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New clamshells coming from Kurt Zuhlke & Associates

By
Keith Loria

Kurt Zuhlke, president of his namesake Kurt Zuhlke & Associates, is a regular presence at the PMA Fresh Summit, having attended most years since 1980.

The show is important to Zuhlke, he noted, because it allows him to get out and meet new people entering the produce market and promote the company’s products.

“It’s also important to see our customers that we already have and establish new packaging ideas with them and help them sell more product,” he said.

That has allowed the Easton, PA-based company to show current and future customers its latest innovation in Polyethylene Terephthalate (commonly referred to as PET) packaging for the produce industry.

At shows like Fresh Summit, Kurt Zuhlke & Associates also is quick to highlight its clamshell packaging, which in the world brought on by the pandemic, is more important than it’s ever been. The company’s clamshell packaging has been constructed out of recycled material for the past 25 years, which is important to many produce businesses and their customers.

Zuhlke noted this packaging not only boasts exceptional protection for produce items, but also allows consumers to view what they’re buying simply by picking it up.

For this year’s virtual PMA, the company is planning to remain a strong presence, touting its new expanded line of clamshell packaging.

“We are expanding into different quantities of shapes and sizes with clamshells for produce, as well as putting in a whole new segment for baking, for cookies, donuts, pies and other things,” Zuhlke said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a need for more of this sort of packaging.

“It’s still going strong and we see it actually expanding as we go into the fall,” he said. “We see some people are switching out of the zipper-lock bags and moving into a harder container. Consumers just can’t see the products in the bags, and they don’t feel safe purchasing it. You have to be able to physically look at a product today.”

Whereas this type of packaging was once reserved for only berries and clementines, in the era of COVID-19, it’s now being used as packaging for everything from tomatoes, to strawberries, to lettuce — and even apples.

Zuhlke said he’s not surprised that this trend has picked up in recent months, and he’s constantly hearing from retail partners how the demand for plastic containers with the lidded area on top has taken off.

“It’s resulted in an upswing on customizing of commodities into weight at retail,” he said. “So, retailers are looking for a specialized container to hold a certain amount of weight so that it meets their needs and helps improve the bottom line at the store.”

This has led to an increase in production on many items and the company is able to meet the demand with the packaging required.

“The berry category has rocketed right out of the warehouse,” Zuhlke said. “Some of the items, we’ve had a hard time maintaining inventory because of the demand.”

When it comes to the PET product, Zuhlke shared that it is important to maintain the circle of recycling in an effort to keep these materials out of landfills as much as possible. He added that customers want high-quality products today, are tuned into the environment, but also want good service. These initiatives run deep in the company.

“Our company’s motto is to ‘recycle and reuse’ and taking the product out there, once it’s been used, clean it, grind it and create new product,” Zuhlke said. “I have seen some areas of the country where retailers have relaxed their requirements for recyclable materials during COVID-19, like using foam trays, but that’s not a really good move and not what the people want.”

The company continues to produce a plethora of packaging options in terms of sizes available, both for ounces or count, with soft products going into rigid containers doing very well. Plums, tomatoes and berries are among those items.

With the fall season here, Kurt Zuhlke & Associates seeks growth opportunities, with recycled material in its newest products.

“We really care about our customers and service is the most important thing,” Zuhlke said. “We’re coming up with new ideas and product lines all the time and hopefully we can negotiate some new avenues with existing product lines out there now for total distribution of the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. Those areas are where our new accounts are coming from.”

He looks forward to everyone getting healthy and the industry getting back to normal.

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