Time-pressed consumers, smaller households, the national obsession with health and wellness and food safety concerns are encouraging new product formats and packaging styles for meat and poultry.
The conventional film-wrapped foam tray remains one of many options -- but gaining ground quickly are individually wrapped portions, tear-apart flexible packs that let the consumer cook a little or a lot, tray/pouch combinations and stand-up pouches.
Further, fresh meat is far from the only game in town. Fully cooked products are a staple in a growing number of homes as families look for something easy to prepare. And the packaging must reinvent itself just as quickly as the products.
To provide parents with a quick and snack-like product that is not only convenient but also healthy and tasty, Pilgrim's Pride Corp. (www.pilgrimspride.com), Pittsburg, Texas, has extended its EatWellStayHealthy line of chicken products to include EatWellStayHealthy Kids frozen products. EatWellStayHealthy Kids comes in two fully cooked varieties: breaded chicken breast nuggets and breaded popcorn chicken. Launched in January, the product is now in national distribution.
The package is a reverse printed stand-up pouch with resealable zipper. Pilgrim's Pride top-loads the pre-formed pouches, which have a filled net weight of 24 oz. In addition to providing convenient freezer storage and easy preparation, the product offers harried parents a nutritious alternative to snacks or fast food.
"We've had a lot of really positive comments, like, 'Thanks for giving me the option of a convenience product that is actually healthy for my kids,'" says Dan Emery, vice president of marketing.
The company reports the EatWellStayHealthy Kids packaging is the first to feature the USDA-regulated word "healthy" on the packaging. The package bears the American Heart Assn. "heart check-mark" seal of approval and the Child Nutrition Labeling icon, as well. Child Nutrition Labeling is a voluntary federal labeling program for the USDA's Child Nutrition Programs.
In the refrigerated, fully cooked chicken category, Tyson Foods Inc. (www.tyson.com), Springdale, Ark., this spring relaunched its popular Tyson Oven Roasted Chicken product line. According to the company, the revamped products offer more convenient packaging, improved food safety, extended shelf-life and improved merchandising.
The preservative-free products are packaged in a transparent, vacuum-sealed pouch within a rigid tray, and both the inner and outer packages provide easy-open features.
"There were three primary considerations from the consumer standpoint that drove every decision we made around the relaunch: taste, convenience and health," says Karren Peters, director of marketing at Tyson.
In addition to protecting the products' flavor profile, the new packaging incorporates an Easy Peel Tab on the outer film for easy opening. To use the product, the consumer opens the outer package, removes the pouch and vents the easy-open pouch prior to cooking in a microwave or conventional oven.
Text on the package emphasizes the healthiness of the products, including their no-preservatives status. "We heard from consumers this was an important attribute for them, so we called that out on the package," Peters says. In addition, a "Heat 'N Eat Entrees" graphic emphasizes the products' easy preparation.
The relaunched products are pasteurized using a proprietary post-packaging technology that increases food safety. According to Tyson, the pasteurization increases product shelf life from 14 days to 45 days. That's happy news for retailers; the longer shelf life promises to reduce shrink and markdowns, thereby improving profitability. In addition, the new vertical packaging format lets retailers present 25 to 35 percent more package facings in the refrigerated case.
Others in the industry are expanding the definition of convenient packaging to include portion sizes geared to small households. "Due to changing demographics, consumers are demanding smaller portion sizes," says Mark Franzreb, director of new business development-North America for Sealed Air's Cryovac brand (www.cryovac.com), Duncan, S.C.
Franzreb adds, "If you're an empty nester or a single parent or you just have a smaller family in general, you may not want to purchase the larger packages. You may want to purchase smaller portions and then have the option of either using those or freezing them."
Wegmans Food Markets (www.wegmans.com), Rochester, N.Y., has expanded on the success of its proprietary Keeps Fresh vacuum packaging for meat by offering a club pack of fresh strip steaks in Keeps Fresh packaging. Each steak is individually sealed within the vacuum pack, so consumers can cut off a single portion if that's all they want to cook.