Freezer to microwave
For convenience products designed to be cooked and consumed at home, packaging often targets ease of preparation. This extends to heating and/or serving the product in the package, which also simplifies clean-up.
Earlier this year, Birds Eye Foods (www.birdseyefoods.com), Rochester, N.Y., launched its Steamfresh (birdseyesteamfresh.com) line of frozen vegetables. The products cook in the 12-oz., flexible Steamfresh pouch. Graphics and text on the package communicate the microwave-in-package feature at a glance.
Birds Eye Foods' Steamfresh line of frozen vegetables goes from freezer to the microwave, where the bag blows up like a balloon to perfectly cook the veggies.
The initial Steamfresh launch included nine plain vegetables and vegetable mixtures. Since then, Birds Eye has added four seasoned-vegetable offerings to the line-up.
The key component of the package is the film, which incorporates a patented steaming technology. Excelsior Technologies Ltd. UK (www.exceltechuk.com), Flintshire County, England, supplies the film.
In addition to providing fool-proof cooking via five-minute microwaving, the package offers the ultimate in healthy convenience. "Today's harried consumers don't have a ton of time, but they want to eat more vegetables," says Josh Weinstein, senior brand manager at Birds Eye.
"Here you have an opportunity to take our bag right out of the freezer, throw it in the microwave, hit five, and you don't have to manage the cooking process," he adds. "Consumers have told us time and again, 'Thank you so much. You're enabling me to get more vegetables into my diet and into my family's diet through the convenience of this package.' "
Jim Wrobel, account strategist at Racine, Wis.-based Design North Inc. (www.designnorth.com), which designed the Steamfresh package, adds, "We consumers all have far less time to do all the things we need to do - especially feed ourselves. The convenience benefit of the Birds Eye Steamfresh vegetables was a significant driver of this project." The package concept "really is a new paradigm for the category," he adds.
Steamfresh complements the Birds Eye Steam & Serve Tray, which launched last year. Steam & Serve also uses a microwave steaming technology, but in a rigid package structure. The chef-inspired, vegetables-in-sauce Steam & Serve products were developed to be both cooked and served in the package.
A fresh approach
Dole gives consumers not just the vegetables but also the cooking vessel with its breathable microwave-ready bag.
For fresh produce, Dole Fresh Vegetables Co. (www.dole.com) Salinas, Calif., has introduced a patent-protected, breathable microwave-ready bag for washed, trimmed asparagus. The company markets the product as Dole Restaurant Ready Asparagus to foodservice operators and is planning to launch a retail version of the product.
Already available at retail are microwaveable fresh vegetables from Del Monte Fresh Produce (www.freshdelmonte.com), Coral Gables, Fla. The company uses the Cryovac Simple Steps produce package from Sealed Air Corp. (www.sealedair.com), Elmwood Park, N.J., for the products.
The consumer places the rigid Cryovac tray in the microwave, without peeling or puncturing the film lidding. As the package heats, the film expands to form a bubble, then the film automatically vents and relaxes over the vegetables. After cooling the package for one minute, the consumer peels off the film and can serve the steamed vegetables in the plastic tray.
Del Monte's microwavable vegetable line includes Baby Carrots, Vegetable Medley and Mixed Vegetable. Each comes in a 12-oz. family portion and a 5- or 6-oz. single-serve size. "Trends show that consumers are looking for great-tasting, healthy, convenient foods," says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing, Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A.
Convenience may be king, but consumers are not willing to sacrifice food quality on its behalf. In some cases, a switch of packaging materials is all that's needed to safeguard flavor profiles or extend shelf life.
To better protect the quality of its Knorr and Lipton dried-mix products, Unilever Foods North American Savory Division (www.unileverusa.com), Englewood Cliffs, N.J., switched from a foil-based substrate to a material designed for superior moisture and oxygen barrier.
After more than 30 years of using paper-polyethylene-foil-polyethylene pouches for Knorr and Lipton mixes, Unilever replaced the foil with a technologically advanced metallized, biaxially oriented polypropylene film.
And, he adds, "Retailers are constantly looking for products that keep their stores on the cutting edge. To be competitive they have to offer alternatives that are appealing to their customer base and easy to prepare. With our new line of microwaveables they can. The new film and packing system offers a quick way of cooking vegetables while maintaining all the taste of freshly prepared vegetables."