The standup pouch with handles has captured the attention of retailers and grower-shippers of Mexican table grapes this season as a new way to merchandise premium-quality product.

Fruit Royale Inc., Delano, Calif., used the bag last year for the first time, and Louie Galvan, managing partner, said the reception among retailers was very good.

“Their response was that next year they wanted more,” he said.

Smart Degradable Americas Ltd., Calgary, Alberta, has offered the bag for table grapes for about two years, said Jason Russo, general manager.

Its popularity took off last year, and he expects even greater growth over the next couple of years.

The bag was introduced because retailers wanted a high-quality package that could differentiate premium grapes from standard table grapes, he said.

“The film clarity is as clear as glass,” he said.

“It really shows off the product inside.”

In addition, a grower-shipper can print high-end graphics on the bag “to really grab the consumer’s eye and draw them to the specialty grapes,” Russo said.

Russo views the standup bag as a better marketing tool than the clamshell container, which he said is more difficult to move and requires more plastic to produce.

The bag is rigid enough to provide some protection for the product, is fully recyclable, offers convenience for consumers and is aesthetically pleasing at store level, he said.

Consumers can wash the grapes in the bag, since water drains through the bottom.

The bags are more costly than standard grape bags, but they are less expensive than clamshells, Russo said.

When it comes to packaging, the standup pouch has been the talk of the industry, said Jared Lane, vice president of marketing for Stevco Inc., Los Angeles.

The company will offer the bag out of Mexico for the first time this year, in response to customer requests, he said.

“There’s a lot of demand for that,” he said.

It’s a bit more challenging to pack because the bag is bigger than the traditional ones and sticks out above the box, he said.

The biggest issue, though, is that it costs three times more than the regular bags because it uses more plastic, he said.

So far, mostly high-end stores have requested the bags, but Lane said it’s been expanding to other stores because it displays well at retail.

Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Farms plans to add a high-graphic standup handle bag this season, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing.

“Certain customers like it,” he said. “It basically dresses up the retail shelf.”

He said the company charges a small premium for it.

“It’s a very nice handle bag,” Havel said.

There’s an industry debate about whether it’s just an expensive bag or “a poor man’s clamshell,” said John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif.

At least one major retailer that currently packs nearly all of its produce in clamshells is looking at the new bag, he said.

“I think it’s cutting into the clamshell deal,” Pandol said.

Pandol Bros. has resisted using the bags so far, but one of the firm’s customers wants to use it, and Pandol wonders if others will require it, as well.

The bag is “a better platform for graphics,” he said, and has the grab-and-go feature.

However, when it’s on display, “You see a sea of plastic, not a sea of product,” he said.

“Most people want less packaging, not more.”

Gavan said Fruit Royale has put up some private label bags and has found the square bag is easier to pack than traditional ones because the top is wide open.

Originally, the new bag was used primarily for peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and citrus, Russo said. Its expanded use for grapes is largely responsible for the recent surge in popularity.

The bags account for up to 10% of the market, he said.