As the popularity of the berry category grows, so does the size of the containers those berries are packed in.
“With the increase in overall production and in the quality of the fruit that’s coming off, there are huge opportunities to do bigger packs,” said Doug Perkins, managing director for HBF International LLC, Sheridan, Ore.
Perkins attributes the bigger retail packs of blueberries largely to new, stronger varieties.
In the past, some varieties “didn’t present as well on the store shelf” as today’s varieties, he said. And that kept a lid on demand for large packages.
Today, however, varieties like the duke, which Perkins says is “rock solid, tastes great, ships and packs well,” make larger pack sizes more popular.
“We do quite a bit of 2-pounders, especially in the summer,” he said.
Michigan Summer Blueberries Inc., Bangor, ships a variety of pack sizes, said George Fritz, president and general manager. But the firm sells about half of its blueberries in 12-pint flats.
The company also sells a large number of 2-pounders, a “tremendous amount” of 5-pounders and even many 10-pound boxes, especially to roadside markets, where consumers snap them up to freeze or can.
Mainstream supermarkets buy mostly 1-pint and 2-pound containers and a few 5-pounders.
The larger sizes are much more popular when volume is up and prices are down, Fritz said.
About 85% of the blueberries that Oregon Berry Packing Co., Hillsboro, ships are in 2-pound club packs, said Brian Malensky, vice president of domestic sales.
“We’ve seen a lot more interest across the board with that pack size because it decreases freight costs,” he said.
Malensky attributes consumers’ rush for larger packs to increased awareness of the health benefits of blueberries along with generally lower prices.
Mainstream supermarkets as well as club stores are buying more 2- and 4-pound clamshell containers of strawberries today than in the past, said Dan Crowley, sales manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, Calif.
The large strawberry packs have been “very, very successful,” he said, and beneficial for shippers, retailers and consumers.
“You get some real bang for the buck in regard to freight,” Crowley said.
“This is the time of year when you’re paying your highest freight rates.”
Similarly, Red Blossom Farms, Oxnard, Calif., continues to ship greater numbers of 2- and 4-pound strawberry units at 160 per pallet, said Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director.
“This packaging configuration has been successful at holding down costs for both our retailers and consumers,” she said.
Blackberries are following the trend to some degree, but the fruit is more delicate than blueberries, so there’s a limit to how many layers you can have, said Mike Klackle, vice president of berry sales for Curry & Co. LLC, Brooks, Ore.
In the past, blackberries only came in 6-ounce units, he said. Today it’s common to see them in 12- and 18-ounce packages.
HBF also is shipping bigger packages as blackberry sales gain momentum, Perkins said.
The company sells many 12-ounce packages of blackberries and some packs as large as 18 ounces, he said.
Well-Pict is shipping a lot of 12-ounce containers of raspberries, especially for big-box stores, Crowley said. That’s twice as large as the standard size.
“You can’t go too deep with them,” Crowley said, because, like blackberries, the delicate raspberries crush easily.