Pre-weighed bags are becoming a new favorite of retailers and consumers alike.
Jimmy Burch Sr., co-owner of Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C., said 50% of the sweet potatoes the company ships to retail accounts are packed in bags. Three-pounders are the most popular, but Burch Farms also packs 5- and 10-pound sizes.
Retailer like bagged product because they’re easy to merchandise, can be rung up at a unit price and, Burch said, often encourage shoppers to buy more — instead of picking up one or two potatoes from a bulk display, they may buy a bag of seven or eight.
Consumers like the convenience and the food safety/sanitation factor, since packaged product hasn’t been handled by myriad other shoppers.
The trend has created a bull market for manufacturers of bagging and weighing equipment.
Burch now has six bagging machines, including a new Giro unit that several West Coast citrus shippers, like Seald Sweet West International Inc., Dinuba, Calif., also have taken a liking to.
“We do a lot of bagging,” said Rick Eastes, vice president and general manager.
Seald Sweet can pack bags ranging from 1 to 8 pounds in plain or high-graphic wrap and coded for traceability.
Giro Pack Inc., Vidalia, Ga., makes weighing and bagging machines for a variety of fruits and vegetables and is introducing a new citrus weighing machine this year, said Chris Alvarez, customer service manager
Alvarez said he’s noticed a retail trend to a new version of the traditional net bags.
“When people started using net bags, we saw a lot of header bags with the film at the top,” he said. “But now we’re seeing a lot of retailers move toward a full-wrap pack where the film wraps all the way around the bag.”
Customers have the option of using the film as a marketing device to promote the product with artwork or recipes or to limit the printing and allow the product to sell itself.
Giro Pack offers more than a dozen styles of weighing and bagging machines for items like potatoes, citrus, apple, onions and avocados.
“We offer different style baggers to form different style bags,” he said.
Customers are requesting more individual portion packs, said Jeff Kenyon, spokesman for Automated Packaging Systems Inc., Streetsboro, Ohio.
“We’re seeing a lot of school nutrition programs where produce wholesalers and packers are doing carrots or vegetables or fruits in individual portions and putting them into bags,” he said.
“There are government subsidies for that right now,” he added.
Automated Packaging Systems is doing more work in fresh and frozen food because bags now are available that breathe oxygen, don’t breathe oxygen or have films to prevent condensation, Kenyon said.
“The improvements in technology in new bag materials are opening up more bag-packaging opportunities for produce in general,” he said.
Andy Currie, president of Ag-Pak Inc., Gasport, N.Y., also sees a trend toward smaller portion sizes — perhaps 5-pound bags replacing 10-pounders — as families get smaller and consumers find that smaller sizes better fit their needs.
He’s noticing more customers asking for printing on bags and closers along with traceability codes.
“There’s the ongoing drive for efficiency to get the most performance from the dollar that the customer is investing in weighing and bagging equipment,” he said.
Convenience also continues to be a high priority for consumers, said Kim Magon, marketing manager for Chicago-based Triangle Package Machinery Co.
“Ready-to-serve, fresh-cut produce continues to be a popular trend, packaged in bags or clamshell trays,” she said.
Smaller, individual servings for snacks or lunches also are customer favorites.
Michael Turcotte, owner and president of Technipack Inc., Rigaud, Quebec, has noticed two trends in the bagging/weighing industry.
One is an increase in three-count bags and trays containing red, yellow or green bell peppers, and the other is overwrapped trays of carrots, apples and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
“We try to follow the European market,” he said, and this has been the trend overseas.
In Europe, he said, consumers can’t touch fruits and vegetables in the supermarket.
Even stores offering bulk displays that allow shoppers to pack their own bags of almonds, walnuts, dates, prunes, cherries and even lettuces are taking advantage of new bagging technology in the form of bags in a box, said Ruben Nielsen, business development manager for Pattyn North America, Hartland, Wis.
The company provides equipment that lets customers pack bulk boxes — typically about 25 pounds — using a barrier film that allows for modified-atmosphere packaging .
The bulk packaging market used to be very labor intensive, he said, but automation is changing that, and incorporating barrier films into the mix makes it possible to send product to lucrative export markets.