Importers of Chilean clementines expects the packaging trend toward bags and away from boxes to continue in 2011.

The traditional retail 5-pound box gained traction in the Spanish and Moroccan clementine deals, said Mark Greenberg, senior vice president of procurement for Fisher Capespan Inc., St. Laurent, Quebec.

In time, boxes began to be associated in consumers’ minds with clementines and other seedless citrus varieties, Greenberg said.

Bags, in contrast, were assumed to contain navels or other seeded citrus varieties.

However, retailers and consumers finally overcome those associations and now prefer seedless Chilean clementines in 3-pound consumer bags, Greenberg said.

The advantages of small bags over larger boxes, he said, are many.

“You’re not forcing packers to use a pack that’s incredibly expensive, and you’re not giving consumers more than they want,” he said. “It allows for much more efficient movement, and we believe it’s a much better product.”

There is still some demand for boxes, but most of Fisher Capespan’s customers have made the switch to bags, Greenberg said.

Clementine marketers like Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group continue to make the switch to smaller consumer packs, said James Milne, business development director.

The formerly dominant 5-pound box is being replaced more and more by 2- and 3-pound bags, Milne said.

One reason for the trend, Milne says, is the incidence of waste. Consumers are more likely to get through a 2- or 3-pounder before fruit goes bad.

Another is economics. While the economy isn’t slumping like it was two or three years ago, consumers are still watching their pocketbooks.

And for many, a $8.99 price point on a box of clementines is just too high.

“(About $3), $3.99 or $4.99 (for a smaller bag) keeps the price relatively respectable,” Milne said.

In another packaging trend, Oppenheimer could ship more Chilean clementines this year in premium bags with “high-end graphics and strong presentation,” Milne said.

It’s not just consumers who have come to prefer bags to boxes, said Matt Gordon, Chilean program manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.

“A lot of exporters don’t like to pack in that box,” he said. “In the past there were a lot of 5-pound boxes, but it’s swung so far toward bags.”

DNE will still pack some boxes for customers once fruit arrives from Chile, Gordon said, but about 80% is shipped out in bags.

David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Seald Sweet in Vero Beach, Fla., also sees the trend toward bags continuing.

“It’s sticker shock, when consumers are looking at $8 or $9 for a box or $3 or $4 for a bag,” he said. “And that does make a difference, especially in this day and age.”