YAKIMA, Wash. — The stand-up gusseted bag is a powerful new packaging trend for Northwest cherries, cherry marketers believe.

Offering better transparency and graphics, the new bag, also called a “pouch” bag, stands up and looks a little nicer than the traditional catch-weight bag, said Steve Clement, chief operating officer and general manager for Sage Fruit Co.

The clear plastic does a good job of showcasing the cherries, he said, even though it is more expensive and harder to pack.

The weight of the bag is about 2.25 pounds.

Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers, said the pouch bag confronts shippers with a similar price increase that they encountered when they switched from the press-to-seal bag to the slide-lock bag several years ago.

With economies of scale, Kershaw said that the premium for the pouch bag can be expected to decline in the years ahead.

He said the pouch bags are much a better billboard for the produce inside than the slide-lock bags, which he said look like a opaque sandwich bag in comparison.

“We’re excited and think it people are really going to like it at the retail level,” said Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee. “We definitely see it as the wave of the future.”

The gusseted, high-graphic bag was tested on dark red and rainier cherries during the 2012 cherry season by Columbia Marketing International Corp., said Bob Mast, president of the Wenatchee company.

The tests were conducted last year with three smaller regional retailers, Mast said. All three decided to go with the bags this year, he said.

Mast said the bag represents the future of the industry, and he expects near total acceptance of the bag within a couple of years.

“Once retailers and consumers see this bag, it is going to be a very quick ascension,” he said.

Mast said the new bag works for produce department merchandisers.

“It stands up on the display, which is really nice, and it has the graphic aspect, which is wonderful,” he said.

A third positive of the pack is the handle, which allows customers to “grab and go,” Mast said.

The bag may also protect the cherries more than the standard bag, he said. Less product damage is anticipated with the shingle stack approach of the gusseted bags, compared with the double and triple stacking common in merchandising standard bags.

Shippers said they will ship the slide-lock bags open because of regulations regarding random weight items.

Mast said most of the clamshell business for the dark sweet varieties goes in club stores. While those retailers may not convert to the new bags for that business, Mast said supermarkets may switch from merchandising rainiers in clamshells to the new bags.

Premium product packaging

With the industry delivering good tasting firm cherries, Mast said the more upscale bag could help demand.

“We have one of the premium items in the produce department, and we’ve traditionally put it out there in the cheapest possible package we could,” he said. “No we are putting out in a package that is more conducive to giving it the respect it deserves.”

Clement said the high-clarity gusseted bag is more expensive than the zipper bags to the tune of about $1.50 per box, and packing runs slower with the new bag.

The new gusseted bag is cheaper than the clamshell, Clement said, and will displace some of the inroads that clamshells have been making in the cherry deal, he said.

Clement said rainiers also will be packed in the new gusseted bag.

Because 53% of all cherry sales are impulse purchases, according to data from the Northwest Cherry Growers, the new more appealing bag is expected to add momentum to cherry sales.

“I think that, even though it is more expensive, the industry is right to move to that new bag,” Clement said.

B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said retailers are impressed with the performance of the bags.

“I’m excited to see if this new bag is going to help us,” he said.

Clamshell-bag hybrid

Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, said the company is gearing up to do a substantial volume of the gusseted or pouch bag with the handle.

“There was a big push last year by some retailers to go to clamshells, but what is nice about the pouch bag is that it is a nice hybrid between the old bag we have used and the clamshell,” he said.

Riggan said the new pouch bag fits the needs of the retailer, customer and the packer perhaps better than either of the other two options,

The display and merchandising strength of the gusseted bag could exceed that of a clamshell, Riggan said.

Howard Nager, vice president of marketing at Domex Superfresh Growers, said the new pouch bag will begin to transform the industry this year and even more so in future years.

“Maybe, in the next three years, I think just about everybody will be shipping a majority of that fruit in that bag.”