Packaging is anything but a static part of the produce supply chain, said Steve Lutz, regional vice president for the U.S. West and Canada with the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.
“Boy, there’s a lot,” Lutz said of new trends in produce packaging. “You have multiple trends going, but one would be variety.”
That is, there are more types, sizes and configurations of packaging available in retail stores than ever, Lutz said.
“You continue to get increases in variety — and, obviously, to have variety you have to have a way to get it across the front end, the cash register, accurately,” he said.
“The beauty of packaging is it does that. It really is a great fit for a lot of produce departments that are looking for ways to bring in new products and varieties and capture the ring.”
Use of plastics is becoming a trending topic, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing with Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms.
“I see more concern about plastics emerging but don’t see a solution in the short term,” she said. “This is most likely going to escalate and be a driver in the future for all of us to work on well beyond the produce industry.”
Packaging also means efficiency along the supply chain, including store produce departments, Lutz said.
“Packaging generally is not as labor-intense. It is easier for restocking and rotation, so those factors also play into it.”
Packaging materials and graphics have improved, as well, Lutz said.
“You get breathable films, and that’s helpful, as well,” he said.
The trend to package products in pouches continues unabated, said Tom O’Driscoll, vice president of sales and marketing with Collinsville, Ill.-based packaging manufacturer Sev-Rend.
“Consumer preference for pouched produce remains strong, with retailers finding that packaged produce reduces shrink and boosts sales,” he said.
What is new is the trend to keep a careful balance between printing — to develop and reinforce brand messaging — and product visibility, O’Driscoll said.
“In the past, we saw the extremes of blank generic pouches as well as printed pouches with little product visibility. Packers are now seeking a balance between brand and visible space,” he said.
That is driving pouch buyers to rely more on companies like Sev-Rend, which can develop the art and concept, as well as customized die-cut pouches, which can be produced with short lead times and relatively small quantities, O’Driscoll said.
“The generic pouches imported from China with months-long lead times in container quantities are giving way to smaller runs of customized product,” he said.
Grab-and-go sales trends are up, and so is the manufacturer of packages to meet the demand, said Andy Laible, marketing manager with Hartsville, S.C.-based packaging manufacturer Sonoco Corp.
“Snacking is still a huge opportunity in the fresh produce department, driving demand for convenient, single-serve packaging that allows for on-the-go consumption of bite-sized fruits or vegetables,” Laible said.
Pouch bags add value, so it’s easy to see how they have gained popularity, said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development with Yakima, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co.
“It seems to be everything is based on convenience,” he said.
In addition, flexible stand-up pouches have become a staple packaging format for bigger multi-serving produce offerings, Laible said.
“Consumer-friendly features such as handles and reclose zippers add convenience to a package that also reduces bruising and thereby creates food waste savings,” he said.
Another trend is top-sealed resealable flexible lidding, which “continues to make inroads in the produce department,” Laible said.
“What started in the loose-leaf lettuce and greenhouse tomato categories, we are now seeing fruits and vegetables, such as cherries, avocados, or grapes being converted to this modern and convenient packaging alternative,” he said.
Canby, Ore.-based Package Containers Inc. is getting more requests for customized orders, said Dave DeMots, CEO.
“We’re seeing more and more customers come to us wanting to have their artwork and their customize — in other words, have something that fits into our packaging format but what can they do to dress it up, so we’re doing more and more with ink, color, custom art,” he said.