The custom-shaped 48-ounce container for Safeway’s private label ice cream – currently offered in the grocer’s stores -- is the result of a collaboration with DeSoto, Kan.-based Huhtamaki. The high-impact package with branded graphics employed the vendor’s in-plant forming machines, which also enable production changeover speed and flexibility and considerable cost advantages.
“This in-house system and our partnership with Huhtamaki allowed us to respond to marketplace conditions with ease, speed and relatively little expense,” says Ed Olivero, VP of dairy manufacturing at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway. “From start to finish, package design as well as tooling, installation and production was accomplished within six months. Actual conversion of five forming units in both of our ice cream plants was completed within a week, and we were feeding new containers directly into the filling lines.”
More than 60 SKUs across a variety of Safeway ice cream product lines now use the new container, including the Safeway Select signature brand and Lucerne ice cream -- both distributed across the grocer’s vast market area -- as well as the regional Eating Right and Jersey Maid brands. Safeway ice cream is produced at two production plants, one in Bellevue, Wash., and the other in Phoenix, the latter of which has four Huhtamaki Systems FM-1400 forming machines to make the Convocan MX containers.
When the initial request for a new package came from Safeway’s Strategic Sourcing group, “[o]ur engineering department immediately began developing container design options -- some taller and narrower, some shorter -- focusing on meeting Safeway’s objective while making the fullest possible use of their existing in-house assets,” recounted Huhtamaki sales account manager Allison Vande Kieft,
“Rather than settle for a ‘stock’ package solution, we made sure Safeway had a custom-tailored container and was able to use current formers with relatively minor adaptations,” added Vande Kieft. “Once the tapered package shape was approved, we could build the precise tooling to form it and complete all other steps necessary to produce it.”
For its part, Safeway designed new graphics for the tapered containers, resulting in a totally new look to the marketplace. The packaging was then preprinted, die-cut and shipped flat from Huhtamaki to Phoenix and Bellevue for conversion on the formers.
In addition to the fast turnaround time and the considerable savings and efficiencies involved in the adoption of an in-plant system, which Safeway has employed for some time, the partnership presents other advantages. “Safeway doesn’t have to build inventories and stage them for production; the in-house formers feed directly into filling lines,” noted Vande Kieft. “And, because the flat container sidewalls take up so much less space than a preformed option, they can keep some components on the floor and can change packaging on the fly, literally in minutes. If, for example, there’s an issue with the strawberry ice cream, they can quickly start feeding sidewalls of chocolate or another flavor into the unit, pull lids out of inventory and have new cartons moving into the filling line in almost no time.”
According to Safeway’s Olivero: “[T]he Huhtamaki in-plant system has served us well for years. The ease, speed and cost effectiveness with which this new package was developed exemplify our partnership at its best.”