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Nick Dulcich talks about the advent of the stand-up grape bag

The stand-up bag (a.k.a. pouch bag, gusset bag, handle bag, etc.) has become a big phenomenon in the table grape industry. Nearly every shipper is doing some, and some are going exclusively with it in their bagging programs. Shippers who once dismissed the stand-up bag as a fad or a gimmick now say they have retail customers who demand it. Some large retailers, it is said, will now accept grapes in no other pack style.

Gusseted bags have been around for a while for various products on the supermarket shelves, but a decade ago, or even five years ago, they were all but unknown in the grape industry.

025-CalGrapes-Dulcich-bagA high-graphics stand-up bag from J.P. Dulcich & Sons/Sunlight International Sales Inc. with a summer theme. (Photos courtesy of Sunlight International Sales Inc.)Sunlight International Sales Inc. introduced a high-graphic stand-up bag in 2010 for two promotional campaigns. One bag design featured the company’s “Pretty Lady” brand and logo. The other, designed specifically for Halloween promotions, carried the “Harvest Hobgoblin” trademark. Bins and danglers featuring similar graphics complemented the campaign.

Nick Dulcich, a partner in J.P. Dulcich & Sons in Delano, CA, and president of Sunlight International Sales Inc., the company’s sales arm, takes credit for being the first shipper to offer a stand-up grape bag to customers, but not for the idea. He told The Produce News he developed the bag, beginning about four years ago, at the urging of one of his retail customers, Loblaw, in Toronto.

But Loblaw was not the first retailer to put grapes in a stand-up bag. According to Dulcich, another Canadian chain, Longo, was already using the bags, buying grapes in traditional grape bags and repacking them in-house into gusseted standup bags. “It presented really well and got the attention of Loblaw,” he said.

The stand-up bag was already being used at retail for other commodities such as peppers and cucumbers, as well as for many other non-produce commodities, quite literally from soup to nuts. “But it wasn’t really used in grapes,” he said. Loblaw asked Dulcich to come up with a bag that would work for grapes. “They pushed me to do it,” he confessed. “I was a little reluctant. I wasn’t sure. But we said okay, and we started to work on it in 2009.”

Dulcich teamed up with Jason Russo, general manager of the U.S. division of Calgary-based Smart Degradable Americas Ltd. Russo brought bag samples, and the two of them went to work with scissors and staplers to come up with a bag of the right size and dimensions so that a big bunch of grapes could be packed in it correctly and the packed bags would fit nicely in the appropriate master container.

Dulcich hired Rick Fierro, principal of Fierro Design in Eugene, OR, to design the graphics for the original bag, with the graphics created in a rainbow shape across the top to provide maximum visibility of the fruit below.

After “a grinding five months,” from January into June, Dulcich said, the bag was finally right and ready for production. His first thought was to run just 5,000 of the new bags initially, but encouraged by the customer, “we ended up taking the risk and we went big that year.” It worked. Sales “went nuts,” and grape growers who heard about it were “flying to Canada to see what we had going.”

At Loblaw, Dulcich said, “we had a contest” in which produce managers from each region who created the best display won a trip to Toronto, a dinner and a ticket to a hockey game.

Dulcich then created the Hobgoblin campaign, the Pretty Lady campaign and, more recently, a Christmas-themed campaign, each with eye-catching graphics, and made them available to other customers.

For the last three years, Sunlight has packed 98 percent of its grapes for retail customers in the new bag, he said.

From the start, the company put only top-quality fruit in the bag, Dulcich said, because no matter how attractive the bag, if you put junk in it, it is still junk.