Flexible Packaging Leads the Way

Retortable, microwaveable pouches and flexible packs that can 'breathe' are leading the way.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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Curwood also has come out with a self-venting stand-up pouch, a vertical form-fill-seal steam-in bag and a skin-pack format. The last teams a dual-ovenable tray with lidding film that expands during cooking to create a steam-in dome. Prior to cooking, the film conforms tightly to the food, holding it in place and enhancing its appearance.

 

Note to Marketing

Masterfoods USA (www.masterfoods.com), Hackettstown, N.J., has doubled the branding and promotional real estate available on its Snickers bar wrappers thanks to technology developed in conjunction with Bemis Flexible Packaging's Oshkosh, Wis.-based Milprint division (www.milprint.com).

For its Snickers bars, Masterfoods has successfully created a fin-seal wrapper on which the entire back panel is available for promotional messages. On the first commercial example of the package, "Snickers" appears on the front of the wrapper, as usual, and "Satisfies," rendered in the same type size and style, appears on the back.

To free up the back panel, Masterfoods and Milprint developed a method for printing the UPC code in the transverse direction on the side of the wrapper and also moved the ingredients declaration information into a box on the underside of the fin.

The wrapper is made of the same oriented polypropylene film as in the past, running at the same line speed. Masterfoods reports it is considering using this breakthrough technology for other brands and for additional Snickers promotions.

 

Recloseable devices such as zippers and pressure-sensitive devices also are evolving to offer more convenience. One new format for fin-seal packages uses zipper technology from Zip-Pak (www.zippak.com), Manteno, Ill., to enable opening and resealing down the center of the package.

The design offers a wider opening and easier access to the product. An easy-open strip above the zipper eliminates the need for scissors when opening the bag initially, and a patented peel-seal feature below the zipper acts as a hermetic barrier to extend product shelf life and provide tamper evidence.

Prior to this technological development, zippers could only be integrated into the short side of a fin-seal package, which meant the consumer had to pull the enclosed tray out of the package to access the product. Performed repeatedly, this action can damage delicate products like cookies and crackers.

The right atmosphere

Not surprisingly, consumers want more than convenience and ease of use in a flexible package. They also want food that tastes good, so the package must protect the product's flavor profile and overall integrity. For produce items, films that "breathe" are one way to achieve these goals.

Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio Inc. (www.apioinc.com), a Landec Corp. subsidiary, uses its proprietary BreatheWay membrane on pouches of Apio Eat Smart fresh pre-cut vegetables to create a package atmosphere suited to the respiration rates of various products, including broccoli, cauliflower and snow peas.

Unlike modified atmosphere packaging, the BreatheWay technology does not use gas flushing of filled packages; instead, the membrane regulates the atmosphere inside the package by controlling how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are transmitted into and out of the package.

"The product ripens at a much slower rate during shipping," explains Cali Tanguay, a business development specialist at Apio. "Once you take it out of the package it respires normally and ripens normally." The result is naturally extended shelf life and higher quality taste, smell and appearance of the product.

BreatheWay membranes with various selectivity ratios are available. The selectivity ratio refers to the permeability of oxygen and carbon dioxide across the membrane. By using a membrane with a carbon dioxide-to-oxygen ratio suited to the product's natural respiration rate, the food packager can slow ripening.

The membrane also is available with an optional temperature-switch feature that compensates for moderate temperature fluctuations during transportation. The switch increases the membrane's permeability when the temperature rises, compensating for the product's faster respiration rate at the higher temperature.

Chiquita Brands International Inc. (www.chiquita.com), Cincinnati, is using the BreatheWay technology for bananas distributed to convenience stores under the trade name Chiquita to Go. Boxes of 22 single bananas are shipped to the stores in a corrugated container holding a flexible package outfitted with the membrane.

Tanguay says the bananas arrive in "pristine" condition-which is exactly what convenience-store customers, who may be paying as much as 75 cents per banana, demand. The packaging technology reportedly extends the bananas' shelf life by four days or more.

Chiquita also is in test market with a second application of the membrane technology: Chiquita Fresh and Ready. In this case, three bananas are packed in a rigid plastic tray covered with flexible lidding that incorporates the membrane.

Chiquita Fresh and Ready bananas, which are distributed to supermarkets, also carry a premium price over traditional bananas. The premise is that each of the three bananas will be at its prime for consumption, in contrast to the usual problem of overly green bananas at the time of purchase and overly ripe bananas several days later.

Apio reports it is currently working to extend the breathable-membrane technology further. It is working with produce packagers to create case liners for tomatoes and melons as well as consumer-size packages for tomatoes and tropical fruit.

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