WENATCHEE, Wash. — Retailers and their customers who buy Northwest cherries are increasingly choosing the high-graphic pouch bag, and shippers say they are prepared to meet that demand.
“Talking to retailers, talking to packer-shippers, people are excited about this bag,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of Yakima-based Northwest Cherry Growers.
Introduced about two years ago for smaller chains, the high-graphic bag was then embraced by Wal-Mart and other retailers, industry leaders say.
The standard cherry consumer package for quite a few years was the 2.2-pound catch-weight bag with a slider lock, but Mac Riggan, marketing director for Chelan-based Chelan Fresh, agreed that the premium pouch bag is gaining traction as the top choice of retailers.
Pouch bags may account for about 75% of domestic volume, said Brian Birdsall, general manager of cherry operations for Sage Fruit Co., Yakima.
“The majority of retailers who tested it last year are going 100% this year,” said Bob Mast, president of Columbia Marketing International LLC.
Mast said CMI doesn’t want to run out of pouch bags, since moving customers to the traditional catch-weight bag after they have used the premium pouch bag would be hard to do.
Club stores tend to prefer clamshells, no smaller than 2-pound clamshells for rainiers and 3-pound or 4-pound clamshells for red cherries.
While CMI didn’t ship any 4-pound clamshells during last year’s short crop season, the larger crop will translate to 4-pound clamshell shipments this year, Mast said.
Traditional retailers have used a combination of bags and clamshells, with clamshells traditionally used for rainier cherries.
Now, Mast said, some rainiers are converting from the clamshells to pouched bags for rainiers, he said. Some higher-end markets still merchandise bulk cherries, Mast said.
At $155 per square foot, cherries are the No. 1 dollars per square foot item in July, and the high-graphic pouch bags help draw consumers to cherries, Thurlby said. That’s important, since retail research shows about half supermarket cherry purchases are unplanned, impulse buys.
The premium bags are being tweaked by shippers to vary the location of the handle and are becoming narrower in dimension, he said.
Last year, perhaps 25% of industry volume was in high-graphic pouch bags, but this year the proportion could be up to 60% or more, Thurlby said.
Scott Marboe, marketing director for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, said the pouch bag has gained popularity as the norm for sweet red cherries and rainiers.