As standup pouch bags with handles continue to gain favor with retailers — and consumers — more cherry grower-shippers are adding them to their list of packaging options.
“The decision is made more by the retail trade than by the packers,” said Maurice Cameron, president and global sales manager for Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif., the sales arm of Warmerdam Packing LP.
All major cherry packers now have the capability of packing cherries in pouch bags, he said.
Cameron expects demand for pouch bags to ramp up this season because of what is expected to be a lighter California crop than usual.
A lighter crop means the fruit will be larger, he said, “which means more of the crop will go to higher-end retailers, where there’s probably more of a tendency to use a pouch bag.”
Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. packs high-graphic pouch bags in California and Washington, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
Stemilt has garnered plenty of experience packing other commodities in the bag and has learned how to do an exceptional job with them, he said.
“We put a heavy-duty, press-to-close zipper in it rather than the plastic pull zipper,” he said.
Other zippers often pull off and break, he said, and they come with bags with single handles.
“With our bag, you have a double handle,” he said.
Stemilt’s bags have minimal graphics, and they’re strategically placed so they won’t obscure the cherries inside, Pepperl said.
The company first used pouch bags last season, and they met with good response, he said.
“We’re seeing more and more customers not only embrace it but ask us for it,” he said.
Delta Packing Co. of Lodi Inc., Lodi, Calif., introduced its pouch bag program last year and expects to do more of them this season, said Paul Poutre, general manager.
The clear, high-graphic bags made with heavier plastic than poly bags show off the fruit better, spark impulse purchases and should help boost overall cherry sales, he said.
Retailers appreciate the bags because they can help reduce shrink, he said.
Pouch bags are available on request from Lodi-based Rivermaid Trading Co., said Mike Isola, sales and marketing representative.
The company experimented with them last year, and the bags were well received, he said.
“It presents better on the shelf with the higher graphics,” he said.
And, with the handle, the cherries are less likely to be spilled.
Some customers still ask for clamshell containers for cherries, but they’re the exception rather than the norm, Cameron said.
Pouch bags are “kind of displacing the interest in clamshells,” he said.
Variable-weight pouch bags are much more economical for consumers in the long run compared to fixed-weight packages like clamshells, he said.
“The smaller the unit you buy in a fixed-weight package, the more you have to accommodate potential shrink that may or may not occur,” he said.
Packers generally put a total of about 17 pounds of fruit in 16 1-pound containers to ensure that each container weighs at least a pound, he said.
“You have to charge more money because you’re using over 17 pounds of fruit for a 16-pound sale,” he said.
“The pouch bag that’s variable weight eliminates that because it’s (weighed) at the register, and you can sell 16 pounds, and the retailer can sell 16 pounds and it works better.”
Cherries are a relatively expensive item, Pepperl said, so it’s appropriate to pack them in attractive pouch bags.
They also allow grower-shippers to brand their product.
“Consumers want to know who grew their food,” he said.
Stemilt’s pouch bags have a quick-response code with a link to a video that talks about the company.
The company packs almost all of its cherries in pouch bags. Only 11-row and smaller sizes are packed in poly bags. The company still packs some cherries in clamshells, but clamshells have “lost some steam to pouch bags,” Pepperl said.