Even with the initial belt tightening among many Americans at the start of the pandemic, and the food cost inflation that followed, more and more Americans have no problem paying extra for the convenience and ease retail fresh-cut fresh fruit and vegetable products provide.  

Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak has been setting the bar high for fresh-cut apple products for more than two decades.

The latest innovation for the company at retail are gusseted, stand-up bags. Customers and consumers love the refreshed look, the more aesthetically pleasing graphics, its resealability and, of course, the fact that it stands up, said Andy Kimbrel, Crunch Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“The feedback has all been very positive,” Kimbrel said. “It’s moving very well at retail, and we continue take on more business with our retail partners. That sort of multi-occasion snacking, bulk bag” continues to gain traction in the market.

The bags come in 14-ounce and 24-ounce sizes and with options of sweet, tart, peeled or mixed apple slices. They’re also made with materials that maintain product freshness, and initial tests show that the durability of the bag protects the contents’ integrity, which translates to less shrink and more satisfied shoppers, according to Crunch Pak.

When the bags launched in late 2021, they got a marketing push from a promotional agreement with “Paw Patrol the Movie” from Paramount Studios.

Those promotional tie-ins have played a huge role in Crunch Pak’s success for years and will continue to do so, Kimbrel said. Disney, Nickelodeon and Warner Brothers will continue to be among the brand’s high-profile collaborators in 2022.

“Demand for those products is significant, and most of our marketing ad dollars are going to that,” Kimbrel said.

One interesting development of the Covid Era has been consumers’ willingness to purchase fresh-cut produce items online, said Justin Horner, Crunch Pak marketing manager.

“A lot of business is heading online, and that trend will continue in 2022,” he said. “We have a product that’s very attractive to the market that’s moved online.”

People are looking for quality, health and convenience, which Horner characterized as “kind of a perfect storm for us in terms of product mix.”

To succeed online, it’s necessary to present a clear, consistent message to the consumer so they know exactly what they’re getting every time, Kimbrel said.

“We’re working really hard on the imagery, the copy, to make sure everything is the best it can be,” he said.

Sometimes, said Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak’s executive vice president, that means that one marketing assistant’s entire job for a certain period might be just ensuring that the right photo is in the right place with the right product every time.

The Covid Era has made everyone scratch their head at one point or another. Freytag said the strong performance of Crunch Pak products in the face of inflation has been one of them.

“History would show that if prices go up, say, 10%, you’d lose 10% of volume. That hasn’t happened. Even with inflation at all levels, our business has grown considerably in the past year.”

What’s needed to get results like those, and to survive in a time marked by supply bottlenecks, is working extra hard to keep those industry trends from affecting your own business.

“What’s critical for us is our instore delivery rate,” Freytag said. “There are a great deal of stores empty shelves, so it’s critical for us that our retail customers do have the product.”

Much of Crunch Pak’s growth can also be traced to industry-wide trends.

“Convenience continues to grow, pure and simple,” Freytag said. “Salad kits are the same, and meal kits — whether it’s that we don’t have the time or not choosing the time.”


Conventional and organic demand soars

Vertical integration and GAP-certified growers and vendors helps Coral Gables, Fla.-based Fresh Del Monte deliver fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in a variety of packaging options that meet exceed international food safety standards, said Kirk Teske, vice president, product management and sales for North American fresh-cut operations.

Top fresh-cut and value-added sellers remain Gold Extra Sweet pineapple, melons, grapes, citrus, apples, mango and kiwifruit.

Strong demand has allowed Del Monte to continue growing its fresh-cut fruit and organic fresh-cut fruit businesses in the United States and Canada and to diversify its mix with new, unique SKUs, Teske said.

“We’ve noticed a significant increase in demand for fresh-cut produce at the retail level. Since retailers are expanding their fresh-cut produce spaces to offer a larger array fruits and vegetables to consumers, we strive to make our cut-to-order produce as convenient as possible for retailers.”

Whether orders are for direct, next day deliveries or pickups, Del Monte’s cut-to-order process eliminates obstacles for retailers and helps to incrementally grow retail sales, Teske said.

One of the main drivers behind fresh-cut growth, he said, is consumer demand for products that are both healthy and conveniently packaged ready-to-eat.

In the past year or so, Del Monte has also noticed rising demand for organic products, and the company has expanded its organic fresh-cut fruit production as a result.

Del Monte plans to continue expanding both its organic and conventional fresh-cut programs in 2022, Teske said.