As fresh-cut fruits and vegetables carve a bigger share of produce sales, packaging is playing a bigger role in the value-added category, suppliers said.

According to the Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., in 2010 stores averaged $1,587 in fresh-cut fruit sales per week per store through July 31, and $804 in the vegetable category.

Stores were averaging $1,587 in fresh-cut fruit sales per week per store through July 31, and $804 in the vegetable category, according to the report.

Each side seemed to have its package type of choice. In vegetables, 44.7% were sold in bags and 40.3% in clamshells.

Clamshell-type packaging dominated fresh-cut fruit packaging, at 67.6%.

As the pack types continue to branch out in size, type and even materials, packaging manufacturers have had to keep up with produce companies, stride for stride, in sustainability efforts.

And they’re doing it, said Emily Ewing, marketing manager for Fabri-Kal, Kalamazoo, Mich.

“Fabri-Kal launched five or six years ago Greenware cups,” she said. “It was the first line of cups made from plant-based material. It was a pioneer of providing environmentally friendly options.”

Three years ago, the company launched a drink cup line with its portion cups, she added.

“We also have product lines that are made with post-consumer recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a recyclable material). Our line of clear deli containers is made with 50% post-consumer recycled PET and our line of clear dessert containers is made with 20% post-consumer recycled PET. Post-consumer recycled material takes plastic out of the waste stream that would have traditionally been destined for landfills.”

It’s an evolution that has driven packaging, just as it has produce, said Ed Byrne, general manager of Exeter, Calif.-based Peninsula Packaging.

“It seems to me like the people we serve … for them, sustainability is an issue,” he said. “Consumers seem to think probably first PET was the best material because it was recyclable. Second came recycling of bottles. That seems to be the material that gets the most traction.”

Consumers have gravitated toward recyclable materials, and so have produce companies, Byrne said.

But clamshell manufacturers have to be careful about certain claims about recyclability, he added.

“It’s considered misleading to call clamshells recyclable,” he said. “They are recycled, but they are not recycled everywhere in the country. If there’s no facility, that’s considered by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to be misleading.”

There’s another approach to packaging and sustainability, and that pertains to limiting waste of food and materials, said Susan Edwards, foodservice manager and corporate chef with Duncan, S.C.-based Cryovac Food Packaging.

“We feel if our packaging is reducing food waste to fight costs,” Edwards said. “One is portion control. We have the ability to work with foodservice to control portion control to help cut waste.”

It’s a sound philosophy, said Myra Foster, marketing director.

“Certainly there’s a certain amount of energy involved in producing packaging, but the energy involved in production of food, we focus on how to optimize shelf life to minimize food waste,” she said. “So as we look at materials, we know there’s a long way to go with that and so we focus on what we can impact now until all layered materials are recyclable.”

Cryovac is doing a lot with packaging sizes, Edwards said.

“Our vertical pouch program, tended at first to be one size at first, but now we offer a wide range of sizes,” she said.

The company is always looking into new resin combinations and platforms, Foster said.

“Where typically you need much higher permeability, we need to focus on new resin technologies,” she said. “We look at what’s the proper balance and doing it in the right format.”

The company also looks at sustainability from various perspectives, Foster said.

“When you think of sustainability, people often think of renewable or recyclable or biodegradable, but we look at source reduction, so again you’re minimizing the amount of packaging needed,” she said.

“It will be incremental improvement until technology enables us to truly recycle and reuse every bit of material.”

The innovations fit nicely with the growth of fresh-cut produce, and, particularly, with the emergence of fresh-cut fruit, Foster said.

“Our packaging portfolio for fresh-cut producers includes optimum shelf life for fruit,” she said. “There is material that worked well for apples. Formats exist in our current offerings for shelf life for fresh-cut apples and things of that nature. We’re constantly looking at foodservice and retail industry and trying to stay abreast of what needs are not being met.”