Produce packaging has been closely linked with sustainability in recent years, but facts like cost and visibility are important components as well, according to participants in the packaging and produce industries.

“Display-ready boxes continue to grow in popularity among both grower-shippers and retailers, as they provide many advantages such as opportunities to share brand and product merchandising or country of origin information, quick and easy in-store setup reducing labor requirements, and can function as either primary or secondary packaging,” said Don Wallace, director of produce with Memphis, Tenn.-based International Paper.

Convenience is another key trend, said Kari Dawson-Ekeland, marketing director for adjacent markets with the food & beverage division of Sealed Air Corp., Elmwood Park., N.J.

“You have lunch kits with ingredients there together with the main product, and many are moving toward a more rigid template where you can eat it in place,” she said.

There’s also a growing tendency to develop convenient packaging for out-of-hand snacks,” Dawson-Ekeland added.

“They’re in a resealable container and can snack out of that package,” she said.

She also noted that trend is particularly noticeable in fruits, which are common out-of-hand snacks.

“The sliced apples started that trend, and you’re seeing more of that, trying to especially get things that are in season,” she said.

There also are food-safety considerations, she said.

“That’s where some packaging demands come in, because you have to protect the product from manufacturing to distribution,” she said.

Produce shippers have to balance all of those concepts against their bottom lines, said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing with Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

“We continue to look at designs and materials to help control packing costs but also more efficient freight and handling,” he said.

Packaging also is becoming more informative, said Mike Kennedy, president of Kennedy Group, Willoughby, Ohio.

Among the chief drivers in packaging, he said, are increased retailer needs for display-ready packs, nutritional awareness, a “need for differentiation” and labeling, among others.

At Lake Forest, Ill.-based Specialty Bags Inc., stand-up pouch bags are the hottest item, said Ed Johnson, president.

The pouch bag is colorful, strong and eye-catching, he said.

“The idea is you can put grapes or cherries in them, and they stand up on the display counter at the retailer,” he said.

Target Stores Corp. is a major customer for the pouch bags, Johnson said.

For clamshells, customers are looking for durability, said David Grice, sales and marketing agent at Houston-based FormTex Plastics.

“Growers and packinghouses are moving more to automation, with all the labor issues that we have, and they’re looking for much better-quality clamshells,” he said.

Another factor is weight.

“People are much more conscious about what you can actually pack into the clamshell —what the product weighs and what can actually pack into the clamshell, so when it gets to the retailer, it has the proper weight,” he said.

Aesthetics count for a lot, too, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC.

"I think one of the trends we’re seeing up here is that some of the packaging — starting in boxes — we’re getting better process that produces better-looking boxes for similar money,” he said.

Packaging has to be tailored for preferences for convenient products, said Elena Hernandez, marketing and communication specialist with Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif.

“Meeting consumer needs in the prepared vegetable category is critical,” Hernandez said.

Mann Packing studied sales and consumer tendencies and found sales of value-added snacking vegetables increased 7.8% in the 52 weeks ending April 30, 2011, Hernandez said.