Some strawberry grower-shippers are becoming concerned about the proliferation of packaging styles required to accommodate an increasing number of pallet configurations.
There are the five-down, six-down and now the eight-down formats, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville, Calif.
If a company offers 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-pound clamshell containers of strawberries, it may have to have 12 container sizes on hand.
“We can’t be the only strawberry company is that concerned about the proliferation of package styles,” Jewell said. “There are just too many.”
California Giant would like to reduce the number of pack styles the company offers and pass the savings on to consumers, she said.
Matt Kawamura, a partner in Orange County Produce LLC, Irvine, Calif., agreed.
“A lot of times, a customer wants to have something that’s different, but I do think we have too many packages,” he said.
Offering several containers is difficult, he said, “but you have to give the customers what they want.”
Success Valley Produce LLC, Oxnard, Calif., rolled out a new packaging system last year that seems to be working well, said Backus Nahas, a son of owner Jim Nahas.
“We took the eight-down unit that everybody has been using in the 2-pounders and 4-pounders, and we added a 1-pounder and a 3-pounder to it,” he said.
In addition, he said, the company can load 30% more product on each truck, “which saves costs all the way from the grower to the end user.”
That program takes the equivalent of 400 trucks off the road each season, Nahas estimated.
Whenever there are field changes, growers have to change out the box, change out the clamshell and make another trip to the box yard, he said, which results in increased cost and downtime.
The box that Success Valley uses holds eight 1-pound containers, four 2-pounders, three 3-pounders and two 4-pounders.
Red Blossom Sales Inc., Salinas, Calif., is going to exclusively six down on 1- and 8-pound packages and eight down on 2- and 4-pounders, said Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director.
“One reason is to keep differentiated in the field so the workers have an easier time complying with (Global Trade Item Number) requirements,” she said. “And the eight-down saves the growers and the customers freight (costs) for better pricing for both sides and, in the end, the consumer.”
California Giant plans to poll its customers to see if some duplication can be eliminated, Jewell said.
She suggested that the California Strawberry Commission or a university conduct a study to determine whether one size or another has a bigger impact on arrivals or whether one is more sustainable than another.
Kawamura said he would like to see that type of information.
“People are always trying to explore different things,” he said.
Meantime, Orange County Produce has settled on an eight-down format for 2- and 4-pounders and six-down for 1-pounders.
“Right now, the majority of our customers are happy with those configurations,” Kawamura said.
University studies could examine the cost of the various configurations and look at the condition of the fruit on arrival, said Jim Thompson, emeritus cooperative extension engineer at the University of California-Davi biological and agricultural engineering department.
“The industry could use those studies as a talking point to start discussions,” he said.
But in order for the grower-shipper side and the retail side to agree on a standard configuration that would reduce the number of packaging options, he said, “It seems that they would need to find some compelling reasons for people at each level in the system to gain some advantage.”