In addition to its functional role, packaging can help make prepared foods tastier and more attractive to shoppers.
By Craig Levitt
At its most basic, packaging is simply a means of transportation for rotisserie chickens, salads and other prepared foods. But it can also serve to entice consumers with attractive and innovative materials that highlight and even enhance the quality of the food.
According to industry observers, the role that packaging plays in generating sales, as well as the type of packaging available to retailers—paper or plastic—continues to expand.
As consumers and retailers are continually looking for ways to lower their carbon footprint, some observers say that as time goes by packaging is likely to shift from the more common plastics to paper board and fiber-based packages when applicable. Beyond sustainability, improved technology has made fibers and paperboard more comparable to plastic.
“Obviously, plastic is used for cost, safety and barrier reasons, but paper is making a much stronger stand,” says Barak Bright, director of marketing for Chicago-based BagcraftPapercon, provider of paper-based flexible foodservice packaging in North America. “There are now a lot of treatments that can be put on paper for [protection] and consumers really like the artisan or homemade look of fiber or paper-based packages.”
Bright says that in addition to the advancements made, BagcraftPapercon has developed packaging that can improve the taste of certain items—rotisserie chicken for one.
He explains that because BagcraftPapercon products use a technology that allows the food to breathe, the moisture escapes—unlike in a rigid plastic container—and the chicken is able to reabsorb its juices, providing a more flavorful product for the consumer.
“Our favorite thing is setting up taste tests,” says Bright. “We sample a chicken from our package and a plastic container. The difference becomes clear very quickly. [These bags] have taken many years to develop and they look like extremely simplistic packaging, but there is a lot of science behind them. It is so much more than just a bag with a window.”
BagcraftPapercon does more than develop packaging for rotisserie chicken. Bright says baked goods that require a crust also perform well in paper packaging as do deli items and fried foods. In bakery for example, it is vital that packaging be able to ensure freshness. To do so BagcraftPapercon bakery bags feature tin ties, which Bright says helps keep product fresher longer. Last month BagcraftPapercon launched Dubl Shield, a sandwich wrap with a high grease and moisture barrier that is also insulated to keep food warm.
Also offering fiber-based packaging solutions, primarily for milk and juice products, is Evergreen Packaging, part of Reynolds Group Holdings Limited, a global manufacturer and supplier of consumer food and beverage packaging and storage products. According to Erin Reynolds, senior marketing manager, dairy, the company’s Tru-Taste Barrier Board is designed to extend shelf life and package durability, can be customized to meet products’ needs for freshness and is eco-friendly.
In fact it is Memphis, Tenn.-based Evergreen’s commitment to sustainability through the use of renewable resources and energy and promotion of carton recycling that Reynolds believes sets the company apart. With certification from leading independent organizations for forestry, more than 70% of Evergreen’s cartons are made from paper using trees from responsibly-managed forests.
She also says that Evergreen’s proprietary barrier technologies combined with its paperboard expertise create a carton package that helps extend a product’s shelf-life while adding maximum opportunity to showcase a brand and provide the information on nutrition and sustainability consumers are looking for. “Evergreen Packaging has a number of innovations in process, all designed to delight consumers and meet their growing expectations regarding the look, functionality and sustainability of packaging,” says Reynolds. “Different products have different freshness requirements. We provide totally integrated, scientifically driven customized solutions, from paperboard to proprietary barrier technology to converting and equipment, focused on keeping products fresh.”
Packaging manufacturers are quick to note that as technology continues to evolve, it is important for retailers to stay abreast of all the different packaging options available. Roman Forowycz, chief marketing officer for Elk Grove Village, Ill.,-based Clear Lam Packaging Inc., makers of flexible and rigid plastic packaging, formed containers and rolls of plastic, says new products regularly enter the market designed to make packaging lighter and more efficient. Observers say that retailers should be investigating a packaging’s barrier properties for oxygen and moisture, which are important towards helping extend the shelf life of most products.
Forowycz says that the industry has seen a number of advancements over the past two years. For example, renewable plastics are being developed as alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics and tamper evident systems are replacing shrink bands. Plastics are also becoming more sustainable as well.
“Many of Clear Lam’s new products were designed to be environmentally friendlier,” says Forowycz. “We developed an initiative called Project EarthClear to help bring new environmentally friendly technologies to market.”
Plastic packaging proponents further argue that the best way to grab shoppers’ attention is with packaging that allows the consumer to see as much of the product as possible and the best way to do so is with clear plastics. Herb Knutson, director of marketing for the Shelton, Conn.-based Inline Plastics Corp., believes many more impulse purchases are made, not because of packaging, but because the product itself looks appealing to consumers.
“In addition to being able to see the product that they are buying, consumers want to be sure the packaging will adequately protect the product,” says Knutson.
Inline has addressed these needs with its Safe-T-Fresh line of clear clamshell packaging. The product line is available in rectangular 8-, 12-, 16-, 24-, 32-, 35-, 48- and 64-ounce containers and round 8-, 12-, 16-, 18-, 24- and 32-ounce containers. Safe-T-Fresh is designed for fresh cut fruit, deli and bakery packaging and features a tear strip molded into the hinge so once the container is closed it cannot be opened without first removing the tear strip. In addition to the round and rectangular packaging, Inline Plastics also offers Safe-T-Fresh containers called Hangables, which feature a built-in hang tab for display at checkout or on end caps.
“This tamper-resistant and tamper-evident feature provides a comfort level for the consumer that the product has not been tampered with prior to them opening the package,” says Knutson.
He adds that Inline Plastics also uses recycled material, called DPET, that is made using a unique proprietary process that uses less energy than conventional methods. The material produces clear virgin sheets with a carbon footprint that is as low as recycled PET sheet made with 50% post consumer material.
“The advantage is that DPET sheet is clearer and less brittle than recycled sheet, but with the same environmental benefits,” says Knutson.
Offering environmentally friendly products has always been a high priority for Mettler Packaging, based in Southington, Conn. According to Wolfgang Trossen, Mettler Packaging’s director of U.S. operations, that dedication to the environment has not prevented the company from offering its clients with the most comprehensive range of paper and plastic products.
“As we have a wide product range we are able to meet all the needs of modern retail business,” says Trossen. “For example in a grocery store we can offer a complete package—checkout bags, deep freeze bags, thermal bags, bread bags—and because all of our products are customizable, we have the advantage of meeting the tailored requests from our customers.”