Packing early fruit in smaller containers to reduce sticker shock could be among the packaging trends in the California cherry industry this season.

For the first year of its full-scale California cherry program — 2009 was a test year — Fridley, Minn.-based Roland Marketing, the licensee for Green Giant-branded cherries, will sell cherries in bulk but also in bags and clamshells, said Joan Tabak, Roland’s sales manager.

Packaging over bulk seems to be the way to go for most retailers these days when it comes to fresh cherries, Tabak said.

“Everybody’s moved away from bulk,” she said. “That’s the trend of recent years.”

And in the packaging realm, bags are the preferred option, she said.

“We have some club stores who are looking for clamshells, maybe for larger fruit, but we’re finding most customers want bags,” Tabak said.
Green Giant is proud of its pack-per-order policy on Cali-fornia cherries, Tabak said. Instead of packing cherries, putting them in storage and waiting for orders to come, the company’s shippers wait until the customer’s order comes in, then pack it fresh and ship it right away, Tabak said.

“It’s the freshest pack you can have,” she said. “We’re very excited about it.”

Such an approach to packaging particularly pays off with fresh cherries, Tabak said.

“It’s such a volatile and fragile fruit,” she said. “You can’t sit on it and wait until the mar-ket gets better. If a customer calls up Monday, Wednesday or Friday, we’ll pack specifically for them rather than pulling from inventory.”

Bags remain the dominant cherry packaging choice for customers of Traver, Calif.-based Scattaglia Growers & Shippers, said Dave Parker, the company’s marketing director.

Early in the season, when supplies are scarce and markets stronger, some of Scattaglia’s customers prefer smaller bags, as a way of preventing sticker shock, Parker said.

“It gives retailers a more reasonable ring,” he said.

Steve Nelsen, managing partner of Kingsburg, Calif.-based Valhalla Sales & Market-ing Co., said his company could take a look at smaller bags for the same reason.

Nelsen said the economy has changed consumers’ shopping habits — even on an item like fresh cherries, which some might consider “recession-proof” because of its seasonality.

Valhalla recently saw one of its higher-priced mandarin packs take a big hit in sales, and Nelsen is worried cherries also could suffer from sticker shock.

Despite the continued domi-nance of bags in cherry packaging, more retailers are buying fruit packed in clamshells, Parker said.

“The fruit presents itself really well, and they’re less susceptible (to bruising),” he said.

One- and 2-pounders are the most popular clamshell sizes for cherries, though some club stores will ask for even larger packs, Parker said.

While clamshells can help protect cherries, if they’re packed correctly, bags also do a perfectly adequate job of keeping fruit safe, Parker said.

Sometimes, the extra-delicate rainiers and royal rainiers Scattaglia ships will be packed in smaller bags for added pro-tection, he said.

The trend in cherry packaging is definitely away from bulk and toward packaged product, Nelsen said.

The main reason is food safety concerns, he said. Also, packaged cherries are easier for retailers to handle.
While bags are the most popular choice for packaged cherries, clamshells are gaining ground, he said. Food safety, again, is the reason, though retailers have to weigh that advantage versus the not-inconsiderable price difference.

Switching to clams “raises the costs tremendously,” Nelsen said.

Clamshells are an especially good match for rainiers, which bruise more easily, said Jimmy Williams, domestic and export sales manager for Stockton, Calif.-based Grower Direct Marketing LLC.

Clamshell sales are growing, particularly toward the begin-ning of the deal, when light volumes mean high prices and retailers are looking to reduce sticker shock, which they can accomplish with the smaller clams, said Maurice Cameron, president of Hanford, Calif.-based Flavor Tree Fruit Co., which markets fruit packed by Hanford-based Warmerdam Packing LLC.

“For the first three or four weeks, some are taking it all in clams before switching to bags,” Cameron said.