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J&R Orchards sees growth in use of clamshells for packaging fresh figs

J&R Orchards in Chowchilla, CA, packs fresh figs in several different pack styles, according to Chris DeBenedetto, who handles sales for the company.

“We have clamshells, trays, half trays and baskets,” he said. Customers are “increasingly liking the clamshells” which come eight one-pound clams or 12 eight-ounce clams per tray. Compared to other options, the clamshell “looks a lot better. It definitely ships better and stores better.”

At the retail level, the clamshell has more appeal for the consumer, he said. With an attractive label and good fruit visibility of the product, it is “very eye-friendly.” Often, there is also a recipe under the label.

Baskets are “more of a wholesale thing,” Mr. DeBenedetto said. “But even some of the wholesalers are finding the value in clamshells.

At J&R Orchards, “we want to present [customers] with the best product [and] the best quality,” he said. Particularly late in the year, the fruit can start to “get tired” if it is a long time in transit, so “especially going across country we want to ship that clamshell because it is going to get there a lot nicer and the customers are going to see better movement.”

J&R Farms was formed in 1984 by Mr. DeBenedetto’s father, Richard DeBenedetto, the company’s president, whose family has been involved in fig farming in California since the 1920s. J&R now grows about 3,000 acres of figs, all in Madera County, Richard DeBenedetto told The Produce News last year. Most of the figs still go into the dried fig market, but fresh sales have been increasing.

The main varieties being grown by the company are Calimyrna, Kadota, Sierra, Black Mission and Brown Turkey.

The fresh figs are packed in the “Al Dolce Fico” and “Orchard Maid” labels.

“We expect to start the first crop of Black Missions about the 7th or 8th of June, “ depending on weather, Chris DeBenedetto said May 11. The crop does not look as big as last year, he added. Although volume will not be as great, “we are optimistic of another good year.”

Last year produced “one of the biggest crops we have had in a while,” particularly on the early Black Missions. “We had a huge first crop,” he said.

“There is always a gap between the first crop of Black Missions,” also called a breva crop, and the rest of the fig season, including the main Black Mission crop and the other varieties. Typically, “between when the first crop of Black Missions ends and Calimyrnas start will be about a month gap. The Calimyrnas typically start around the first of August. Shortly after Calimyrnas start, “everything else will get going,” he said. “We picked last year until Thanksgiving.”

The Sierra crop will be in its second year and will be small. Sierra is a newer white fig variety that follows Calimyrna and Kadota. “We’ve got some in the ground, but not a huge volume,” Mr. DeBenedetto said.