Table grapes from Mexico, which growers traditionally pack in poly bags, are showing up more frequently in clamshell containers, but the trend is a slow-moving one.
Most of the larger clamshells – 3-, 4- and 5-pounders – go to club stores, said Jared Lane, vice president of marketing for Stevco Inc., Los Angeles, while most traditional chains prefer the 2-pound size.
Similarly, Fresh Farms, Rio Rico, Ariz., has a large bag program, but the company custom packs clamshells on request, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing.
“Our business in clamshells is showing steady increases every year,” he said, “though not by leaps and bounds.”
Large retailers and club stores are the firm’s main clamshell customers.
Giumarra Cos. offers a wide selection of packaging choices, said Tom “TW” Wilson, division manager of the firm’s California grape division in Vernon.
“For Mexican grapes, we pack clamshells, wrapped, plain pack and slider and (zipper)-style poly bags,” he said.
Rio Rico-based MAS Melons & Grapes has a large clamshell program with a major club store chain that accounts for 20% of the company’s table grape volume, said owner Miguel Suarez.
The firm entered the clamshell deal warily, concerned that packing clamshells would be more difficult than packing bags, but Suarez said that’s not necessarily the case.
“Once we started doing it, we found it was easier,” he said.
Grapes actually keep better in clamshells than in bags, they’re better protected and the ventilation is better because there is more space between clamshells than bags when they’re packed, he said.
Orders for most of the company’s grapes continue to be for bags packed in five-down Euro boxes, however.
The clamshell container has its pluses and its minuses, said Dirk Winkelmann, international business development director for Pacific Trellis Fruit, Reedley, Calif.
“It addresses concerns of orderliness and presentation at store shelf level,” he said.
They’re more time consuming to pack and more costly because clamshell materials are more expensive than bags, he said.
Growers also have to pack them heavier to accommodate shrink and dehydration and to ensure they meet net weight requirements, he added.
Nonetheless, Winkelmann said, “It’s a growing business. It has been growing every year for us.”
A combination of club stores and traditional supermarkets buy clamshells in 2-, 3- and 4-pound sizes from Pacific Trellis.
A number of shippers of Mexican grapes also offer reusable plastic containers.
That includes Stevco, where Lane said RPCs can be cheaper than regular containers, and damage is minimal. However, because RPCs weigh more than traditional containers, freight costs can go up.
Logistics always is an issue in Mexico, Lane said, so keeping track of RPCs can be a challenge. However, demand for the containers continues to rise because many buyers see them as an environmentally friendly container that reduces waste.
Fresh Farms ships in RPCs for certain clients without major inconvenience, Havel said.
“It’s just a logistical thing,” he said, “that means getting the orders in advance and making sure we have the right materials.”
Use of RPCs is customer-driven at Pacific Trellis, Winkelmann said.
The company has “interest in and capacity for doing them,” he said, but because of the added cost, the company uses them only for confirmed retail programs.
“When you get into a new type of packaging for specific customers, you add another set of material requirements to your inventory management,” he said, adding, “RPCs are just another item in the mix that you have to manage.”
RPCs can be more costly than traditional containers, he said, but they’re generally worth it.