The Many Benefits of Paperboard Packaging

Paperboard packaging provides perks ranging from better microwave cooking to earth-friendliness.

By Kate Bertrand

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The packaging for DiGiorno Microwave Thin Crispy Crust pizza does not include a crisping ring. For this product, the tray is die cut with circular holes as well as a pattern of slits to ensure proper cooking. Both the tray and the product are square. In contrast, the Rising Crust pie, tray and susceptor ring are circular.

Paperboard takes shape

Innovative package structures and paperboard molding technologies also are offering food processors new packaging options. Rock-Tenn (www.rocktenn.com), Norcross, Ga., has developed a technique for press-forming paperboard trays extruded with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or another thermoplastic polymer.

Trade-named Formations, the press-formed trays are dual ovenable and can be created in the form of geometric shapes, brand figures/logos or holiday-identified shapes such as a bunny, star or heart. The trays can be printed with full-color graphics for branding punch, and the shapes differentiate brands at retail.

For some paperboard packages, traditional techniques such as die cutting, gluing and folding are being deployed in new ways to create shapes that are both striking and functional. The Labatt Blue Tailgate'r package, for example, provides beer drinkers with a way to chill and transport 28 cans of beer without using a cooler.

Labatt Brewing Co. (www.labatt.com), London, Ontario, worked with Atlanta-based MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems (www.meadwestvaco.com) to design the six-piece package, which is made of 18- and 27-point MeadWestvaco Coated Natural Kraft board. The Tailgate'r can be packed with ice; a bag liner catches the runoff.

A reinforced plastic handle makes the package easy to carry, and a tear-away section provides access to the product and a place to add ice. In addition, the package's divider inserts are perforated for transformation into coasters at the time of use. The six-sided, cylindrical Tailgate'r won the President's Award in the PPC's 2005 National Paperboard Packaging Competition.

Bandwagon for recycled board

On the materials side, the current crop of recycled paperboard is drawing food processors' interest because recycled products offer good machineability, printability and product protection at a lower price than virgin board.

"There is a trend toward recycled paperboard packaging, and it's primarily cost driven," says Tony Petrelli, vice president of marketing and business development with Caraustar Industries Inc. (www.caraustar.com) at the company's Digital Imaging Center in Cleveland. "The manufacturers of recycled paperboard have done a very effective job in recent years of developing effective, functional board grades and alternatives to virgin substrates for many applications — with a specific focus on the refrigerator and freezer environments."

He cautions that recycled board may not be acceptable for certain direct food contact applications, particularly in the frozen food category. However, if the package includes an internal structure such as a pouch, bag or enclosed inner container, recycled paperboard cartons can be used for frozen foods.

Cole's Quality Foods' used a recycled top sheet to reduce packaging costs for its Texas Toast club store pack carton.

A variation is to use a recycled top sheet laminated to the carton's exterior. For example, the Cole's Texas Toast club store pack carton is made of single-face, E-flute corrugated board laminated to a 12-point recycled top sheet. The item is a product of Cole's Quality Foods Inc. (www.coles.com), Grand Rapids, Mich.

Cole's use of a recycled top sheet drove down packaging costs without sacrificing print quality. The top sheet is printed in five colors using sheet-fed offset and treated with an aqueous coating. Caraustar supplies the packaging, which won an Excellence Award in the PPC's 2005 National Paperboard Packaging Competition.

More shelf-stable products are moving into recycled paperboard packaging. For its promotional Shrek 2 cereal box, General Mills Inc. (www.generalmills.com), Minneapolis, used 24-point, 100 percent recycled clay-coated news board.

Intriguingly, the carton is printed with images of Shrek 2 characters that can be heat-transferred to a piece of clothing. This eliminated the need to attach a separate iron-on decal to the carton or to pack it with the product. The package, supplied by Zumbiel Packaging (www.zumbiel.com), Cincinnati, won a Gold Award in the PPC's 2005 National Paperboard Packaging Competition.

Blue Diamond Growers (www.bluediamond.com), Sacramento, Calif., earlier this year switched from virgin to recycled paperboard cartons for its Blue Diamond Natural Nut-Thins Nut & Rice Crackers. The product, which is sold in sold in natural foods stores and aisles, has a devoted, environmentally conscious customer base.

"Many of our loyal customers asked for recycled packaging," says Jennifer Pfanner, marketing manager. By switching to recycled packaging, Nut-Thins has become "a more environmentally friendly product," she adds.

Pfanner points out that natural foods consumers, more so than other customers, read the information on packages before buying. Therefore, the back panel of the Nut-Thins cartons sports the logo of the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance to communicate Blue Diamond's use of earth-friendly materials.

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