(March 15) Modified-atmosphere bags are helping The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, extend its Chilean stone fruit deal, said Jerry Smirniotis, East Coast vice president and stone fruit category director in the company’s Wilmington, Del., office.

In 2005, Oppenheimer test-marketed LifeSpan modified-atmosphere bags with its Chilean suppliers, Smirniotis said. The pilot was successful enough to warrant launching an extended modified-atmosphere bagging program this year.

“We’re in a glutted market, and this gives us a bit of an edge late in the deal that maybe someone else doesn’t have,” Smirniotis said.

LifeSpan bags are made by Amcor Australasia, a division of Amcor, Abbotsford, Australia. The company’s technology lowers the oxygen level and raises the carbon dioxide level in bags, suppressing mold and ethylene and increasing produce’s ability to retain chlorophyll.

Packing product in modified-atmosphere bags adds eight to 10 days of shelf life, Smirniotis said. And if the cold chain can be maintained from field to store, it adds another four or five days of shelf life, extending the Chilean deal by a full two weeks, Smirniotis said.

Not that that’s an easy thing to guarantee.

“Usually, it’s laid out on a tarmac at the port, and it’s 12 or 14 hours before it gets back to the temperature it should be at,” he said.

Doing everything they can to extend the shelf life pays dividends at the end of the season, Smirniotis said. Even if the cold chain is broken, the extra eight to 10 days LifeSpan will give Chilean black angelino plums this year can add significant value — $2-4 per box.

“And that’s being conservative,” he said. “It allows us to give the growers a little better return where normally they wouldn’t get it, and it gives retailers product when they normally wouldn’t have it.”

Oppenheimer plans to have Chilean plums on hand through April this year, Smirniotis said. The company had anticipated shipping other product in the LifeSpan bags late in the deal, he said. But because Chile was short on other fruit this year, the bags were used just for plums.

Oppenheimer tried other modified-atmosphere bags, but the LifeSpan came out the winner, he added.

“They had the best results,” he said. “Growers were happy with them. They said they offered the best value.”