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Peakfresh continues to expand strawberry business, eyes other commodities

The basic premise of the Peakfresh pallet bags and liners is to slow down the dehydration of the product they are protecting. This increases shelf life and gives the retailer more pounds to sell.

Greg Ganzerla, president and chief executive officer of Peakfresh USA, which is based in the Southern California community of Lake Forest, said the pallet bags and liners are plastic bags impregnated with all-natural minerals that extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by delaying the dehydration process. “If it is not dehydrating, it is not shrinking and not losing weight,” he said.

PeakfreshPallet-cover-High-It is the act of dehydration that is the bane of all fresh produce, which is after all composed mostly of water. As a practical matter, a fresh product that retains its weight longer is worth more at retail as the supermarket will have more pounds to sell. It is this simple equation that makes the Peakfresh pallet bag worth its cost, according to Ganzerla, who says the cost is very competitive with the leading alternative, and actually less expensive. The alternative of course, is a pallet bag filled with a gas pumped in and then sealed.

The process of the alternative, according to the Peakfresh executive, is what really gives his bag its competitive advantage. The competitor’s system involves the use of CO2 and utilizes a relatively large piece of equipment, as well as at least two, and usually three, workers pumping in the gas and taping closed the bag. Peakfresh claims that its bag, which involves nothing more at the shipping level than bagging the pallet, can be applied to a pallet in a matter of seconds. “It takes less labor, no electricity and no CO2,” said Ganzerla.

Of course, the main goal of the bag is to extend shelf life, so no matter how easy or cost-effective it is, the question is whether it does the job.

“Researchers at Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) said our bag is every bit as effective as the leading provider of CO2,” he said. “They basically said there is no difference.”

Ganzerla has also conducted many of his own tests, and in early August he was in the middle of a series of tests on strawberries from Watsonville. “We have had some awesome results but we are not ready to post them until we finish,” he said Aug. 2. “The first test was on some berries that were in pretty poor condition. We wanted to see how long we can extend the shelf life. We are going to conduct a series of tests on strawberries and then we are going to move to some other crops such as broccoli, asparagus and lettuce.”

While the product has made most of its sales inroads in high-value items such as strawberries and cherries, Ganzerla said there is no reason why it can’t be effective and cost-effective for a whole host of fruits and vegetable. Virtually any item that loses weight is a candidate for a pallet bag. While some produce items do have great shelf life that allows them to easily survive shipments within the United States, he said there may be applicability for export shipments that can take a week or two.

For example, he said one of the next tests will be on asparagus. Currently, almost 50 percent of asparagus consumed in the United States come from Peru via either an overnight air freight delivery or a 13-day ocean voyage.

Speaking in general terms and not just about asparagus, Ganzerla said, “Our goal is to help the (produce) industry save money by allowing them options other than air freight, which is very expensive.”

He said it is very difficult to quantify the exact shelf life extension that you can get from a Peakfresh bag because it depends on the quality of fruit going in, the product itself and the length of the trip. “But it is significant. Now when you are talking about strawberries, the industry needs them to have a shelf life of at least five to six days to survive the cross country trip. We are talking about going well beyond that. We have shipments that look very good after two weeks.”

Ultimately, he said, the key is the consumer. “What we really want to do is have the very end user — the consumer — see the difference.”

And, of course, if they see a superior product, they will pay for it.