SALINAS, Calif. — A north-south alliance between two California packaging product companies is taking dead aim at solving a growing strawberry industry concern, an effort that offers environmental and social responsibility benefits as well.

Robert Mann Packaging Inc., Salinas, and Southern California-based Direct Pack Inc., Sun Valley, have developed a program to recycle plastic drink bottles into clamshells for fresh produce, a conversion that in the past has failed to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

“It’s a pretty unique program,” said John Mann, president of Robert Mann Packaging. “We have in hand an FDA approval letter for direct food contact.”

The recycled resin is part of the Bottle Box line of thermoformed plastics produced by Direct Pack and the first of its kind to be approved for direct food contact, he said.

New equipment at Direct Pack is manufacturing the clamshells, and then shipping the product to Salinas where more new equipment at Robert Mann Packaging labels the clamshells and farms them out to the distribution points, said Craig Snedden, president of Direct Pack.

The partnership makes the specially designed clamshells available for the first time this year to the fresh strawberry industry.

“There have been service challenges in the past, specifically to strawberry grower-shippers when the season’s peaking,” Mann said.

With the new equipment installed in Salinas and Sun Valley, the companies will have no problems delivering clamshells on demand, he said.

“The capability is not unlimited, but we can run up to a few hundred million clamshells,” Mann said.

Helping the delivery process of the labeled clamshells run smoothly are the 10 distribution centers Robert Mann Packaging has established from Oceanside north to Gilroy.

In addition to serving fresh produce customers, Direct Pack manufactures products for processors, foodservice and retailers, Snedden said.

Robert Mann Packaging has marketed Direct Pack’s fresh produce products for the past three years.

“They understand the dynamics of product design for produce growers,” Snedden said. “We have a team of engineers who make those design elements come to life, and the finished product goes back to Robert Mann Packaging as a specialized item for their customer’s exact needs.”

In addition to ridding California of millions of used plastic drink bottles, both companies have added staff to handle the new work load. When the strawberry harvest begins to peak, the partnership anticipates it will have created about 60 positions.

The clamshells from every strawberry grower-shipper are not likely to be identical.

“Packaging differentiation is one way the growers can make a statement at the retail level,” Snedden said. “Rather than having everyone’s clamshell look the same, we want to give our customers an advantage at the retail level.”

And there are the other benefits.

“We’re really filling a need,” Mann said, “And, at the same time, being green conscious and also creating jobs.”