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2021: Pandemic packaging priorities

bp 2021

U.S. consumers opted for packaged produce in the early days of the lockdown.

“The move to more packaging, in general, and value-added products in specific, has been a trend for several years now,” says Bruce Peterson, CEO of Peterson Insights, Inc. in Bentonville, AR. “Covid-19 concerns accelerated that in several ways.”

“There were two reasons,” explains Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and sustainability at the Newark, DE-based Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708. “One was an unfounded perception that packaged produce was safer, and then there was convenience.”

Packaged salads saw 50 percent higher growth than nonpackaged during the pandemic, according to Carmela Cugini, chief revenue officer at Bowery Farming in New York, citing IRI figures, while indoor farming brands saw year-on-year growth outpace conventional packaged salad in the grocery store by 25 percent.

Cugini says Bowery experienced phenomenal growth for in-store sales at Northeast retail partners including Whole Foods, Giant, Stop & Shop, Walmart, and Weis Markets, as well as with specialty grocers, along with a doubling of its ecommerce business with partners including Peapod and Amazon Fresh.

Aaron Fox, executive vice president of Fox Packaging BB #:145435 in McAllen, TX, can confirm the packaging angle. “As the Covid-19 crisis progressed, we experienced an increase in order volume,” he says, “as growers, shippers, and packers anticipated their packaging needs to fulfill the demand for fresh produce.”

To keep up with demand, the company added another printing press.

Fox expects the trend to continue through 2021.

“There have been increased orders of packaged items, as well as bulk items transitioning into retail pack sizes,” he says.

Among the top sellers are small consumer packs from 1 to 5 pounds for onions, potatoes, and citrus.

Peterson points out that the move toward delivery, curbside pickup, and ecommerce also plays into this trend.

“The increase in having consumers’ groceries selected by in-store personnel will drive even more packaging,” he says. “It’s nearly impossible to train so many individuals to pick out quality fruits and vegetables that meet an individual consumer’s taste profile. It is easy to simply grab a package.”

And even though Steve Lutz, senior vice president of insights and innovation at Category Partners, LLC in Idaho Falls, ID, notes that packaged produce tends to be a better value, the downside—waste—is still an issue.

Don Goodwin, founder and former president of GoldenSun Insights, says retailers will still have to lean toward using less plastic and biodegradable options when possible.

In this regard, Fox Packaging is already lending a hand.

“We’ve worked closely with customers to integrate the How2Recycle label into their art, and to review their programs for sustainability goal alignment,” Fox says.

This is a feature from the cover story of the January/February 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the full article.