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Mango industry moving forward on carton uniformity

by Tim Linden | March 14, 2010
Mangos come into the United States from half a dozen different companies and in even more different carton configurations. As a result pallet counts are all over the board.

"Most people use a nine-pound box but there are some bigger ones and smaller ones," said Bill Vogel, president of Tavilla Sales Co. in Los Angeles. "You might get a pallet with 180 cartons from one shipper and another pallet will have 204 or 210 or 216 or even as many as 240 cartons."

Larry Nienkerk, managing partner at Splendid Products LLC in Burlingame, CA, said that another problem is that most cartons being used in the mango industry do not fit well on the standard 48- by 40-inch pallet. "Many packers use a 48- by 45-inch pallet and it's getting harder and harder to get chains and clubstores to accept that odd-sized pallet,"?said Mr. Nienkerk. "So often you have to repalletize at destination" which is an added cost. "I would love to see the industry adopt a standard carton that fits on a 48- by 40-inch hardwood pallet."

Of course, he said that would present another problem as hardwood is not always readily available in the mango production areas of Mexico, Central America and South America. "But that's another issue," he added.

Mr. Vogel of Tavilla, who had just returned from a trip to the Mexican mango-producing regions when he spoke to The Produce News March 2, said that there is an increasing buzz in Mexico about standardization. "EMEX [a mango exporters trade association in Mexico] is really pushing uniformity, but it's difficult. All the packers have their own favorite cartons for one reason or another and they are many different sizes."

As an example, this year, Tavilla has increased the size of the carton it uses for its early season Ataulfo deal. "We've made it a little bit higher because it's better for the fruit. We are going to have 204 cartons to the pallet."

Mr. Nienkerk said that the different sized cartons means that U.S. competitors are often calling the same fruit by different counts. One packer's 10-count fruit may be another packer's nine count, but the fruit is the same size.

Mr. Vogel agreed that it would be best if the entire industry standardized in one carton but that has been difficult to achieve because there isn't one carton that has been deemed the "right" carton.

However, the National Mango Board is working on this issue. Leo Ortega, the board's research director, said that the board contracted with packaging experts at Michigan State University to conduct a study and report their findings. Mr. Ortega said the researchers have studied the situation in both Mexico and Guatemala and are currently compiling their findings. The researchers were charged with determining what is the best packaging for mangos. The report is expected to be completed by the end of April, but Mr. Ortega does not know if the end result will be the recommendation of just one carton.

Many different varieties of mangos are shipped into the United States and the size of the fruit varies greatly. At its largest size, it takes only three mangos to fill a nine-pound carton. A 22 or 24 count mango means that that many mangos fit in a carton of 8 to 10 pounds. Obviously that fruit is very much smaller than product in a 3-, 4- or 5-count mango carton.

The Michigan State researchers might determine that different cartons are best for different varieties or different fruit sizes.

In any event, the final recommendations cannot be imposed upon the industry by the National Mango Board as it does not have that power. Mr. Ortega indicated that once the report is complete, the board will release it to the industry but it will be up to industry members to adopt the findings individually.

(For more on mangos, see the March 15, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)