The use of clamshell packs for merchandising Northwest cherries is expanding, but marketers say the 2-pound-plus catch-weight bag remains the first option for most retailers.

Perhaps 80% of the cherries sold in the domestic market are sold in bags, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Northwest Cherry Growers.

Big-box stores first embraced clamshells for cherries but other retailers also use the pack as well, said Lucky Hick, senior vice president for perishables for Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan.

The bags and clamshells are a great way to showcase cherries, and Hicks said cherries have been such a value that some retailers have sold the 11-pound-carton of cherries directly to consumers.

“Why that works is the value represented in cherries,” he said, noting that past pricing for that pack has been as low as $1 per pound.

Cherries merchandised in any package are big drivers of retail sales, said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.

Lutz said the clamshell, which is sold as a fixed-weight package, is perceived by consumers as a higher cost package but also is considered to be higher quality.

Retailers can benefit by selling both the random-weight bag to the consumer motivated by price and the fixed-weight clamshell for those consumers looking for the very best quality.

Retailers also want to keep up with big-box stores by offering 3-pound and 4-pound clamshells keyed to July 4 promotions, picnics and other family celebrations, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

Pepperl said Stemilt will increase its availability of a flow-wrapped punnet this season.

“You will see more flow wrap out of us for conventional rainier and organic dark sweets,” he said.

Pepperl said the flow-wrapped clear punnet features a breathable film that controls respiration of the fruit.

The pack will be offered in 1-pound and 2-pound for organic dark sweet and rainier, and a 3-pound punnet for dark sweet organic cherries.

The range in packing options for the punnet provide merchandising and pricing options as well, Pepperl said.

The punnet extends shelf life and prevents stem dehydration, particularly for rainier, and can be an excellent choice for retailers who don’t see as much turnover in their displays, he said.

Several Northwest cherry marketers are finding success with their retail partners in providing secondary displays for cherries that can be placed in other parts of the store.

Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Rainier Fruit Co., said the Selah, Wash.-based company created secondary display bins last year and is finding strong interest again this year.

“That secondary display for cherries outside of the produce department helps as far as increasing cherry movement because it is such an impulse item,” she said.

Yakima-based Sage Fruit Co. LLC, offers a secondary display designed to handle two 18-pound cases filled with catch-weight bags, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for the company.

Scott Marboe, director of marketing for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, said he believes secondary displays are great sales tools if the fruit is watched closely.

However, Marboe said he would prefer that cherries stay on the cold rack as long as possible and therefore his company does not provide secondary displays to retailers.