Foodservice suppliers are offering customers packaging formats they need, whether it’s smaller sizes to fit their often limited storage space or larger sizes to handle the extra volume they may require.
Protecting the product and maintaining freshness also are important considerations.
West Pak Avocado Inc., Murrieta, Calif., packs in “splits” or half flats for some of its customers in the Midwest and Northeast, where avocado consumption is just developing, said Dan Acevedo, director of business development.
A full 25-pound lug of avocados might be too much for a restaurant where demand is growing but still limited.
Instead, West Pak might send them a 5- to 6-pound split case or half flat.
“It’s the right size lug for those developing avocados and including them on their menus,” he said.
Some clamshell containers developed for big-box stores have been doing very well in foodservice channels, said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development for Church Bros. LLC, Salinas, Calif.
They’re smaller pack sizes than existing whole leaf and spring mix packaging, so they take up less space in refrigerators. And they are not shipped in corrugated cartons.
“They’re just shipping in the clamshell itself,” he said.
The company offers 2-pound clamshells of spring mix, wild arugula, heirloom spinach blend and 2.5-pound whole-leaf green and whole-leaf romaine.
Other drivers of change
Reducing labor costs at restaurant level and in the distribution process and managing portion control also are driving packaging changes, said Mike O’Leary, vice president of sales and marketing for the fresh-cut division of Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.
Although there are many traditional pack sizes, “we have customers who are asking us for different types of pack sizes to meet their volume requirements,” he said.
Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, plans to use a custom, patented tray for its new whole head program to be launched at the Produce Marketing Association’s foodservice conference, said Gina Nucci, director of healthy culinary innovation.
It holds the heads in place in the carton, helps ensure that the heads meet their size specifications and helps protect against mechanical damage, she said.
GreenGate Fresh LLP, Salinas, has a bagging process that is “unique in the produce industry,” said Jay Iverson, vice president of sales and marketing.
The three-sided bag, which has two layers of film, is sealed around the edges on three sides instead of one side down the back.
“At the end of the day, there are fewer weak seals, which can lead to compromised product,” he said.
Storage space, cost
Hollandia Produce LLC, Carpinteria, Calif., offers a Live Gourmet living lettuce “Squircle” clamshell and shipping container, said Vince Choate, director of marketing.
Chefs who order smaller sizes to conserve space in their refrigerators must increase their order frequency, which makes more work for buyers and shippers alike, Van Eeghen said.
“Storage is a huge challenge for operators, as is cost,” Nucci said.
”Daily deliveries are expensive for the restaurant operator,” she said. “But they often don’t have the storage to hold product for more than a day to two, so they need deliveries daily.”
Simplicity is one difference Iverson has observed between foodservice packaging and retail packaging.
“Foodservice is nothing like retail,” he said, where packaging often sells more product than the product itself.
At one time, foodservice suppliers used high-graphic, printed bags, he said.
But now the industry seems to be migrating toward plain bags to keep costs down.
An attractive package is not a big selling point for a supplier dealing with a foodservice operator, he said.