Fresh Priorities

Sustainability continues to grow in importance, while “active” solutions come on strong, among musts for fresh food packaging.

Sustainability, safety and convenience continue to be the big three priorities for fresh food packaging among consumers, but add a fourth for grocery retailers trying to increase sales of their private label products: shelf appeal.

These are among the key trends that packaging manufacturers are chasing as they attempt to meet the needs of consumers as well as their retail partners in the meat, produce and other fresh food categories.

The growth in convenience stems from a number of factors, says Jim Mize, VP of global new opportunities for Duncan, S.C.-based Sealed Air's Cryovac Food Packaging. “We've seen a rising trend in the number of meals prepared at home, but consumers are still crunched for time,” Mize observes. “Also, changing demographics associated with the aging baby boomer population and the move toward smaller and dual-income households lend to the increased desire for convenient foods and packaging.”

But Mize notes that the term “convenience” has different connotations for different consumer segments. “For some segments, convenience is good food that is available quickly with little involvement from the consumer. For others, convenience is quality food cooked at home, but in a format that requires minimal oversight and allows them to multitask during the cooking process,” he says. “For others, convenience means streamlining the preparation and cleanup process.”

Still others might have more simple demands. “One key aspect in the fresh category is having a clear view of what is inside the package,” says Nick Dulcich, owner and director of sales of Sunlight International Sales, a Delano, Calif.-based grape supplier, “so a consumer can be assured the product they are selecting is truly fresh and safe.”

Consumers' perception of packaging is evolving, says Erin Reynolds, senior marketing manager for dairy at Memphis, Tenn.-based Evergreen Packaging. “They are demanding more from packaging, expecting it to be more than just a cost-effective and convenient tool for protecting the products they buy,” she notes. “Influencing their product selection process at the grocer's shelf is thoughtful consideration about the environmental impact of a product's packaging.”

Reynolds cites a 2010 Beverage Pulse study in which 100 percent of respondents felt that adding package graphics trumpeting eco-friendly attributes added value to the brand. “Consumers stated they would choose a package with sustainability messaging over one without,” she says.

Mize agrees that consumers are becoming more sophisticated about sustainability issues. “They're not just concerned about whether a package is biodegradable or recyclable, they are also considering elements like carbon footprint and product lifestyle,” he says. “There is a great opportunity here to show the value of packaging when we are looking at its functionality across the supply and distribution chain, especially when it comes to reducing food waste.”

Retailers are concerned as well when making packaging choices for their private label products. First and foremost is shelf appeal, says Ashlee Robinson, product manager at Lenexa, Kan.-based Robbie Flexibles. “Vibrant, attention-grabbing designs differentiate products on the retail shelf to help guide consumers in their purchase decision,” she says. “An overall package design that communicates the quality of the product inside is a key objective.”

Also crucial, she says, is “a package that offers consumer value-added benefits, like being easy to carry, easy to store at home and easy to dispose of, [and is] sustainable.” Other pluses: a reclosable zipper that helps maintain product freshness, and graphics that include nutritional and cooking information.

“Packaging that simplifies or minimizes steps for the consumer is growing in importance in the private label market,” Mize says, while Reynolds adds: “Choosing eco-friendly packaging creates shelf appeal and helps consumers feel good about buying the products.”

Mize says sustainability has become intertwined with good stewardship, and, to many consumers, this means reducing waste when it comes to fresh food. “They want the amount they plan to use in the form they plan to use it,” he says. “This is not to say they won't buy more if the price is right, but when they do, they want it in a packaging format that is easy to store and reuse.”

Robbie makes a case for flexible packaging as superior for sustainability. Robinson says consumers are “concerned about sustainability and understand that flexible packaging is a much better alternative to rigid containers. They also want packaging that gives them convenience, quick product identification, cooking and nutritional information, and fits their on-the-go lifestyle. A package that offers enhanced product freshness and flavor tops the list.”

Concerns about preservatives have led to the development of “active” packaging solutions to address food safety issues. “The increase in consumer demand for healthy, fresh and high-quality foods with little to no preservatives has increased the need for packaging technology that can provide a higher level of protection,” Mize notes. “Active packaging technologies are being incorporated into different packaging formats to provide this advanced level of protection and preserve product freshness.”

Jaysen Weidner, sales representative with Sheridan, Ore-based fresh berry supplier HBF International, says his company's packaging decisions are “driven by food safety, quality and display of the product. Our goal is getting the product to the consumer in perfect condition.... We believe consumers are looking for food safety and high-quality, good-looking and good-tasting fruit. Our berry packages are designed with these in mind, and are also display-ready for any produce aisle.”

Portable Proteins

Beyond convenience, private label packaging solutions must maintain product quality and freshness. “An active packaging technology such as [Cryovac's] Freshness Plus film can take product quality and freshness one step further by scavenging oxygen and odors to maintain product color, integrity and even taste for a longer amount of time,” Mize says.

Cryovac has developed solutions targeting the demands of multiple consumer segments. To address the issue of food waste and sustainability, Cryovac offers Saddle Pack and Multibag packages that keep portions of poultry, meat and cheese separate so that consumers only open as much product as they need.

Cryovac's line of Grip & Tear easy-open bags allows consumers to open the package without a knife or scissors. In its Marinade on Demand package, protein and marinade are packaged together, separated by a seal, which is broken when the consumer squeezes the package. Meat can marinate without ever leaving the package, cutting down on mess and dirty dishes.

For other segments, Cryovac's Multi-Seal line of easy-open and reclosable packaging uses robust adhesive technology to reliably open and reclose multiple times. “The most recent product in this line is the Multi-Seal FoldLok package for shredded cheese, which allows the consumer to open the package, remove the product they need and then simply fold the top over to reseal it,” Mize says. “The FoldLok package uses less material than alternative reclosable packages, so environmentally conscious consumers also see a benefit.”

Home chefs may find convenience in other Cryovac products such as the Simple Steps Ready Meals package, which delivers steam-assisted microwaveability, and the Oven Ease oven-safe bag, which goes straight into the oven with the product, and holds in moisture for roasts and other meats, reducing the level of attention usually required for cooking these items. Since the product is cooked in the package, there's also minimal prep and cleanup.

Richmond, Calif.-based Excellent Packaging & Supply offers Ingeo biopolymer-lined clamshell containers in its line of BagasseWare foodservice products, made from a byproduct of sugar production.

∍EcoZip Enhances Freshness on the Go

In stores just in time to be used for back-to-school lunches, EcoZip dual-compartment plastic zipper bags reduce the number of bags needed to pack lunches, so there's less waste.

Bags from Philadelphia-based EcoZip keep food in airtight sections so food stays fresher longer, and they simplify portion control by allowing parents to pack fresh, healthy snacks in the larger side section and treats in the smaller one. The versatile bags also can be used for organizing school supplies, arts and crafts, toiletries, and cosmetics.

EcoZip bags are carried by A&P, Hannaford, Shopko, Woodman's Markets, Stop & Shop, Sweetbay Supermarket and The Food Emporium, and are also sold online at

These new products, applicable for use in the supermarket deli and prepared food department, address the problem of bio-based containers to soften and lose their structural integrity when serving hot and moist food. BagasseWare containers are lined with a thin sheet of NatureWorks Ingeo plant-based biopolymer, which prevents moisture and grease from reaching the bagasse-based shell, and ensures it retains its original shape and rigidity.

“We think it's important that consumers should not need to choose between a non-sustainable container and an environmentally friendly one that cannot properly contain hot food,” says Allen King, president of Excellent Packaging & Supply.

Evergreen Packaging's new recyclable paperboard Fresh-Look carton with windows provides consumers with more benefits. “In market research, consumers indicated that a carton with windows would be superior to current packaging options in providing key benefits,” Reynolds says, “such as making the product inside look more appealing, allowing them to easily see how much is left inside, and use of renewable resources.”

Portable Produce

HBF is singing the praises of the clamshell packaging used for its Hurst's brand Grande blueberries. “The attractive, eye-catching labeling and sturdy packaging gives retailers and consumers the quality fruit they prefer,” Weidner says. “Our newest label design is tailor-made to stand out in the berry section, and the clam-shells are designed to keep the berries in great shape.”

Robbie recently introduced a new product line of Fresh N Tasty standup pouches designed specifically for in-store baked goods and fresh-cut produce. “The FNT Produce Pouch was developed to give consumers value-added packaging features not available in rigid containers, and offer retailers and processors branding and merchandising opportunities along with enhanced product performance,” Robinson says.

A resealable zipper in the top of the pouch allows consumers to open and close the package easily without popping off the lid and spilling product. “The package has a handle for easy portability and a gusset in the bottom, so that the package sits up straight and allows purge to move away from the produce,” Robinson says. “Most importantly, the pouches are designed with state-of-the-art laser micro-perforation technology. This results in a package with a customized oxygen transmission rate for the specific produce inside … giving the consumer a better-tasting product.”

The Meta Tray-8 produce tray from Atlanta-based RockTenn uses less fiber, has equal or greater stacking strength than standard trays, can improve packing efficiency, and provides improved product protection in the distribution chain, says Don Reggio, the company's marketing manager for corrugated packaging. “Because of the unique eight panels, the tray provides improved graphic display opportunities to improve sales,” Reggio adds.

Grape supplier Sunlight offers grab-and-go grape bags with high-impact graphics, good visibility, an easy-to-grab handle, vent holes that double as a colander for easy rinsing, and convenient standup storage with maximum protection for the contents. Dulcich says the company's Pretty Lady and Hobgoblin grape grab bags “not only protect the quality and safety of the fruit, but also enhance the presentation and appeal. The custom vent pattern, specifically developed by Sunlight, serves the dual purpose of product freshness while giving the consumer a convenient carry pack with the ease of washing the fruit right inside the bag. … Together, all these features serve to enhance sales, reduce shrink and ensure a better quality of grapes at the retail level.”

Watsonville, Calif.-based berries in recyclable clamshells made from 70 percent recycled drinking bottles. Plus, notes sales manager Dan Crowley, “50 percent of the power used in the manufacturing process comes from the sun, both of which are important steps toward helping to protect the environment.”

Crowley adds: “Customers also like packaging that saves space in their refrigerators, which is why all of our packaging stacks easily and is built strong enough to avoid collapsing, saving space for consumers at home and retailers on their shelves.”

Milwaukee-based produce repacker and distributor Market Source has launched its 4-pack of limes, called Beer Lime, which the company bills as “the ultimate combination of convenience, taste and long-lasting quality.” Market Source claims the plastic packaging, in combination with the volume of fruit and the respiration rate within the carton, creates an optimal atmosphere for storing limes.

“We never set out to create a package that made limes last longer; we just thought the box made from water-bottle plastic had a lot of consumer appeal,” explains Sam Maglio, Market Source president. “After creating the package and having some samples sitting around our office, we realized we had created the perfect atmosphere for dramatically extending the average shelf life of limes for up to four weeks.”

Distributed to select U.S. retailers, Beer Lime is packed and shipped from a new facility in McAllen, Texas. A new line extension is expected in early 2012.

For baked goods, Robbie developed the Fresh N Tasty Bakery Pouch with a proprietary film structure and reseal-able zipper to keep baked goods tasting fresher longer, along with a convenient handle and viewing window. “This design reduces moisture loss and maintains a softer baked good over time,” Robinson explains. “Consumers are very excited about the easy 'transportability' of the pouch. The flexible pouch clearly demonstrates advantages over rigid clamshells, with improved product freshness, ease of use and increased sustainability.”

Fresh Forecast

What's the next big thing on the horizon for fresh food packaging?

“I think we're going to continue to see the optimization of flexible packaging technologies to help minimize the amount of packaging needed to protect the product,” says Cryovac's Mize. “We're going to see packaging perform more active functions when it comes to food and food formulation, maintaining product freshness without the use of preservatives or substantial food-processing steps.”

Well-Pict's Crowley says it's traceability, “the ability to scan your product's packaging code and learn online where the product came from, what day it was packed, how it arrived at the store and a host of other useful information that pertains to purchasing the safest and freshest product possible. ... We are constantly re-evaluating and testing new packaging materials so that we are assured each year that we are doing our part to increase the freshness of our product. As we find new technologies or designs that help us towards this goal, we incorporate them immediately into our packaging so that our customer is assured we are on the leading edge in the latest and freshest packaging design and creation.”

Robbie's Robinson says flexible packaging advancements and innovations will broaden in the next few years in response to busy lifestyles and other emerging consumer needs. “This is especially true as the large baby boomer population continues to age,” she notes.

As such, Robinson asserts the driving factors will include nutritional messaging; large-print graphics; smaller, reclosable portions; and continued emphasis on sustainability.

“Packaging suppliers will continue to be challenged to address the increasing market demands while remaining committed to cost control and reduction wherever possible,” she says. “Printing capabilities will be another main focus as graphics that grab consumer attention and break through the retail clutter continue as a driving imperative with both retailers and processors.”

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