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International sales offer diversification for Kurt Zuhlke & Associates

International sales of packaging products continue to grow for Kurt Zuhlke & Associates Inc., helping the firm diversify its options and remain strong.

Diversification is the same reason Kurt Zuhlke Jr. gave for making a push for sales in the bakery industry. “Produce packaging is still the main part of our business,” he said, “but we are just starting to get into the bakery packaging business.”

Just as is the company’s portal to packaging for fruits and vegetables, Mr. Zuhlke said the firm is developing a similar website for the bakery end of the business.

“We are just plugging along like we have, increasing our worldwide sales and doing what we can to make a living,” he said.

ZuhlkeKurt Zuhlke Jr. of Kurt Zuhlke & Associates Inc. The Bango, PA-based business relies on service to beat its competition. Mr. Zuhlke said it is service that has allowed the firm to thrive in international markets. “We have competitors [overseas], but they don’t seem to be big on service. That’s what sets us apart,” he said. “That’s how we compete.”

He said the clamshell — in various sizes — and flat trays are the two most popular packaging categories the company sells domestically and internationally. He said the use of environmentally friendly packaging material continues to be important to most customers. That can mean the use of PET material that has been recycled or biodegradable material that can be composted.

“Most of our clamshells are made from recycled soda bottles,” he said.

In fact, he added, the volume of clamshells has risen to the level that they are starting to show up at the recycle centers to be broken down and used again. But still, it should come as no surprise that Americans produce far more empty soda bottles on a daily basis than clamshells.

Though Mr. Zuhlke agrees that the economy is slowly recovering, he does not expect that fact to give a big boost to his business.

“We actually did very well in the down economy,” he said. “People weren’t going out as much so they were buying more at retail, which meant an increase in demand for clamshells and more people coming to us. We didn’t miss a beat.”

Mr. Zuhlke said another big boost for the packaging industry has been food-safety concerns. He said even very small farms that used to sell all of their product bulk at farmers’ markets are looking at packaging options as a safety measure.

While that’s good for business, he said reaching out to these small farmers is challenging.

“During the winter when they don’t have product, they don’t even answer their phones,” he said. “So you have to reach them at all these state shows all over the country. There are at least 50 or 60 shows that we can attend. Recently my wife was at one show and I was at another on the same day. There are so many of them.”

Necessity dictates that Mr. Zuhlke attends these shows, but for his buck he still believes the large national shows are the best use of his time and resources. At the smaller shows, he said, the grower is often also there to do continuing education to keep his license as a spray applicator and just doesn’t seem to have much time to talk about packaging.

Kurt Zuhlke & Associates Inc. was founded more than a half-century ago by Kurt Zuhlke Sr. The firm became a leader in the produce packaging industry, largely through the work of Mr. Zuhlke and his wife, Frieda. Today Kurt Zuhlke Jr. and his wife, Cindy, have followed in his parents’ footsteps and have kept the company thriving.