LEAMINGTON, Ontario — The hottest trend in packaging this year seems to be more of it.

“The last few years, we’re doing a lot more packaged products,” said Chris Mastronardi, sales manager for Kingsville-based Double Diamond Acres Ltd.

Mastronardi said retailers are looking for greenhouse cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers in clamshells, plastic bags, flow wrapping and meat trays, especially.

“It’s nice for presentation, and a lot of people would like to buy packaged because of the perception that it hasn’t been touched by 50 different people,” Mastronardi said.

For Jem-D International, the trend seems to be headed toward bulk produce and eco-friendly packaging, said Kyle Moynahan, salesman.

Resealable, zipper bags are ideal for baby cucumbers because they allow for product storage without the cucumbers dehydrating, said Mark Slater, co-owner of Erie James Ltd.

“All of our retailers are in some type of package with this type of product,” Slater said. “A tray pack makes for nice presentation in store, but some prefer bags for consumers’ sakes,” Slater said.

For full-size cucumbers, English seedless cucumbers, James Cornies, president of Cornies Farms Ltd., Kingsville, said he’s seeing a lot of demand for a three-pack overwrap without a tray.

“Also, because people are a little tighter with their dollars, packaging helps decrease shrink at the store level,” said Ray Mason, salesman for Lakeside Produce.

Kingsville-based Mucci International Marketing Inc. was a finalist for the Produce Marketing Association’s Impact Award in October, recognized for new trays the company is using for its Bella Sweet mini peppers.

The trays are made from 100% recycled paper board, 65% post-consumer, and use a water-based ink.

The overwrap also is biodegradable, said Sandra Dick, marketing coordinator.

The company plans to use its new packaging for its complete product line, including sweet peppers, eggplant, mini cucumbers and Sapori branded tomatoes, said Joe Spano, sales manager.

The company’s calling the trays Envirotrays. To boost its consumer education, the bottoms of the trays come with tips, facts and recipe ideas.

“Retailers at one time were trying to stay away from packaged product, but now they’re looking for trays and clamshells,” Spano said. “And now they’re selling three cukes at a time instead of singles.”

For Mor Gro Farms Inc., the packaging trend is an especially good thing, as the company brought back its Smarty brand last year.

The brand had been in the family for more than 30 years but was out of use until 2009, said Dave Pereira, director of sales.

“It’s been working well,” Pereira said. “I don’t know what it is about the packaging, but it gave a different air to where we send product.”

Carl Mastronardi, president of Del Fresco Produce, Kingsville, said retailers he works with are demanding biodegradable, more earth-friendly packaging.

“They want the stuff that breaks down quickly, that doesn’t pollute,” Carl Mastronardi said. “But some of the stuff just falls apart. It’s not perfected yet.”

Carl Mastronardi said his company is keeping a close eye on sustainable packaging all the time, so that it can find the best products to meet its customers’ demands.

Private label

Slater said retailers like Wal-Mart tend to prefer private label options.

“We’re doing more specialty packs and private label for retail,” said Dino Dilaudo, sales manager for Westmoreland Sales. “It’s seen to be an expanding area.”

Retailers including Meijer, Loblaws and Kroger tend to prefer private label packs for their businesses because it allows for more uniformity on the shelf, Dilaudo said.

“More and more companies are coming to us looking for us to do their private label,” Dilaudo said. “They can control the product and put it into their own packs.”

Lakeside Produce works with Loblaws, as well as other retailers, on private-label products, said Tom Coufal, salesman.

Overall, though, Dilaudo said the North American market seems to be moving toward a more heavily packaged produce department.

“We’re seeing more interest in packed items,” Dilaudo said. “It’s definitely a growing area for our business.”

The interest is in specialty packages, different packages, Dilaudo said.

“Like three-pack rainbow peppers in a bag,” Dilaudo said.

Specialty packaging has been an area of growth during the past couple of years for Westmoreland, Dilaudo said.

“If you look at the European market, retail is heavily packaged,” Dilaudo said. “It’s different from the North American market, but I think it’s going that way.”

Part of the reason is the perception of quality and of food safety, he said.

“You’re also able to gain incremental sales by packaging product and selling more,” Dilaudo said.