To help move an expected big crop, Chilean blueberry importers expect to rely more on big packs this season.

Nolan Quinn, berry category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, envisions a packaging-related solution to an expected big Chilean blueberry crop.

“We’re trying to push people into larger packs to help eat up all that volume,” he said.

That will be especially important, Quinn said, during the deal’s expected promotional period from late December to mid-February.

Specifically, Oppenheimer will be pushing pints, Quinn said.

“I think the majority of Chilean blueberries will be in pints,” he said. “Pints are becoming the norm, certainly during peaks.”

But the company also expects stronger sales of even larger containers.

“There are some chains that are looking to use 18s as more of a regular item,” he said.

Quinn hopes the trend toward larger packages is complemented by a trend away from smaller ones.

“We’re trying to get away from 6s and to totally eliminate 4.4-ounce packs if we can,” he said.

Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave's Specialty Imports Inc., also predicted heavier use of pints this season to pack Chilean blueberries.

“It’s changed in recent years,” Bowe said. “It used to 4.4, 4.4., 4.4 — that’s all there was. Then it was 6, then pints. In the last three years, pints have been coming on strong.”

Bowe estimated that about 60-65% of Chilean blueberries packed for export to the U.S. this season would arrive in pint containers.

As usually happens, however, at the beginning of the deal, before volume shipments begin, most product will likely arrive in 4.4- and 6-ounce containers, Bowe said.

A few shippers will continue tilted toward the smaller packs even when the deal starts peaking.

“Some people — not us — will do 4.4 and 6 through November,” Bowe said.

The trend toward pints gained steam from their strong performance in the 2008-09 season, he said.

“It surprised me last year,” he said. “The price came out lower than we thought it would be. This should be a very, very good year for pints.”

Pints commonly sold in the $3.99-$4.99 range at retail last year, with some prices as low as $3.59, Bowe said.

“This year I think everybody will try to hold a price that they can make money on but that’s still competitive,” he said.

Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc. expects to ship not only more pints from Chile in 2010-2011 but more 18- and 24-ounce packs, said Janice Honigberg, the company’s president.

Club stores are the target audience for both of the larger packs, but Honigberg said there also has been considerable interest among conventional retailers for the 18-ounce packs.

As for pints, this is just the second season they’ve been available out of Chile on a widespread basis, Honigberg said. Supplies were very limited in 2008-09, the season they were first used.

Considering how relatively new they are, Honigberg said their growth has been impressive.

Jim Roberts, vice president of sales for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said the push toward pints would help alleviate any concern about moving a crop that he and others estimate to be 25-30% bigger than last year.

He expects a repeat of 2009-10.

“Last year we did a lot more pints, and that value proposition really brought more consumers into the category,” he said. “It wasn’t a struggle last year, and it won’t be a struggle at all this year to move through (the anticipated extra volumes).”

The shift toward pints has played a role in transforming the market, Roberts said.

“We really had a demand market now, and I think that will continue,” he said. “Consumption is up dramatically.”

Joe Barsi, director of business development for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc., also expects a continued shift toward bigger packs for Chilean blueberries in 2010-11.

“A larger percentage of our packs will be pints and larger, the predominant pack being pints,” he said.

Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. expects to ship blueberries from Chile in a variety of packs this season, including 6-ouncers, pints, 18-ouncers and two-pounders, said John Johnston, the company’s director of blueberry product management.

Despite that variety, one packaging trend definitely stands out, Johnston said.

“The predominant pack will be pints this season, and in general, there is a trend toward larger pack sizes, driven by retail and consumer demand,” he said.

Not everyone, however, sees a big shift toward pints.

Tampa, Fla.-based Sun Valley International expects to bring in 4.4-ounce containers until about mid-November, when 6-ouncers should take over, said Bob Ritchart, the company’s vice president of sales.

As of the week of Oct. 11, the company didn’t have any pint sales planned, and Ritchart expected a similar mix of 4.4- and 6-ounce sales.

Based on what Sun Valley’s grower partners in Chile are saying, they’re not seeing volumes adequate to pack pints, Ritchart said.