Wenatchee, Wash.-based tree fruit grower and packer Stemilt Growers is trialing a new-to-the-U.S.-market, grab-and-go paperboard package for its larger-sized fruit—apples, in particular—that offers consumers a curbside-recyclable option for bulk fruit and drives consumer awareness and sales of larger-profile apple varieties. According to Stemilt Marketing Director Brianna Shales, the package, known as the EZ Band, was created in response to the high demand for grab-and-go grocery items during the COVID pandemic and to meet Gen Z consumers’ growing interest in more sustainable packaging
“Not long ago, apple sales were about 80% bulk and 20% in bags or packaging. Those numbers started to skew during and after the pandemic, and we’re now seeing about 60% of apples sold in bulk and 40% in bags,” Shales says. “We simply can’t grow fruit sized only for bags, so we zeroed in on working on a package for bulk fruit sizes that would be easier to merchandise for retailers.” She adds that packs like these for apples are already very popular in Europe.
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Stemilt came up with the concept for the EZ Band in-house and worked with WestRock to develop the design. The package comprises a paperboard tray that holds four apples coupled with a paper band that encircles the tray top to bottom. The tray is made from 38-pt paperboard and has end panels that work with the band to hold the fruit in place. The pre-formed and preprinted tray is converted by WestRock; the 60-mm band is supplied by Felins.
During packaging, after the apples are sized and graded through an automated process, they are manually packed into the tray. If the trial of the new pack proves successful, Shales says Stemilt hopes to automate this step. Following hand-packing, Stemilt uses an ultrasonic bander, the US-2000 AD from ATS, to wrap the paper band around the filled tray. When complete, Shales says the pack can weigh up to 2.5 lb.
EZ Band four-packs are shipped to retailers in a Euro-size corrugated case that holds 12 four-packs (two layers of six). “The case is intended to help display the bands so that merchandising and grab-and-go out of the box is very convenient,” explains Shales. The apples are sold off the count, with a UPC code printed on the bottom of the band for easy ringing up at the register.
“It’s a new way of packing and selling apples in the U.S.,” says Shales. “These larger sizes are traditionally sold by the pound off a PLU sticker. This new pack is a step towards increasing purchase size and brand awareness while providing retailers with an easy and effective merchandising solution in-store or online. It will move through self-checkout stations with ease. We also foresee automation capabilities in packing the fruit down the road to bring efficiency to a pack that aims to delight consumers.”
Stemilt introduced the EZ Band in August for its Rave variety apples and for its organic and conventional SweeTango apples in September. Says Shales, “It’s a small trial in the initial year and a great way for us to get feedback on how a pack like this works in the U.S. marketplace.”