Clamshells still small but growing segment for Mexican grapes

04/12/2012 12:05:00 PM
Tom Burfield

The familiar slider bags and standard resealable poly bags remain the most popular packaging options for grapes shipped from Mexico, but clamshell containers continue to gain momentum every season.

MAS Melons & Grapes LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz., packs most of its grapes in plastic slider bags but has had a major 4-pound clamshell program with one of the big-box chains for several years, said owner Miguel Suarez.

The company also packs in 2-pound clamshells for some customers, but Suarez said at least one of those customers was looking into the new standup pouch with handles this season.

MAS does not currently ship reusable plastic containers, but the company does ship product to Asia in corrugated plastic containers.

The plastic containers are better than regular cardboard boxes because they resist humidity while sitting on a boat for the weeks-long voyage to the U.S., Suarez said.

The containers also can hold at least one extra layer, he added.

Rio Rico-based Fresh Farms ships grapes primarily in conventional bags but does a few clamshells, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing.

The number of clamshells the company handles increases every season but still accounts for only 5% of its volume.

“We’re capable of doing more,” Havel said.

Fresh Farms packs clamshells in a PrimusLabs.com-certified facility but charges a premium to help offset the added labor involved in taking the fruit from the field to the packing shed.

“Clamshells are a significant part of our business,” said Dirk Winkelmann, international business development director for Pacific Trellis Fruit, Reedley, Calif.

The popularity of value-added packaging, including clamshells and fixed-weight bags, increases every year, he said.

Pacific Trellis and its growers view that as a positive. Growers actually set aside part of their crops for value-added packaging and negotiate special contracts and packing specifications.

“It’s a very highly sought-after thing,” Winkelmann said.

Clamshells and fixed-weight packages generally are packed in a small packinghouse set up for that purpose, he said. Packing is easier to control and to manage in a packinghouse compared with the field, he said.

When clamshell containers first arrived, many believed the grape industry would gravitate toward the containers, like the strawberry industry did, said John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif.

After more than 10 years, however, that has not proven to be the case.

“Many retailers tried it and tried it hard, but it’s not catching on,” he said.

Pandol estimated 9% of table grapes are packed in clamshells, but Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc. packs about 25% of its grapes in clamshells ranging from 2 to 5 pounds, said Jared Lane, vice president of marketing. The other 25% are packed in slider bags.

Volume of clamshells has increased steadily over the past few years, but not drastically, Lane said. Club stores account for most of the firm’s clamshell sales.

Retailers buy bags and a few clamshells from Delano-based Fruit Royale Inc., said Louie Galvan, managing partner.

Most retail customers want clamshells packed with bicolor or tricolor bunches, he said.



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