Retailers show interest in fresh produce packaging innovations

11/29/2011 03:18:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Retailers like clamshells, display shippers and reusable plastic containers for fresh produce.

James Repeta, assistant produce manager for Dash’s Markets Inc., a group of four stores based in Buffalo, N.Y., remembers when there was no such thing as clamshell containers.

Produce workers would put strawberries or tomatoes into pint or quart baskets and cover them with plastic.

He once owned a market that displayed berries in containers without lids.

Today, however, he’s seeing more and more clamshells, and he couldn’t be more pleased.

“It’s one of the best inventions they ever came out with for produce,” he said.

Joe Pagano, director of produce for the 22-store Inserra Shop-Rite Supermarkets Inc., Mahwah, N.J., is equally pleased with clamshells.

“I love them,” he said.

He said he’s seeing more of them, and he’s seeing larger sizes.

“The whole organic line is in clamshells, basically,” Pagano said.

Containers that used to hold primarily strawberries now can have almost anything in the produce department, said Keith Durham, category manager for fresh for Brookshire Food Stores, Tyler, Texas, a chain of more than 150 stores.

Even kiwifruit and donut peaches now come in clamshells, he said.

Clamshell containers are easy to handle and they result in less shrink, he said.

“I really like to see that.”

Clamshells seem to be getting bigger and bigger, he said, but not every produce director believes that bigger is better.

“It really depends on the clientele’s mindset,” Durham said.

Customers of club stores expect to see and to buy large packages, he said.

“We’re not a club store,” he said. “If the 1-pound fits your clientele, that’s where you need to be.”

Display shippers are another type of packaging that more suppliers seem to be using, and they have their place — if properly used, Repeta said.

Dash’s gets them periodically with products like lemon and lime juices or croutons and sliced almonds to accompany salads.

They do help sell the product, he said, but you don’t want to overdo it by placing too many displays in the aisles.

“You can junk up your store,” he said. “Make sure you have enough room if you’re going to use them.”

Durham often uses display boxes at Brookshire.

“We use those for a lot of seasonal items so we don’t have to change our schematics,” he said.

“When the season is over, you pull the shipper away.”

He said he has used display shippers for cranberry mix, nut displays and lemon and lime juices.

“We can use the shipper displays and not take up room from our normal sets,” he said.

Pagano receives some apple dips in display shippers at Inserra ShopRite stores, but he uses them sparingly so they won’t get in the way of shoppers.

“You’ve got to make sure they don’t clutter up the aisle,” he said.

Reusable plastic containers may be the darling of the club stores, but some smaller chains still are trying to adapt to them.

“We’re in the testing stage,” Durham said.

Before committing to them, he wants to make sure they’re sustainable through the chain’s logistics system all the way to store level.



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