Ultra Convenience – new food packaging – Statistical Data Included

Hallie Forcinio

Packaging answers consumer demand for no-fuss meal preparation and portability for on-the-go consumption.

Nothing appeals more to today’s consumer than convenience. With so much food consumed on the run and limited preparation time for those occasions when a meal actually is eaten at home, consumers want products that are easy to handle and quick to prepare.

Besides fulfilling both of these requirements, innovative packaging is injecting an element of excitement to store shelves, as well

Portability on a Stick

Cited as one of the top new product introductions of 1999, IncrEdibles pasta- or egg-based meals packaged in a spiral-wound paperboard cylinder on a stick can be eaten with one hand.

Initially introduced by Breakaway Foods LLC, Columbus, Ohio, in foodservice outlets, convenience stores and gas station mini marts in New Jersey, central Pennsylvania and northern Virginia, distribution is expanding geographically and into retail and club store channels. “We’re gearing up to handle substantially higher volume than originally anticipated, and we had high expectations,” says Bob Berman, Breakaway president and inventor of IncrEdibles. The product, which is distributed frozen in 24-count cases, can be warmed via heat/hold equipment, hot dog rollers or microwave oven, and there are no dishes to wash.

The 5 3/8-inch-long, 1.5-inch-diameter cylinder holds 4.5 ounces of product and features a piston-action plastic base on one end and a heat-sealed paper lid on the other. After microwave heating for two minutes if frozen or one minute if thawed, consumers snap a plastic push-up stick onto the hub of the plastic base, peel away the heat-released lid, push on the stick to raise the food over the edge of the cylinder and eat it like a Popsicle.

Fruit To Go

Perfect for school, work lunches, picnics and other outings are shelf-stable, single-serving, 4-ounce bowls of Fruit To-Go from Del Monte Foods Co., San Francisco.

Clear barrier bowl and lidstock withstand retorting and provide an 18-month shelf life, as well as mouth-watering product visibility. Measuring roughly 3 inches in diameter and 1.75 inches high, bowls are low profile, a shape research indicated consumers preferred. Del Monte logos, embossed at intervals around the upper circumference, maintain brand identity. Tab and easy peel properties of the lid-stock simplify removal.

Vivid seven-color paperboard sleeves hold quartets of bowls stacked in pairs lid to lid, and present all product and nutritional information. Die-cut windows and open ends ensure product can be seen.

Response from retailers and consumers to the line’s four flavors has been extremely positive. Also noteworthy is the fact that sales have not cannibalized Del Monte’s fruit offerings in metal cans. The new line is part of Del Monte’s “strategy to shift toward a higher-margin product mix and drive growth through the introduction of new products with innovative packaging,” says Richard Wolford, Del Monte chief executive officer.

Cup Holder Friendly

Also targeting on-the-go consumption, a consumer-pleasing, single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle is sized to fit vehicle cup holders.

Launched by Welch Foods, Concord, Mass., in February in the vending channel, the 16-ounce bottles for white grape, grape and 100% apple juice are among the first commercial applications of an epoxy/amide barrier coating, which doubles product shelf life compared to monolayer PET.

The hot-filled bottle features a 43-mm, tamper-evident, plastic closure and a film wrap label. It has been well received by the trade and consumers. While Welch’s still offers a 16-ounce glass bottle that provides a longer shelf life, the company envisions continued interest in plastic packaging, says Jeff Brown, director of marketing for the juice maker. The company already has converted its multi-serve juices to PET and switched its frozen juice products to plastic last year.

Although shelf life is a couple of months shorter for the coated PET bottle than for its glass predecessor, “given the high turn rates on [single-serving] products, we don’t feel that will be an issue longterm,” says Brown.

Salad for One

A growing array of ready-to-eat salad mixtures made possible by modified- atmosphere packaging appeal to the consumer who has neither the time nor patience to wash and chop salad ingredients.

One new offering, Salad For You from Noreast Fresh Inc., Chelsea, Mass., a division of Toronto-based SunBlush Technologies Corp., includes tomatoes, which tend to be fragile, and is packed in single-serving trays, perfect for on-the-go consumption.

The key to the product’s 10- to 14-day refrigerated shelf life is a patent-pending package consisting of a two-compartment, clear polyethylene tray and breathable, peelable lidstock. A rounded compartment holds six to eight grape or cherry tomatoes, while the larger section is filled with a pouch of seasoned croutons from Chatham Village Foods, Warebam, Mass., and a 1.5ounce pouch of Ken’s Premium Steakhouse dressing from Ken’s Foods, Marlborough, Mass., as well as the other salad ingredients–iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, shredded carrots and raddichio. “It’s a tasty, pretty salad,” says Jim Bullock, director of quality assurance at Noreast.

On the production line, components are hand loaded and a tray sealer cuts lids from rollstock, flushes each compartment with a tailored oxygen/nitrogen gas mixture and seals lidstock in place. Since lidstock is sealed around the perimeter of each compartment, ethylene emitted by the tomatoes cannot come in contact with the lettuce and cause premature yellowing.

Four SKUs based on salad dressing choices have been available in supermarkets in the Northeast and will soon be seen in mid-Atlantic stores, as well, retailing at about $3.25 each. Although the product originally debuted with tomato wedges, which the consumer bad to cut in bite-size pieces, Noreast has transitioned to what it calls “gourmet” tomatoes (grape or cherry) for their bite-size convenience and because retailers feel they offer a superior appearance.

Meal Kit

After several years of development, Borden Foods Corp., Columbus, Ohio, has launched Classico It’s Pasta Anytime, the company’s first shelf-stable meal solutions product. It includes what’s believed to be the first shelf-stable cooked pasta on the market.

Available in four flavors, the product line was designed to answer consumer dissatisfaction with existing home meal replacements. “This package, product, concept is consumer driven,” says Rod Simpson, manager of package development at Borden. It’s Pasta Anytime provides product visibility, a larger-than-average 15.25-ounce portion, minimal preparation and cooking time and a superior taste. It also eliminates the need for refrigeration or freezer storage.

A rotary thermoformed, green polypropylene tray sealed with clear, peelable lidstock holds pouches of cooked pasta and tomato sauce. Green was chosen because it “is a unique color in the marketplace for food trays,” says Simpson.

The pasta pouch features a tear notch, while the sauce pouch is formed with a spout shape and perforated for easy opening and pouring. Both pouches use the same clear barrier material. This barrier structure and proprietary processing techniques provide a nine-month shelf life.

The sealed tray is packed in a solid-bleached-sulfate sleeve with product-displaying windows. The sleeve is designed to allow trays to be displayed vertically and a locking tab ensures sleeve and tray stay together. Eightcolor graphics communicate freshness.

Borden installed a new line for the product at its facility in Northbrook, Ill. While production details are largely proprietary, the operation does include a vertical form-fill-seal machine to fill the pasta, an off-line vertical form-fill-seal machine for the sauce and four types of coders. A thermal transfer unit codes the pasta pouch and alerts the consumer to its opening notch. The sauce pouch is hot stamped, the tray is inkjet printed, and the sleeve is laser coded with a “best before” date.

Fun Food

Few kids can resist cookies when they come in a reclosable, stand-up pouch shaped like Ernie, the head elf at Keebler, Elmhurst, Ill.

In addition to capturing attention on store shelves, the 7-ounce, zipper pouches for cinnamon- and honey-flavored Elf Grahams can be turned into puppets once all the cookies have been eaten. High-impact front and back graphics showcase different elfin characters.

The custom die-cut shape, the first on the market, and reusability earned the pouch one of the 1999 Top Packaging Awards from the Flexible Packaging Association, Washington, DC. The shaped pouch re-energizes the brand, creates awareness with consumers and builds equity in the Ernie character.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Cahners Publishing Company

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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