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When it comes to the packaging of items sold in supermarkets’ perimeter departments, consumers and retailers may have slightly different needs, but they both agree that the products should be as fresh as possible.
“Consumers are looking for packaging that can protect the product, can extend shelf life of the fresh food contents, and is available in grab-and-go sizes due to changing eating patterns,” notes Jack Tilley, market research manager at Shelton, Conn.-based Inline Plastics Corp., whose most recent introduction is the SnackWare line of single- and multicompartment containers featuring a lid that provides a leak-resistant seal around one of the compartments so that contents such as dips, salsas and dressings can be offered. “Retailers are looking for robust ... grab-and-go/snacking containers in [various] sizes that also provide high clarity to spotlight the quality of the foods and promote impulse purchases.”
Tilley expects that there will be an “expansion in the sizes and shapes” of such portable solutions.
With the demand for fresh vegetable packaging expected to rise to $2.8 billion in 2019, according to Produce Business magazine, TC Robbie, part of Vaughan, Ontario-based TC Transcontinental Packaging, best known for its ready-to-eat meal packaging, has created its first solutions for the produce section.
“Packaging developments focused on benefits to the consumers in areas of cooking convenience and easy cleanup have become key components in promoting and merchandising fresh-cut produce,” observes Rebecca Casey, senior director of marketing at TC Transcontinental Packaging. “Customers are embracing the convenience of no prep, saving on food waste and the comfort of knowing that they are buying produce that wasn’t frozen or exposed to the general public.”
July 2016 saw the retail debut of the Steam N Eat Produce pouch. “The new package allows retailers the ability to offer customers fresh-cut produce packed in-store with a value-added steamable feature,” says Casey. “Consumers can take advantage of grab-and-go convenience, as well as enjoy healthy eating options that are simple and easy to prepare using the convenience of their microwave. Currently, packaging with this technology is typically found in the frozen aisle or prepacked at the processor level, then shipped to the retailer.”
She adds: “The pouch is designed with customized laser-venting technology that allows the produce to cook evenly while maintaining the taste and nutritional benefits of steam cooking. Retailers welcome that it provides them with a fresh alternative versus processor-shipped product.” The pouches can hold a variety of fresh-cut produce, including asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and medleys. Soon after the initial launch, TC Robbie developed a second pouch sized for steaming four to five ears of corn.
Casey firmly believes that this segment has nowhere to go but up. “We will see more retailers start to bring in-house preparation of their fresh-cut produce programs to capitalize on the growing demand for fresh foods in the perimeter,” she predicts. “And with this move, you will see more of an emphasis on packaging. For instance, we may see more of a movement from tray and overwrap film to pouches. Printed pouches give retailers an easy way to educate their consumers that their product is freshly cut and packed in-store.”
What’s more, according to Casey, “Some of the fastest-growing segments for produce are microwave ready, ready-to-cook vegetables and healthy snack-size options. Pouches offered with laser perforations, vent holes, alternative bottom seals, smaller platforms and tear notches will become the package of choice for retailers wanting to enter the value-added produce market.”
Playing it Safe
Another important concern regarding fresh food packaging is that it contain no harmful ingredients that could contaminate the product within or cause damage to the environment.
“As safety concerns have been raised in recent years surrounding dangerous levels of synthetic chemicals leaching into food from packaging ... consumers and retailers are seeking increased accountability in safety, sustainability and traceability in their fresh food packaging,” notes Wayne Millage, president and CEO of Renton, Wash.-based TrojanLitho, whose sustainable folding carton and single-face litho laminate food packaging, which can be used for such fresh food applications as prepared foods and baked goods, has qualified for Food Safety System Certification (FSSC-22000) through Ann Arbor, Mich.-based product-testing, inspection and certification organization NSF International.
In the area of eco-friendliness, he observes that TrojanLitho’s “sustainable business practices and delivery methods are aimed at helping to chart a new, more environmentally focused path for the food packaging industry, which we foresee as a continuing trend in fresh food packaging. In the coming years, we anticipate an even greater focus on providing biodegradable packaging that is produced in eco-friendly, ISO-certified and FSSC-22000-certified facilities. We also expect a greater emphasis on packaging that is made with completely recyclable, high-quality paper and earth-friendly, vegetable oil-based inks such as ours.”
Further, Millage anticipates “a trend toward single-face litho laminate packaging that offers significant cost-savings when compared to flexography or pre-print solutions. Flexo and pre-print plate costs can be as much as 10 times more than those completed through our lithography process, meaning customers can ultimately save tens of thousands of dollars in printing costs. Litho-printed single-face also eliminates the need for roll minimums required with pre-print, and the associated exposure to obsolete material due to graphic changes.”
Sealed Air Corp., the Charlotte, N.C.-based maker of Cryovac packaging solutions, is an active collaborator on products that enhance the safety not only of fresh food, but also of the workers who handle it.
“Kroger Co., one of the world’s largest grocery retailers, recognized the value of implementing easy-open packaging,” notes Mike Rosinski, North American director of marketing to the smoked and processed meats sector for the Cryovac division. “One of the early adopters of the knife-free packaging trend, Kroger challenged Sealed Air Cryovac to migrate its easy-open solutions into their Private Selection brands of cheese within a 12-month timeframe. As part of this conversion, 10 SKUs from four different suppliers were migrated to Cryovac’s Grip & Tear packaging, totaling nearly 2 million bags in yearly volume. Kroger’s migration to easy-open packaging on a national scale demonstrates the growing need for retailers to eliminate risk behind the deli counter, and the company’s successful implementation of knife-free solutions provides a road map for smaller operations to protect their workers and businesses in the same way.”
Rosinksi adds that along with easy-open packaging, “cook-in-bag technology and post-pasteurization are trends on the rise for a reason. These new solutions allow delis to reduce the risk to employees, increase food safety by reducing potential for cross-contamination, improve worker productivity and minimize food waste.”
The company also works with suppliers to create customized solutions, as it did with Houston-based Perfect Fit Meals (PFM), a maker of fresh-crafted meals that needed packaging that helped eliminate cross-contamination in the production process through a seamless segmentation of meals for those with allergy and dietary restrictions. The result was a Cryovac Simple Steps packaging solution in several sizes that fit PFM’s quality and safety needs, while also presenting the meals in a practical and aesthetically pleasing way.
The future is sure to hold further advances in fresh packaging performance. As Inline Plastics’ Tilley observes, “Packaging innovations continue to be driven by customer requirements and unmet needs.”
For more about packaging read the PG Web Extra, "RTE Poultry Packaging Demand Poised to Grow."