Fast and Easy is the Packaging Imperative

At home and on the go, fast and easy is the packaging imperative. New innovations provide single-serve solutions for products ranging from vegetables to wine.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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Consumer desire for convenience continues to drive food packaging innovation. From wine in single-serve "juice boxes" to microwavable franks, processors are coming up with impressive new ways to deliver convenience at home or on the run.

For on-the-go products, packaging that makes it easier to transport, open and consume the product is becoming more prevalent. The size of this market is a motivating factor. According to London-based Datamonitor (www.datamonitor.com), the U.S. market for out-of-home food and drink consumption was worth $515 billion in 2005.

For products used at home, such as frozen foods or dried goods, packaging is more often designed to make the product easier to prepare, serve and/or store. Cook-in packaging, in particular, is on the upswing.

Convenient quenchers

Convenience products and packaging are making it easy for consumers to enjoy beverages of all kinds, wherever and whenever thirst strikes. Single-serving packaging is even making inroads in the wine market.

"Single-serve as a category in wine has been growing quickly - close to 20 percent last year," says Charles Bieler, co-founder of the winery Three Thieves (www.threethieves.com), St. Helena, Calif. Three Thieves markets its Bandit wines in single-serving 250-ml Tetra Prisma aseptic packs from Tetra Pak (www.tetrapakusa.com), Vernon Hills, Ill.

Bandit is sold in four-packs, and varietals include Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon. Three Thieves plans to launch White Zinfandel in the single-serving package, as well.

Bandit's aseptic packaging eliminates the need for a corkscrew, makes it possible to drink a single portion of wine without opening a bottle, eliminates the risk of cork taint and is much lighter to transport and safer than glass.

Aseptic also was the packaging technology of choice for a breakthrough product in the coffee category. Stomping Grounds Beverage Co. (www.stompinggrounds.com), Portland, Ore., is marketing its cold-press espresso concentrate in 32-oz. Tetra Brik cartons from Tetra Pak.

The product offers a convenient alternative to making lattes with an espresso machine. The consumer simply adds the espresso concentrate to milk and heats the latte on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Because Stomping Grounds is positioned as a high-quality alternative to powdered latte mixes, packaging that assured product quality was essential. Through market research, Stomping Grounds learned that aseptic packaging "connotes freshness. That freshness call-out was big to me," says Sean Ryan, Stomping Grounds' president. "I wanted to distinguish my product from the powdered alternatives. I wanted consumers to view it more as fresh espresso with coffee shop appeal."

"The demand for convenience is affecting packaging in two ways," says Chris Voght, strategic alliance manager for Toray Plastics (America) Inc. (www.torayfilms.com.), North Kingstown, R.I. "One is smaller packaging formats that target the on-the-go consumer. The other is packaging that addresses portion control, either through a smaller package or a resealable package that lets consumers take what they want and reclose the package so the product doesn't become stale."

Recloseable zippers, long familiar on packaging for lunch meat and shredded cheese, are starting to appear more regularly on other products and larger package sizes. In all cases, the convenience of storing left-over product in the package is a driver.

"In our focus groups, consumers have talked about a lot of potential products they would consider buying in a flexible package," says Bob Hogan, director of international sales and marketing for Zip-Pak (www.zippak.com), a division of ITW based in Manteno, Ill. He cites pineapple rings as a classic example because of the one or two rings inevitably left over after opening the can.

Even soup is a candidate for flexible, resealable packaging. "There was a company that introduced a hot-filled soup, and although it was intended to be a single-serve product, they put a zipper on it because one of their target markets was the elderly," Hogan recalls.

Among dry foods, Malt-O-Meal cereal is packaged in a flexible bag with a press-to-seal zipper; Sanitarium cereals are similarly packaged in Australia and New Zealand. Even pouches for retorted products such as tuna can be equipped with zippers. Zip-Pak has developed a high-temperature zipper that is compatible with retorting.

Also within the realm of flexible packaging, single-serving stick packs are becoming a standard for powdered beverages like Crystal Light On The Go from Kraft Foods (www.kraftfoods.com), Northfield, Ill. Sonoco supplies the film for Crystal Light stick packs.

Flexible package structures such as flat bottom bags are finding more applications, as well. This type of package, when opened, acts as a serving container for the product.

Among rigid containers, cupholder-friendly cups and canisters continue to define convenience packaging for the drive-and-nosh crowd. Products include drinks, soups and dry products such as cookies and chips.

Frito-Lay (www.fritolay.com) Plano, Texas, developed the Go Snacks rigid canister specifically for on-the-go snacking. The Go Snacks package fits car cupholders and features a lid that doubles as a serving cup. The company has used the package for its Cheetos, Doritos and Funyuns snacks.

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