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Michigan shippers move to bigger packs, reusable packs

06/06/2012 1:29:50 PM
Andy Nelson

GRAND JUNCTION, Mich. — “Bigger” and “reusable” continue to be packaging buzz words in the Michigan fresh produce industry.

In February, Hearty Fresh invested in a machine that wraps broccoli crowns in breathable, anti-fogging film, said Talbert Nething, the company’s general manager.

The company also has used the technology to wrap asparagus, and it could be used for cabbage, English cucumbers, peppers and other commodities, Nething said.

The machine wraps up to 60 heads a minute and has cut the company’s labor hours on broccoli packaging by 65%, Nething said.

On the fruit side, bigger is better when it comes to packing Michigan blueberries, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management in the Grand Junction office of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

“Larger packs is clearly the trend,” Bocock said. “The traditional size out of Michigan is the pint, but a lot of retailers are selling more 18-ouncers and 2-pounders than they did four to six years ago.”

And that demand has by no means been limited to club stores, Bocock said. Traditional retailers also are calling for bigger packs with increasing frequency.

“Consumers today want a value proposition, and the bigger packs are a better value,” Bocock said.

“Recyclable” and “reusable” are packaging terms resonating at Hudsonville-based Superior Sales, said Todd DeWaard, the company’s sales manager.

The company continues to switch much of its packaging of cabbage and other vegetables from waxed to recyclable dry boxes, DeWaard said.

The increase in demand is a combination of push and pull, he said.

“It’s not like it’s something we weren’t doing anyway, but customers are really pushing for it.”

Reusable plastic containers are another packing option gaining ground at Superior.

“Demand has really gone up in the past year and a half, and it keeps going up,” DeWaard said.

In the asparagus industry, bags are one trend to keep an eye on, said Tyler Hodges, sales manager for Hart-based Todd Greiner Farms.

That said, Greiner Farms has no plans to experiment much beyond its typical mix of 11-pound and 28-pound bunch boxes.

Michigan’s short season — six or seven weeks — makes it harder to experiment, Hodges said.

“We’d almost have to expand our packing area, and demand is high for our current packs.”


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