Prepackaged fruit is in line with omnichannel shopping habits, and offering apples in bulk and in bags in stores is appealing to a variety of customers.

Originally printed in the August 2021 issue of Produce business.

Consumer demand for fresh produce packaging is not new. Even before COVID arrived, a 2018 survey by the Flexible Packaging Association, headquartered in Annapolis, Md., Showed buyers’ desire for sustainability, convenience and food safety was driving more fruit. and fresh vegetables in packaging. Today, as the pandemic continues, the appeal of packaging is flourishing, as these three factors remain the primary concerns.

The fresh produce packaging market is expected to grow 3.7 percent annually to nearly $ 7 billion in 2024, according to the report released in April 2021. Fresh produce packaging report from Freedonia Group, a division of Rockville, MD, headquartered at Marketresearch.com.

Product packaging has long been a staple for highly perishable berries and vegetables. Think of berries, fresh figs and mushrooms. Beyond that, even larger, less perishable items – like apples – traditionally sold in neatly stacked, eye-catching bulk displays are now seeing packaging types proliferate.

This is the case in Washington state, which produced more than two-thirds (69.5%) of apples grown in the United States last year, according to data from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA). , in Yakima. And this is due to a trio of reasons, experts say.

First, growers are expecting more smaller fruit this season due to the heat earlier this summer, says Mac Riggan, marketing manager for Chelan Fresh, in Chelan, WA. “We are potentially looking at a smaller size on average. “

“The packaging gives us the opportunity to tell the story, to inspire buyers to buy and try, especially high-flavored exclusive varieties like Envy and Opal which generally cost more than traditional varieties,” says Joe Vargas of FirstFruits Marketing LLC.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FOX PACKAGING

Second, Washington State is the largest national producer of organic apples.

“More organic apples are bagged because of their size,” says Chuck Sinks, president, sales and marketing, for Sage Fruit, in Yakima, WA. “Organic apples tend to grow smaller in size than their conventional counterparts. Rather than having a visual size difference on the retail shelves, smaller apples tend to be packaged in a user-friendly bag.

Third, some 30 varieties of apples are grown commercially in Washington state, according to the Washington Apple Commission based in Wenatchee, WA. Of these, more than half are new, proprietary or registered varieties that weren’t on retail shelves a decade or two ago. With less use of point-of-sale materials such as retail posters, the packaging can serve as a display panel for a product.

Overall, about 39% of the 2020-21 Washington apple crop was sold in some type of consumer pack, up 8% from the 2018-19 season, according to the WSTFA.

“The packaging gives us the opportunity to tell the story, to inspire buyers to buy and try, especially high-flavored exclusive varieties like Envy and Opal which generally cost more than traditional varieties,” explains Joe Vargas, Marketing Director of FirstFruits Marketing LLC, in Yakima. , WA.

This is especially true for handbags.

“Brand owners are taking advantage of the vertical pouch printing space and using color combinations to differentiate conventional products from organic products,” says Craig Fox, vice president of Fox Packaging, in McAllen, TX. “Having apples in a convenient take-out bag with great clarity allows consumers to choose what they perceive to be the healthiest choice. Including the item’s origin story also reinforces that buying decision.

INCREASING

Overall, about 39% of the 2020-21 Washington apple crop was sold in some type of consumer pack, up 8% from the 2018-19 season, according to WSTFA survey data. On the organic side, around 34% of the fresh harvest was in consumer packaging for 2020-21, an increase of 7% since the 2018-19 harvest.

“I think we might see some leveling off of this bulk / bag ratio in the future, but I think packaging is going to increase in the future as part of the omnichannel shopping habits that consumers have now adapted to. Says Brianna. Shales, Marketing Director at Stemilt Growers LLC, in Wenatchee, WA. “Retailers are going to need solutions that work for physical stores and their online businesses, and fixed-weight prepackaged fruit often provides that. “

Many of the state’s apple growers have made multi-million dollar investments in their packaging facilities with greater automation, said Tim Kovis, WSTFA director of communications and events. “This will continue as more efficient and streamlined technologies become available. “

Automation can be established in a nearly hands-free line configuration, and the equipment can serve businesses in many unique and specific ways, says Fox.

SIZES MATTER

Loose, or unwrapped, apples will always have a place on the shelf, says Sage Fruit’s Sinks. “This is how we pack the majority of our products – 40 pound boxes in trays. Consumers like to be able to control how many apples or how many books they buy.

The benefit of offering both bulk and bagged apples is appealing to two different customers, says Jason Kazmirski, retail specialist for Charlie’s Produce, in Seattle, WA, which supplies several independent retailers in the Pacific Northwest as well as larger chains such as Fred Meyer and Choux. “The big one is for customers who like a bigger apple, and the bags are good snack or kid-sized fruit, and the latter are especially attractive with kid-friendly graphics. “

According to Stemilt’s Shales, plastic bags or plastic bags, especially highly graphic bags, of different sizes are the predominant packaging used for apples. There are also mesh options.

“Due to the demand for highly graphic pocket bags, we have also incorporated several different sizes to accommodate our partners,” explains Sage Fruit’s Sinks. “For example, we are now packaging a 2-pound Honeycrisp sachet to achieve a more attractive case price for the consumer.”

The two-pound bags of apples have really taken off, according to Charlie’s Produce Kazmirski. “It has gone from a few crates to pallet boards over the past few years. We buy 2 pound pouches in everything from Granny Smith to Honeycrisp. What makes the 2 pound ideal is the quick turnover. Consumers finish the bag quickly and come back to the store for more.

“The big one is for customers who like a bigger apple, and the bags are good snack-sized or kid-sized fruit, and the latter are especially attractive with kid-friendly graphics. “

Jason Kazmirski, Charlie’s Produce

While 90 percent of apples are sold in bulk at Tadych’s Econofoods, a six-store chain headquartered in Brillion, Wis., The remaining 10 percent come in 2 and 3 pound bags, says Jim Weber. , production supervisor. “We sell conventional apples in 3 pounds and organic apples in 2 pounds, because organic is more expensive. “

Like organic bags, 2-pound bags are often desired for newer, more expensive, exclusive apple varieties.

“The five-pound bags are also popular for major varieties like Gala.”

Heavier weights, like 8- and 10-pound bags, are less likely to be seen regularly in stores and are often valuable items, according to Sage Fruit’s Sinks. “The 8 and 10 pound bags are usually poly.”

DURABILITY

There will always be a demand for packaging, according to Rochelle Bohm, brand manager for CMI Orchards, in Wenatchee, WA. “The bigger question is ‘what type?’ It continues to be an evolving conversation. Producers, retailers and consumers are now better informed about the carbon footprint, which leads to changes in packaging. “

There are pros and cons to all packaging and even packaging compared to no packaging, explains Riggan of Chelan Fresh. “Pocket bags are popular, but sometimes not as recyclable. Right now, it’s about choosing the lesser of two evils and keeping an eye out for packaging innovations in the future.

Biodegradable also has its challenges.

“One of the concerns with biodegradable packaging is that it doesn’t biodegrade until we can use it to wrap apples. We pack apples almost all year round, whether they are freshly harvested or stored outside a controlled atmosphere, ”says Bohm of CMI Orchard.

The desire to eliminate pouches or shells from club stores is most in demand for apples, says Sara Lozano, marketing and product development at Sambrailo Packaging in Watsonville, Calif. “We have customized solutions for both types of these apple wrappers. Our design is diverse and can contain apples by the pound or by number.

Likewise, the Fox Packaging team looked at the bag materials from a sustainability perspective. “Performance is the key. The ideal materials don’t require you to sacrifice long-lasting properties, ”says Fox. “We were able to restructure the chemical performance properties of our films without impacting the recyclability of our product or the overall cost of a finished bag.

Some Washington state apple growers are testing sustainable packaging on their other crops.

“Our first sustainable packaging test was our bag of organic cherries in the 2021 season,” says Sage Fruit’s Sinks. “While we are currently researching options for our conventional and organic products, we felt that the organic consumer would be the best place to start a trial. “

The Sage Fruit bag uses Sev-Rend’s patent pending Bio-Able solutions. Using bio-assimilation technology, these new bags are 100% recyclable and formulated to fully degrade in marine and land environments, leaving no micro-plastic waste, according to the manufacturer.

Going forward, adds Stemilt’s Shales, “we’re going to see different materials tested to reduce plastic use, or see plastic move to recyclable options. It will take time to get there.


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