Headquartered in Delano, CA, Pandol Bros. Inc. has been growing and packing fresh produce within the San Joaquin Valley for more than 70 years. Most recently, the company is seeing increased demand for rigid packaging of its flagship produce product—grapes. To meet this demand, Pandol Bros. debuted a rigid, functional package that aims to change not only the way its grapes are contained and marketed, but the entire produce category.
“The overall goal is to deliver something that really furthered the category,” says Tristan Kieva. director of business development and marketing at Pandol Bros Inc. “The grape category is a very strong category in the produce department, but in terms of innovation—there really hasn’t been anything truly revolutionary introduced in this category for many years.”
Clear views of productThe new design is the result of a long-time package development project by Pandol and its supplier Transparent Container. “We started the project in July 2009,” recalls Kieva. “In the beginning, we really tried not to have a predetermined outcome.” Instead, she explains, the produce grower/shipper concentrated its efforts on meeting its operational needs, as well as the needs of the major stakeholders: consumers, and the needs of the retailer.
Initially, Pandol looked at the packaging structure. Kieva recalls: “We asked, what would work from a transportation and efficiency standpoint? We went through about a dozen or more iterations of unique packaging styles, but we found that a lot of them looked great but weren’t practical.”
After determining packaging structures that would work well from an operational standpoint, Pandol Bros created prototypes for feedback from its retailers. “Their No. 1 feedback was they need to see the product,” says Kieva. “Visibility of the product is key. The product—definitely in produce—can’t be covered up. The consumer needs to look in and inspect the product.”
Pandol Bros. brought this feedback to Transparent Container to determine how to best meet the varied structure and product visibility needs. “The big key for us was that we worked with Transparent Container on the design early on,” remarks Kieva. “The partnership between Transparent Container and Pandol started from conception. Transparent Container’s input into the package design and engineering was critical.”
As the Pandol Bros. and Transparent Container looked at how to incorporate retailers’ needs into the packaging structures that worked best for operations, they began to examine the option of making the package a more integral part of the consumer experience.
Rinse, shake, serveThe resulting package is Pandol’s Quick Rinse Cube. The patent-pending, clear cube offers better transportation and retailer space efficiencies as the container shape and rigid construction is designed to enable more packages within a fixed space.
For retailers, the Quick Rinse Cube offers high visual impact, product differentiation and flexible merchandising. The design enables shoppers to view the product from all sides.
The rigid packaging also presents better than produce bags for consumers strolling supermarket aisles. To encourage consumers to serve the produce in the cube, Pandol Bros. and Transparent Container built a rinsing feature into the package design. The top of the rigid container is designed to allow water to easily enter the cube, and the bottom of the package allows easy draining of the water.
The package has a “grab-and-go handle,” along with instructions on the package to “rinse, shake and serve.” The clear messaging of the packaging benefits helps ensure that consumers know how to take advantage of the package’s benefits: easy and thorough rinsing of the grapes and an attractive vehicle for serving the grapes.
Round fruit, square cubeThe project did have some challenges, especially in the pack-out in the grapes. “I remember, on our very first day, it [pack-out] was painfully slow,” recalls Kieva. “It was like seeing a child going into a pool for the first time—moving step-by-step instead of jumping in.” Unlike most consumer-packed goods companies, Pandol Bros. couldn’t adjust the machinery on its packaging line to ensure continuous high productivity.
“This is not something that is manufactured; grapes are unlike other packaged grocery items,” remarks Kieva. “They are different shapes, sizes. Grape bunches can be very loose and flexible or very tight and not as flexible.
“Grapes are probably the most labor-intensive fruit that exists in these terms,” she adds. “It’s all hand-packed; there’s not a machine that does very much of anything when you look at how grapes are harvested and produced.” At certain times of the year, Pandol Bros can have somewhere near 150 workers picking and packing at its San Joaquin Valley location alone.
Grape bunches need to be manipulated and trimmed manually to fit within the packaging. While the rigid cube packaging offers retailer transportation and consumer benefits, it presents a challenge for packing operations.
“We really are fitting a round fruit into a square cube; it’s not a cliché,” says Kieva.
From field to packageGrape packaging begins appropriately enough in the field, where workers pick grapes off vines planted in rows. The grapes are placed into bins that travel with the workers down each row. Grapes are sometimes packed at the end of these rows into bags or clamshells. For the Quick Rinse Cube packaging, the grapes are weighed, manipulated and packed in Pandol Bros. newly expanded packing room.
The packing process differs depending on field temperatures. “Sometimes, in the heat of the summer, the temperatures reach 100-plus deg,” says Kieva. On these high-temperature days, Pandol Bros. brings harvested fruit into a conditioning room first.
“The key with grapes is you need to reduce their temperature immediately,” she explains. “You want to get their pulp or the temperature inside the grapes down as quickly as possible. These large rooms use forced air to basically suck the hot air out of them.”
Grapes then move to the packing room, which was expanded to 20,000 sq ft just two years ago. Hand-erected Quick Rinse Cubes are staged in four-color printed, corrugated trays, supplied by Calpine Containers Inc. to one side of several manual pack-out stations along the line.
On the other side of the pack-out station is a bin of fruit placed onto a pack-out table, supplied by Lakewood Process Machinery. A line worker inspects each bunch of grapes and trims them appropriately. The trimmed grapes are manually weighed on scales supplied by Marco Ltd. Workers then place the grapes into the erected rigid packaging, which is weighed again before tray-packing.
According to Pandol Bros., grape bunch trimming is a bit of an art because workers must balance the need to trim the bunch to fit within the packaging with the company’s edict to try to try to pack grape bunches as intact as possible.
“With grapes, you want to minimize the amount of cutting that you do,” Kieva explains. “It’s just like anything that’s a growing organism. Even after you cut fruit off of a bunch, it still needs to sustain itself. You want to prevent fruit from drying out because too much has been cut off. It is key to have the people on the packing line really look and see what kind of bunches work best together and fitting them into the package in an appropriate way without having to manipulate the product so much.”
Fast learnersAlthough the pack-out process had a slow start when Pandol Bros first introduced the packaging, the company quickly recovered its productivity “By Day Two, I breathed a sigh of relief,” Kieva recalls. “I thought: OK, it was just that first day.” By the second day of production, Kieva explains, the pack room was four to five times more efficient with the packaging. Pandol Quick Rinse Cube is now shipping nationwide in a 2-lb. fixed-weight size.
Transparent Container Co. Inc., 708/449-8520. www.transparentcontainer.com
Calpine Containers Inc., 559/225-7463. www.calpinecontainers.com
Lakewood Process Machinery, 616/796-9302.www.lakewoodpm.com
Marco Ltd, +44(0)1342 870103. www.marco.co.uk