When most people think of the grocery store produce department, they likely picture consumers sniffing and squeezing (maybe tasting) individual fruits and vegetables before putting them in their baskets.

These days, however, more and more produce is sold in bags, pouches, clamshells and a host of other packaging options. Packaging can help keep produce safe from bruising and contamination, tell a brand story and help producers differentiate their product from their competitors in a variety of other ways. 

Friesland, Wisconsin-based potato grower-shipper Alsum Farms & Produce offers what Christine Lindner, who works in national sales, refers to as “attractive farmer-focused packaging” to connect Alsum with its consumers.

Alsum’s packaging is designed to be visually appealing, with appetizing potato recipes to provide consumers inspiration in the produce aisle, Lindner says. The company also provides its retailer partners with signage, POS materials and promotions to boost store sales of the potato category.

“Grower/packer/shippers, like Alsum Farms & Produce, are responding to the changing consumer taste and preferences by introducing value-added potato products to provide the consumer with ready-to-cook, healthy potato offerings to meet the growing trends for fresh foods fast,” Lindner says.

And she’s confident that the value-added category will continue to experience growth in the future. “Consumers are looking for convenience and new ideas on how they can prepare potatoes and other produce items that they love.”


Value-added growth

In addition, consumers are looking for ways to eat healthier, and potatoes and other produce items fit that need.  According to Potatoes USA, while the value-added potato category is a small niche market, the category is growing and reinvigorating fresh potato consumption.

About five years ago Alsum launched a value-added potato line, Fast & Fresh! Microwave-Ready Potatoes. The line features 12 oz and 24 oz bags of  red and gold potatoes. The microwave-ready potatoes can be steamed right in the bag, and they offer consumers a healthy, quick and convenient potato offering that can be seasoned based on consumers taste and preference, Lindner says.

“You can take these 12 oz packages of potatoes from the microwave to your plate in five minutes or less,” she says. “They align with today’s consumer demand trends for fresh foods fast.”

And they’re perfect, she adds, for time-starved millennials.

Alsum’s value-added portfolio has evolved over time, Lindner says. Initially, Fast & Fresh! products were the company’s top value-added packs.

In the past three years, Alsum has diversified its lineup with specialty creamer pouch packs that include carton graphics reflecting the Alsum brand. “The pack has experienced solid growth in the past two years,” Lindner says.

Looking ahead, Linder believes that consumer trends toward greater consumption of plant-forward diets will continue to drive value-added potato offerings, as consumers look for ways to eat healthier.


A new, improved mango box

In 2016, the Orlando, Florida-based National Mango Board created a packaging taskforce consisting of grower/packers, handlers, retailers and box manufacturers.

The group’s task was to come up with possible improvements to the 12-down and 14-down boxes commonly used to pack mangoes, says Manuel Michel, the board’s executive director. Among the issues members decided needed to be addressed:

·          Pallet quality needs to improve and pallet size needs to be a consistent dimension of 40”x 48”;

·          A consistent standard-size box with a common footprint;

·          Improve packaging quality guidelines, maintain packaging consistency, and continue promoting fruit conditioning in forced-air ripening rooms; and

·          The packaging also needs to improve to better withstand the heat, humidity, and forced air conditions that are common in ripening rooms.

The result, unveiled this fall, is a new 5-down box that’s larger and stronger and has better stability and airflow.

“The mango industry is facing several packaging and distribution related issues that need to be addressed for the U.S. mango market to maximize its full potential,” Michel says. “The new box will improve the overall handling of mangoes through the supply chain to retail.”

The new, larger 5-down means more display space for retailers, who often use the boxes fruit ships in to create in-store displays. The larger size box will provide incremental display space for mangoes, Michel says.

In addition, even though the new box is larger, less packaging will be used to ship the same volumes of mangoes, Michel says. That’s because the new box has been structurally developed for greater strength.  The new box will also generate less waste due to fewer boxes and less overall packaging material being used.

Packaging plays a crucial role in the marketing of mangoes and other fresh produce commodities, says Valda Coryat, the board’s marketing director. 

“Packaging, including the color, can help mango marketers tell their brand stories,” she says. “Mango is the ‘Super Fun Superfruit,’ so we encourage mango marketers to be inspired by the emotional and functional message as they finalize their designs.”

Add an image of the brilliant yellow color of the inside of a perfectly ripe mango, for instance, Coryat suggests. Or include educational information on packs like how to cut mangoes. Or add a digital device that brings the customer from the store to a virtual experience.

As far as trends in mango packaging, Coryat says that in recent years, the industry is seeing more multi-pack whole mango packaging, such as club size packs, clamshells, and mesh bags.