( Photo courtesy Irene Kredenets; Source Unsplash )

North American berry grower-shippers are responding to consumer and retailer pressure to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic.

“We are actively trying to be part of the answer to that,” said Jason Fung, vice president of categories, berries and greenhouse for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

“At Oppenheimer, we recognize our role in the supply chain, not just in the berry category, but within the fresh produce section,” he said.

The company is tackling the problem from a variety of angles, including compostable packaging and seeking different technology for labels so that they can be more actively recycled, he said.

Although clamshells previously packed by North Bay Produce, Traverse City, Mich., were 100% recyclable, they could not be recycled because of the label that was applied, said Brian Klumpp, director of marketing and strategic development.

“This year we are switching to a wash-off adhesive to aid in removing the label,” he said.

Now, the label itself not only will be removable, but it will be recyclable as well, he said.

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“We will have 100% recyclability of our clamshells, which are made from 40% recycled material.”

North Bay also has changed to top-sealed punnets, which eliminated 30% to 40% of the plastic over a traditional clamshell, Klumpp said.

Both the punnet and film are 100% recyclable.

Packaging from Success Valley Produce LLC, Oxnard, Calif., already is 100% post-consumer recycled, said Backus Nahas, director of marketing.

The company has biodegradable plastic clamshells ready to go to market for retailers who request them, he said.

Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. is “working diligently to create and test new packaging alternatives that parallel with our mission toward becoming a more sustainable company,” a company spokeswoman said.

Those packaging alternatives include 1- and 2-pound corrugated cardboard strawberry clamshells as well as a variety of pack styles for blueberries that the company will begin packing in the near future.

“We understand the direction the industry is taking and the level of transparency shoppers are expecting, and we are enthusiastic about forging the path and participating in this growth,” she said.

Cal Giant’s sustainability efforts go beyond packaging.

“We are on the path toward becoming 100% Zero Waste Certified this summer all the way from our farms (and) cooling facilities to our corporate office and have reached a 95% diversion rate as of January 2020,” the spokeswoman said.

The world has turned into an “ecologically conscious entity,” said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager for Watsonville-based Well-Pict Inc.

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The company already uses many clamshells that are made from partially recycled materials and aims to work with an industry coalition to boost that to 100% recycled materials.

A coalition is, indeed, the way to go for the berry industry to achieve its sustainable packaging goals, said Cindy Jewell, who handles marketing for Oxnard-based Bobalu Berries

“It doesn’t really make sense for individual companies to go out there and do a lot of work on packaging when you’ve got an industry association that could do it on behalf of everyone,” she said.

The process requires extensive testing, new technology and working with customers throughout the industry, she said.

“You’re really better served if you’re working as a team and as a group.” And she emphasized the role of profitability.

“Part of the sustainability equation is making sure the farmer profits,” Jewell said.

In February, major North American fresh berry producers announced their commitment to use 100% recycle-ready packaging by 2025. 

The California Strawberry Commission, the North American Blueberry Council, Asociacion national de Exportadores de Berries (Aneberries, Mexico), members of the National Berry Crops Initiative, and South American exporters are joining to maintain industry leadership in sustainable packaging, according to a news release.

New label standards, which will optimize the recycle readiness of all berry clamshells throughout North America, will play a key role in the effort, the release said.

“By working together as competitive collaborators, these actions will create economies of scale to reduce costs and stimulate a closed-loop circular economy that recycles berry clamshells back into new berry clamshells,” according to the release.

“Berry farming has a long history of innovation and leadership that once again came together to make this ambitious pledge,” Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission, said in the release. P