Bags continue to dominate packaging in California’s table grape business, although suppliers say clamshells still play an important role.
In 2017 U.S. shipments, non-sealable, Ziploc-type and slider bags were the most widely used method of packaging California grapes, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.
In 2017, 82% of all California grapes were sold in bags, with pouches being the most used type of bag, while 15% were packaged in clamshells. The ratio has been steady in recent years, the commission said.
“I think there’s an interest in both, obviously,” said John Harley, sales manager with Bakersfield, Calif.-based grower-shipper Anthony Vineyards.
The clamshell helps identify the product as being something different and offers retailers a unitized fixed-weight package to sell, Harley said.
Some retailers actually prefer “the UPC ring” of fixed-weight packages, but bags are cheaper and offer more eye-catching options, said Stephen Paul, category director with Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms.
Clamshells are useful in showcasing new grape varieties, Harley said.
“Candy Hearts and Candy Dreams are two examples we’re looking at putting in a 1-pound clamshell because of the price point,” he said.
Dinuba, Calif.-based King Fresh Produce LLC has seen that interest, too, said Keith Wilson, owner.
“We are seeing interest in smaller-portion fixed weight clamshells this season,” he said.
Meanwhile, the bag business continues to evolve, and some customers are requesting clear bags that showcase the fruit inside, he said.
“(A clear bag) provides consistency on the shelf, a more consistent look, so they’re looking for non-printed clear bags,” he said. “I think, with some retailers, it might catch on.”
In a market in which customer bag specifications often are “all over the board,” a clear package offers a simple functionality, said Jeff Olsen, president of the Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co.
“We’re just keeping it basic with a clear bag and PLU (price look-up label), a strong handle bag,” he said.
Clear bags can provide retailers with a “cohesive look at the retail level instead of dealing with multiple shippers and multiple different bags,” Harley said.
Whether clear bags catch on remains to be seen. However, there’s no doubt that bags will continue to dominate clamshells for grape packaging, Harley said.
“We’re even playing with sealed bags now, as far as we pack a 1.5-pound sealed bag, which some retailers can sell like a clamshell, as a unit,” he said.
Justin Bedwell, president of Madera, Calif.-based Bari Produce LLC, said he’s a big proponent of bags for grapes.
“Clamshells are a nice feature, but they’re pricey,” he said. “With newer high-graphic handle bags, that seems like the perfect way to sell grapes.”
Clamshells account for 5% to 10% of grape packaging at Delano, Calif.-based Columbine Vineyards, said Keith Andrew, sales manager.
The club stores favor clamshells, said Sean Stockton, president of Tulare, Calif.-based Sundale Vineyards.
“We’re seeing marketing in 1- and 2-pound clamshells, but the standard handle bag is still the item of choice for most retailers in the U.S. and Canada,” he said.
Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC is exploring ways to apply technology to clamshells, said Danielle Loustalot, marketing manager.
“Sun World is exploring new clamshell innovations, along with added technology to drive efficiency,” she said. “Extending shelf life is another place where we feel technology can assist.”