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Kurt Zuhlke & Associates is a produce packaging expert

Everyone is happy as a clamshell over at Kurt Zuhlke & Associates. That is because business continues to boom at the family-owned manufacturer and distributor of plastic clamshells, trays and other packaging options for the produce industry.

“Over the years we’ve expanded quite a bit, and right now we are looking to expand with another warehouse in the same area we are in now,” said Kurt Zuhlke, president and chief executive officer of Bangor, PA-based Kurt Zuhlke & Associates. “Our business has just been going crazy with new product lines that are custom-built for customers who want to have their own product instead of sharing it with other companies as a stock item.”

KZ-ART-1 Founded in 1955 by Kurt Zuhlke’s father, the company has steadily grown over the years to become an international packaging powerhouse. Kurt Zuhlke joined the company in 1980 and took the helm of operations in 1990.

“We have clients all over the world and are shipping out to South America, as well as the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. We ship out to other areas of the world too and are getting into new markets including the Far East and Saudi Arabia in the Mideast,” Zuhlke said.

Zuhlke is proud that his company’s products are made from recycled PET, such as soda bottles. “Our product is highly recyclable again, because you don’t want to be putting it into a landfill,” he said. The company has the ability to take colored material, such as a green plastic 7-Up bottle, and dye it black to be reborn as produce trays. “We do that offshore down in Chile,” Zuhlke said. “We then bring it into the U.S. for the tomato industry.”

At Zuhlke & Associates, business has been aided by the growth of branding of what were once commodity items.

“We are finding that the branded item wants to have a specific package for a particular item in a specific weight or count that they want to sell it in — and it works,” Zuhlke said.

The clamshell remains the cornerstone of Kurt Zuhlke & Associate’s product lineup.

“Clamshells are still a very popular item,” Zuhlke said. “I think it is because they are very convenient. We are now looking at lidded items where there is a base and then a modified atmosphere lid is placed over the top. It is laminated and made out of two or three different kinds of material film and then it can be printed on its top. The drawback is that the laminated piece is not yet recyclable.”

Perhaps the most important benefit of plastic produce packaging is the safety it affords over bare commodity items that are just sold off a wet rack.

“Today there are major concerns about listeria and e. coli,” Zuhlke said. “But we have to be concerned about health in general. A lot of people just don’t wash their hands, but then go into the store and touch everything that is on that counter. That helps germs that lead to viruses because they are picking them up and touching them. But when something is in a package, they can pick up the package while never touching the contents inside.”

Kurt Zuhlke & Associates is looking at expanding into additional product lines, such as the fresh-cut business. “We are also looking into egg cartons,” Zuhlke said. “We’ve been asked by several people — Pennsylvania is a big egg producing area — to look into clear cartons for local distribution. The see-through egg carton is a wonderful item for the consumer to pick off the shelf and look at it from a glance at any angle without having to worry about an egg falling out,” he said.

While Kurt Zuhlke & Associates will not have a booth at PMA, Zuhlke will walk the floor looking to reconnect with old friends and customers and also meet up with new ones.