Sage Fruit Co. has exclusive rights to several Disney and Marvel licensed characters for use on apple, pear and cherry packaging and display materials. “Star Wars”-themed packaging is set to come out in January.
Sage Fruit Co. has exclusive rights to several Disney and Marvel licensed characters for use on apple, pear and cherry packaging and display materials. “Star Wars”-themed packaging is set to come out in January.

Consumer packs continue to evolve in the apple category.

Don Armock, president, Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta, Mich., said consumers continue to purchase various styles of consumer packs.

“Sales of tote bags are up,” he said.

Ken Korson, sales and marketing for North Bay Produce Inc., Traverse City, Mich., agrees.

“It seems every year we do more tote bags. They are really becoming more of a mainstream package we didn’t offer in the past,” he said.

Korson believes the totes provide a more personal feeling to consumers.

“It gives the apples a farm stand look because it feels like it offers more of a connection to the farmer,” he said.

The increase in tote bags is likely translated to fewer traditional bags, Korson said.

“They still want bags, but I’m sure it’s eating away a little of that business,” he said.

Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Columbia Marketing International, has seen increased interest in the company’s 2-pound pouch bag. They also offer a 4-pound pouch bag for club stores.

“The pouch bag has really redefined the packaged apple,” he said.

“Bags used to be only cheaper, lower grade value fruit, but now more upscale apples are adding value back into the category through the power of packaging in those pouch bags,” Lutz said.

Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., also started offering more pouch bags.

“We have joined the pouch bag revolution this season,” said Andy Tudor, director of business development.

Armock said that in a year with a record crop, he might have expected bulk fruit to have a stronger share of the market, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.

“Consumers continue to want the convenience and cleanliness of bags and other consumer packs,” he said.

John Schaefer, president, Jack Brown Produce, Sparta, Mich., has seen retailers wanting customized packaging options.

“I think a lot of our customer base is looking for something unique to them,” he said, mentioning the company packs everything to order to offer that flexibility.

However, Tudor is hopeful the major shifts in packaging may be mostly over for awhile. He is looking forward to settling into the newly emerged favorite packs.

“The ‘new packaging’ trend has hopefully hit a lull. We have inundated consumers, not to mention our production lines,” he said.

Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, Wash., is finding use of licensed characters can be effective when it comes to packaging design, even though the majority of apple sales in the U.S. — about 75% — are still bulk packed, according to Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.

However, consumer packs offer more merchandising opportunities for special characters or designs.

The company has exclusive rights to Disney and Marvel for fresh apples, pears and cherries, with display bins, standups, posters, 3-pound pouch bags, 3-pound mesh bags and 5-pound bags featuring Spider Man and “Frozen” characters currently offered.

Starting in January, the company will be adding “Star Wars”-themed items as well.

“We are already receiving positive response at retail with Spider Man and Frozen and look to keep the momentum going with Star Wars,” Sinks said.

He said the themed designs help children and adults with the message that healthy eating is important.

“Our partnerships with Disney and Marvel are certainly aimed at kids and our goal is to increase overall apple consumption. We feel more emphasis will continue to be placed on eating healthy for adults and children and we will work hard to provide products that are not only nutritious but flavorful as well,” Sinks said.

Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak, which specializes in pre-sliced apple packs, introduced a resealable bag in October to meet consumer’s needs.

“We created the peel and reseal bag based on shopper feedback; consumers tell us they want to use one bag multiple times,” said Tony Freytag, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“Our shoppers are apple-savvy — they know what they like and they look for their favorite varieties in store,” he said.

Many packaging innovations are a result of retailers’ requests to minimize shrink for perishable products while maintaining an attractive look on the shelf and while meeting demands for an increasingly “green” produce section.

For example, Freytag said he has also seen the company’s customers request rigid packaging that protects delicate sliced apples from bruising.

These containers have clear film covering them to allow product visibility, as well as a perforated film that helps reduce shrink and maintain the best-possible eating experience.