Produce sells without packaging.
Have yours plucked from the ground, collected, shipped, and shelved in retailers nationwide – just as nature intended. Many consumers, retailers, and start-up delivery companies prefer produce this way already and will gladly pay a premium price for the freshest, packaging-free fruits and vegetables they can get.
That strategy may seem viable, but in reality, it’s a sustainable trap you can’t escape.
As detrimental as plastic produce packaging can be for the environment, it still serves an essential role in product safety, freshness, and quality, not to mention consumer and commercial health.
Understanding this, it is up to you to make the decision on which type of produce packaging material is right for your brand based on essential factors such as design, use, customer experience, and overall environmental impact.
WHY PACKAGE PRODUCE AT ALL?
Choosing the right packaging format for your produce means understanding why you should package product from the beginning. Why not simply stack, ship, and sell your fruits and vegetables straight from the field in markets across the country to eco-conscious consumers?
The first and most prominent reason is product preservation. Produce still travels thousands of miles across the U.S. from major West Coast growing centers to retailers in the Mid-West and East Coast. During that journey, product suffers the effects of rapid oxygenation, respiration, off-gassing, and product damage over long distances, adding to the staggering 40% overall nationwide food waste.
To combat these harmful conditions, growers are moving closer to central and eastern markets. They’re establishing industrial greenhouses and vertical farming facilities to ship their product in less time, better preserve already delicate items, and achieve optimal shelf life.
Water Vapor Transmission Rate (WVTR)
Packagers also use plastic packaging to control essential Water Vapor Transmission Rate (WVTR) to enhance preservation and make produce more attractive. For instance, broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables will dry out and fall apart within 3-5 days without being shrink-wrapped, making them undesirable and ultimately wasted.
Produce Packaging as a Sales Tool
Countering that undesirable presentation then becomes the second essential goal in produce packaging, along with product preservation. You can rely less on controlled or Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and use produce packaging in more practical and dynamic ways.
Plastic produce packaging becomes an essential sales tool, clearly presenting the advantages of your products. It helps your customers take profitable action in your favor over your competitors based on the condition in which they find your produce and their initial interactions.
WHAT PRODUCE PACKAGING IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
As a producer, you want optimal product packaging that provides your brand with the right tools for the best return on investment (ROI). But how do you do so effectively? You’re spending more money than you would be to sell your products with a simple band-seal and no packaging at all.
This question makes produce packaging a bit of a mystery at the onset and challenging to navigate. You can examine every produce packaging application available and determine the features or details that will give you a marketing or profitability advantage. There are entire sales departments dedicated to precisely that.
Or, you could focus on what influential factors will provide packaging success through your customers and the value it offers them. Their will, after all, drives demand and causes retailers to make decisions across the entire supply chain.
What are these influential produce packaging factors? They include:
Your product is unique. It produces respiration, has water requirements, and needs compatible formatting that will work best for your brand.
Base your packaging choices on the following:
- Product Type (Fresh Vs. Frozen)
- Format (Cut, Diced, Whole, Etc.)
- Off Gassing Requirements
The more complete the details for your product, the better you can mold your packaging – and associated costs – around it.
Commodity vs. Specialty Items
Commodity produce, such as heads of romaine lettuce, whole celery stalks, and ears of corn, are generally known as commodity items. They’re sold en masse in the market, hand-packaged in polyethylene bags, and transported to shelves for sale directly after cooling.
In contrast, specialty items, such as whole bell peppers, mixed salad greens, or almost anything organic, are more fragile and require more delicate handling, packaging, and different formats for optimized marketing.
Knowing and marketing the difference between these will have an enormous impact on all aspects of your production and sales, from your packaging application choices and marketability within different retailers to pricing structure and premiums for certified, labeled products.
Added Customer Value
What produce items do you offer that you can add value to in order to enhance the customer experience?
You may have chosen the correct count for your vegetables, selling 2-4 pieces versus selling them by the pound. You may have incorporated a peel-and-reseal feature to your produce packaging, preserving freshness and taste and making your product more portable or sustainable.
Do you offer a variety of produce items in different formats (whole vs. diced) for optimal choice?
Adding value to your produce items will dictate the right type of packaging solution for your brand’s unique needs and positive reactions from your customers.
Convenience is king in produce packaging. It is the main driver for produce packaging design and one of the most important influencers for customers and retailers.
The critical element of convenience is choice. Customers aren’t looking to purchase produce by the pound, bring it home, and painstakingly process it for meals. Instead, they want the right produce amounts packaged and priced for them, arranged for easy access, and nearly effortless use and disposal when preparing meals at home.
Creating those levels of convenience for your clients may cost you more, but it is incredibly marketable to discerning customers. For example, according to experts, in urban and suburban shopping centers, producers can price sliced and packaged vegetables up to three times higher than whole, prepackaged vegetables, as they create an essential convenience that saves them time.
Many nationwide chain retailers, such as Walmart, use less plastic packaging than ever for their produce. Why? It’s not only to keep production costs at a minimum. Like so many of their counterparts, they’ve also taken pledges to achieve aggressive sustainability goals within the next three to five years to positively impact the environment and satisfy customer demand.
Producers and retailers across the produce sector are using less non-recyclable packaging, such as PVC film stretch overwrap with polystyrene trays, and turning to newer, more sustainable packaging materials in their production. Innovations such as tray-sealed paperboard, polystyrene trays with polyethylene overwrap film, corrugated cardboard, and bioplastics are coming to the forefront because they do more to combat the 30% annual waste from plastic and packaging.
These efforts not only contribute to improved circular economies for packaging materials and reduced carbon emissions in transport logistics but can act as the ultimate marketing tool for your produce products.
A 2021 study published by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) reported that more than 54% of consumers under 44 consider sustainable packaging when making a purchase. In addition, 83% of consumers in that age group said they would pay more for sustainably packaged products.
Aligning with Millennials’ and Gen Zs’ commitment to green marketing, sustainability can be the ultimate guide to focusing your brand’s messaging and attracting new, progressive customers looking for newer, eco-friendly options.
A PROACTIVE APPROACH TO YOUR PRODUCE PACKAGING SUCCESS
Produce packaging trends change with the seasons. More consumers prepare and eat meals at home than ever before. Significant issues, like packaging’s environmental impact, continue to shape the markets and the overall landscape.
As a producer, it falls to you to stay in touch with these changes and keep your customers in mind. Doing so will maximize your packaging success for now and in the coming year.
Be it convenience, value, sustainability, or product type, Harpak-ULMA Packaging has the solutions you need. Our experts can guide you through your options at every turn and help you select the best application to suit your product, your customers, and your brand.