A new convenience pack and the continued ascent of clamshells rank among packaging trends noted by Coachella Valley grape shippers.

The next big thing in the packaging of California grapes could be pre-washed, de-stemmed packs, said Drake Larson, partner in Drake Larson Sales, Thermal, Calif.

For now, Bakersfield seems to be the epicenter of the potential trend. But it could come to Coachella as well, Larson said.

“I’m keeping a close eye on what’s happening up north,” he said.

The de-stemmed, pre-washed convenience pack Larson has heard the most buzz about comes in a single-serving, yogurt-sized container. Product in the packs is sanitized with ozone and then packed in a controlled-atmosphere environment for longer shelf life.

Delano, Calif.-based Delano Farms Co. is spearheading the effort, Larson said. Some retailers already have the product on shelves, he said. Drake Larson Sales could possibly supply Delano with grapes for the product.

Larson is hopeful it could be a hit in school lunch programs.

As for the bag versus clamshell debate, there’s no discernible trend favoring one over the other, Larson said.

“It ebbs and flows with different customers,” he said. “We’re letting the retailers tell us what they want. But they’re like the scarecrow in the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ Sometimes they say go this way, sometimes that way.”

Demand for clamshells shot up last year at Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms, and it will likely rise this year, too, said John Burton, sales manager.

Chain stores, conventional retailers, wholesalers. A variety of sizes. You name it, Burton said,  Peter Rabbit will pack just about any kind of clam the customer demands.

“One-pounders, 4-pounders and everything in between — though we try to stay away from the 1-pounders,” he said. “Demand has gone up. It’s one change over recent years.”

For the roughly five seasons before 2009, clamshell use grew slowly but steadily for Coachella-based Desert Fresh Inc., said Tony Bianco, president.

This year, however, the company plans to keep about even with its 2008 clamshell levels, Bianco said.

“The 18-pound bag is still the standard,” he said.

Four-pound clams for club stores and 2-pounders for conventional retailers are becoming more popular grape packaging options, said Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of East West Unlimited, Coachella.

Food safety, convenience and reducing shrink drive increased clam use, Root said.

“It’s been weighed, it’s ready to go and you can’t get into it,” he said.

One packaging trend that hasn’t caught on in grapes like it has with other commodities, including other commodities sold by Peter Rabbit: reusable plastic containers, Burton said.

“We ship a lot of RPCs. Grapes aren’t a huge item in RPCs, but we do ship some,” he said.

New this year for Peter Rabbit: a stronger shipping carton for grapes, Burton said.

“We spent a lot of money and time to make sure they make the ride all the way to the store,” he said.
The box isn’t display-ready, Burton said, but then, customers aren’t calling for display-ready.

“Most customers want grapes in boxes with lids that protect the product,” he said. “There aren’t too many requests for display-ready.”