year. "It is weight bags per [carton], so they are roughly 2.5 pounds a piece," he said. The company is not doing the bags fixed-weight. "There are some people doing that. We haven't done any of that yet," he said.

"We are actually packing the stand-up bags in Coachella and Mexico," said Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing for Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc. "We will have those available in the San Joaquin Valley. I do see a very good demand for those." In addition, the company will continue with "all different sizes of clamshells."

"This year, we are working on putting up some of the grab-and-go bags into the holiday periods, maybe for Labor Day and definitely for Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Atomic Torosian, an owner of Crown Jewels Produce in Fresno, CA. "We are going to do that with some of our better grape varieties." Crown Jewels will be packing the bags "mostly fixed-weight," which is the way he believes most people in the industry are doing them, he said. "We will also be doing clamshells and RPCs and styro and all the other traditional packs."

"We will be doing the new bag," said Jeff Olsen, vice president of The Chuck Olsen Co. in Visalia, CA. "I think it is a good item. It is a nice bag." Clamshells "obviously serve a very good purpose," he said, but to a certain extent, they "could take the place of clamshells, no doubt about it," depending on "how the public receives it and how they move."

Last year, the retailers who tried the new bags found that they "flew off the shelf," he said.

"We are going to try some of the new handle bags this year in the San Joaquin Valley," said John Harley, sales manager at Anthony Vineyards Inc. in Bakersfield, CA. "We are kind of looking at it in lieu of clamshells. We think at some point we may be able to utilize that sealed, although we are not going to attempt to do that at this point."

Anthony will be implementing the new bag style in its organic grape deal, he said.

Columbine Vineyards in Delano, CA, will be using "the stand-up high-graphics bag" for its late-season Holliday seedless variety, according to salesman Keith Andrew. "We just got back" from a marketing trip, he said, and in talking to customers, the new bag style "was the buzz."

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the new bag, however. "I haven't thought too much of it, from what I've seen of them," said Louis Pandol, an officer in Pandol Bros. Inc. in Delano, CA. "What's wrong with these old standard bags? To me, it's just another mouse trap." He did not know whether Pandol Bros. would be doing any of the bags this year or not.

In the end, whether the new bags continue to grow in popularity or prove to be a flash in the pan will depend on customers and, ultimately, on how successful the bags are in generating consumer sales.