Packaging for consumers

Packaging for consumers

Gordon, Rosemary O

Postharvest Insider

The produce industry is jumping on the packaging bandwagon to offer value-added products.

NOTHING stays the same. Gone are the days when moms stayed home full-time with the kids. Most families require two incomes to make ends meet.

People are living longer, too, so there is also the relatively new concept of catering to the needs of an aging population.

What does this have to do with the produce industry and packaging? As it turns out, a lot.

These changes have prompted a new way produce is sold at the retail level. Today’s consumer wants the produce to be conveniently packaged and fresh. That’s not always easy when it comes to produce.

As most know, getting produce through the distribution chain is very different from moving clothing or some other commodity for one reason: It is perishable. Time, especially in the case of produce, is money.

Fresh-Cut Revolution

In general, there is a trend toward packaging just about everything, and that applies to fruits and vegetables too, says Dr. Devon Zagory, senior vice president for food safety and quality programs at Davis Fresh Technologies.

The fresh-cut revolution gave consumers an added value or convenience product, he says. It’s a given that once fresh produce is cut, it loses moisture rendering it unfit for consumption within a few days. Thus, it has to be packaged to maintain its quality and extend the shelflife, he says.

Ken Catchot, president of Club Fresh, a West Coast-based company that specializes in processing fresh-cut produce, agrees that consumers are looking for a value-added product. “We sell diced tri-peppers, which is yellow, red, and green bell peppers in a 7-ounce package,” says Catchot. “That’s versus buying three whole peppers and having extra product that you are going to throw away.”

Another force driving the packaging of produce is the liability issue in supermarkets, especially with grapes, says Zagory. Grapes are now sold almost exclusively in plastic bags to prevent the fruit from getting dropped on the floor. The result is fewer people slipping, falling, and suing the store.

Smaller Sizes

Convenience packages generally come in smaller, portioned sizes. The foodservice industry has always required that produce is portion packed to avoid waste, and this way of doing business has trickled down to the retail market, says Zagory.

For example, baby carrots are

packed in single-serve plastic bags, and Zagory says many berry companies are working on individual servings for their product because they see a potential market out there.

Most portion-packed produce is in trays with a plastic overwrap. Standup pouches also are being used to house fruits and vegetables, he says. Because of the delicate nature of cut fruit, however, it lends itself to being packed in a tray rather than in a pouch, he adds.

Safety Issues

Another focus of produce packaging has been on food safety. In the past, consumers connected food safety with pesticide residues. That is no longer the case, says Zagory. “I think people are becoming aware that food safety threats with fruits and vegetables, as with other foods, are mostly bacterial and viral.” Because there is more concern with microbiological hazards, the perception is if it’s packaged in plastic and sealed, that perhaps it is cleaner, he adds.

Since Sept. 11, food security has become an issue, too. “FDA is recommending, and the produce industry hopes they don’t mandate, tamper– evident packaging,” he says. “If that becomes a requirement you will see most produce items in a package.”

All of these forces are coming together, concludes Zagory. There is usually oversupply of almost everything almost all of the time. It used to be that there wasn’t availability all the time. Now that there is, marketers are looking for some added value to sell their product over the competition. And consumers seem to like portion– packaged produce, he says.

Rosemary Gordon is managing editor of American Vegetable Grower, a Meister publication. E-mail questions or comments about this article to rosemary_gordon@meisternet.com.

Copyright Meister Publishing Company Sep/Oct 2002

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