While 1-pound clamshells should continue to be the most widely used container for packing Southern California strawberries this season, retailers are requesting more 2- and 4-pounders than in the past, and shippers are experimenting with ways to fit more trays on their trucks.
“We’re happy to do 2- and 4-pounders because, if the customer is picking up more weight, it’s better for the retailer and for us moving product,” said Craig Casca, director of sales for Red Blossom Farms, Santa Ynez, Calif.
About 45% of the company’s berries are packed in 1-pound containers, 25% each are packed in 2- and 4-pounders, and about 5% are stems.
Shippers like using the larger clamshells because “It helps move the product in a more orderly fashion,” he said.
Two-pounders also are gaining popularity at Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said Jim Roberts, senior director of sales. And 4-pounders are a good choice for holidays and special promotions during the peak of the season, when costs are at their lowest, he said.
Movement of larger clamshells varies depending on the time of year, agreed Michael Hollister, vice president of sales and marketing for Driscoll Strawberry Associates in Watsonville, Calif.
Planning and execution for the company’s strawberry program centers around 1-, 2- and 4-pound clamshells and 1-pound stem packs at certain times of the year, he said.
“It makes sense to have 2- and 4-pound programs during peak season — mid-April though May or June,” he said.
Driscoll’s also works with retailers to implement “two-for-” on 1-pounders, Hollister said.
With strong markets resulting from a freeze in Florida and a drop of acreage this season in California, Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif., was shipping only 1-pound containers in January, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner.
He did not expect prices to drop significantly until the second half of February at the earliest.
“There has been a constant demand-exceeds-supply situation,” he said.
There’s no doubt that bulk strawberries have all but disappeared, said Christine Reker Herrera, vice president of marketing for Sunrise Growers Inc., Placentia, Calif.
Only a couple of the company’s customers request bulk trays for special promotions, she said.
About 10% of the company’s berries are packed in 4-pound containers, she added.
“Four-pounders can deliver a power promotion during peak season,” Reker said.
With increased emphasis on sustainability and reducing one’s carbon footprint, a number of companies are looking at ways to load more containers on a truck.
Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. announced late last year that the company was partnering with suppliers and customers to shift to high-cube packaging.
“Our whole goal is to try to reduce the amount of packaging it requires to deliver our product on a daily basis,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing. “If we’re able to put more clamshells in a box, that’s fewer boxes that we’re putting into the marketplace and into recycling and waste on the other end.”
This year, the company has a redesigned 2-pound clamshell that fits six per tray compared to the old standard of four per tray. The change allows 32% more clamshells per pallet and per truckload, she said.
Last year, the company introduced a 4-pound tray configuration that accommodates three clamshells per tray, versus older containers that carry two 4-pound containers per carton.
Watsonville-based Beach Street Farms is “always looking for packaging that provides the best economic value for customers … in relation to the number of packages we can get on our trucks,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Hilton.
“We’re constantly evaluating options,” she said. “We look at everything and take proposals seriously to determine whether they’re right for us and our growers.”
Naturipe also is looking at high-density packaging to get more cases per pallet, reduce freight costs and “take air out of the system,” Roberts said.
Such programs also allow retailers to set more aggressive price points, he added.
Colorful Harvest offers an 8-pound bulk box that is practical for farmers market setups and is packed 180 cases per pallet compared with 108 for traditional pint containers, Ranno said.
“There’s a huge freight savings,” he said.