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Kurt Zuhlke & Associates leading the way with clamshells

Today’s produce customers are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the food they purchase—largely due to trends like organic, farm to table and the foodie craze—and that means they want the very best products to include in their diets.

That has made clamshell packaging of vital importance and when it comes to clamshells, Kurt Zuhlke & Associates remains a leader in the field.

Kurt-Zuhlke-91818Kurt ZuhlkeClamshell packaging provides exceptional protection of fruits and vegetables, and also allows consumers to see what they’re buying. And recent years have seen lots of innovation.

“Most of that is the size and quantity and how much people want to pay, based either on ounces or count,” said Kurt Zuhlke, president of the Easton, PA-based company. “There may be a four-count for a dinner meal. Direct farm sales will go for a 12- or 24-pound item they want to put in the box, like oranges or something, to directly ship to people all over the country overnight.”

He added that a game changer for the industry came in the mid-1990s, when Joe Procacci of the Procacci Brothers introduced the grape tomato, and Kurt Zuhlke & Associates quickly realized it was going to be the next big thing in produce.

“It exploded overnight because of the quality of the product and the sweetness of the product and the marketing ability of the Procacci Brothers, which then took it all over the United States,” Zuhlke said. “In turn, they needed a package that was durable and sustainable in the marketplace to maintain that advantage and that’s when they turned to clamshells.”

That led to clamshells for items like berries and clementines, in all sorts of sizes. Today the firm offers packaging for lettuce, tomatoes of various sizes, strawberries, apples, and herb, along with insert liners, trays and corrugated masters.

One key challenge the clamshell industry faces is the host of regulations that are being made in an attempt to cut down on plastic usage. And while a lot of people think paper is the way to go, Zuhlke notes that last year, 96,000 trees were cut down per day in the United States just for toilet paper, and the idea of replacing billions of plastic pint containers for blueberries isn’t sustainable.

“There just isn’t enough tree material to meet the needs of everybody in the United States, Canada, and Mexico alone to keep it sustainable,” he said. “It takes 17 years to grow a tree and it will take 10 years to deforest the country.”

Zuhlke noted the answer lies in what is done with the material after it’s been used.

“Since 1994, our company has built all of our clamshells out of recycled material,” he said. “We have been ahead of the curb, so far advanced of any other company. There are some new technologies that are emerging that can transfer plastic material back into oil and then be used to make more plastic or fuel, like diesel fuel or gasoline. And the best thing about it, is it doesn’t have to be separated, all it has to be is ground up. It isn’t going backward that counts, it’s going forward.”