Kurt Zuhlke & Associates a step ahead of package trends

kurtzuhlke44Kurt Zuhlke & Associates Inc. is a leading innovator of Polyethylene Terephthalate (commonly referred to as PET) packaging for the produce industry.

The Easton, PA-based company is also known for its top of the line clamshell packaging, which in the age of COVID-19, is as important as it’s ever been. For more than 25 years, the company has constructed all of its clamshells out of recycled material.

“This packaging offers exceptional protection of produce, and at the same time, allows consumers to see what they’re buying,” said Kurt Zuhlke, president of his namesake company. “That has meant strong business since the pandemic began.”

At one time, this sort of packaging was reserved for berries and clementines specifically, but now it’s used for packaging for everything from lettuce to tomatoes, to strawberries and even apples.

That’s a trend that has been seen throughout the last few months as more consumers are demanding clamshells and the plastic containers with the lidded area on top. That’s resulted in an upswing on customizing of commodities into weight at retail. 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.

“That’s led to an increase in production on a number of items, especially on the berry side,” Zuhlke said. “That category has rocketed right out of the warehouse. Some of the items, we’ve had a hard time maintaining inventory because of the demand.”

When it comes to the PET product, Zuhlke noted 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.”

In 2020 there are a plethora of packaging options in terms of sizes available both for ounces or count — something else that has come about because of the pandemic.

“Any soft products that are going into a rigid container seems to be doing even better,” Zuhlke said. “Harder products like apples are going into bags, but anything like plums, tomatoes, berries or needs to be protected from abuse are going into that rigid container.”

Business has been strong throughout 2020 and Kurt Zuhlke & Associates continues to search for growth opportunities, some of which will be implemented this fall. Expect to see more recycled material in its newest products.

“We really care about our customers and service is the most important thing,” Zuhlke said. “Many growers and suppliers use our products to pack according to their customers’ specifications, but many retailers today repack at the store level in order to customize their offerings. This means that all levels of the industry are important to us.”

Photo: Kurt Zuhlke

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