Innovative Food Packaging Catches the Eye — and More

Savvy structural design adds functionality in new ways.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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Innovative package design, particularly structural design, is driving development of food packaging that attracts consumer attention at retail and delivers more functionality than ever.

New variations on package standbys, such as trays, composite cans, bottles, cartons, tins and aerosol cans, are making it possible for a broad range of products to step into the market looking new and doing more for consumers and retailers alike.

For its new Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers product line, ConAgra Foods Inc. (www.conagrafoods.com), Omaha, Neb., developed a highly functional package structure that provides a good view of the product plus ease of storage and preparation.

The Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers products are shelf-stable entrees developed for workers who eat lunch at their desks. The package design meets consumers’ desire for lunch products that can be stored in their desks, are quick and easy to prepare, taste good and are made from healthy ingredients. 

Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers

ConAgra’s Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers are made for workers who eat lunch at their desks. Sauces and starches and separate but microwavable. The perforated lid acts as a strainer for the pasta products and a steamer for the rice. The overall product is shelf stable.

The package consists of an outer tub holding specially formulated dry pasta or rice, an inner soft tray containing sauce, a perforated lid and a flexible label over the perforations for a sanitary seal until the time of use.

To prepare the product, the consumer removes the retorted sauce tray from the outer tub, peels off the top label — which is printed with cooking instructions — adds water to the fill line and microwaves the pasta or rice. The perforated lid acts as a strainer for the pasta products and a steamer for the rice. The consumer microwaves the sauce pouch and adds the sauce to the pasta or rice. Cook time is 3½-5 minutes.

Separating the ingredients within the package and during preparation helps drive the brand’s fresh-tasting flavor message. In addition, the clarified polypropylene used to injection mold the outer tub creates a window onto the product at the point of purchase.

“The high level of clarity drives the freshness perception,” says Cathy Shapiro, principal packaging engineer in ConAgra’s Research, Quality and Innovation Dept. Berry Plastics Corp. (www.berryplastics.com), Evansville, Ind., supplies the outer tub and green-pigmented strainer lid, and London-based Rexam (www.rexam.com) supplies the sauce tray.

The product, which is merchandised in the soup or pasta aisles, comes in six flavors: Sweet & Sour Chicken, Sesame Teriyaki Chicken, Ziti & Meat Sauce, Rotini & Zesty Marinara Sauce, Southwestern Style Chicken and Szechwan Beef with Asian Style Noodles. 

Target's Archer Farms
Target wanted a remarkable package to announce its entry into store-brand cereals. Sonoco responded with a recloseable composite canister.

Private labelers also are exploring new package structures in efforts to make products more appealing. Minneapolis-based Target (www.target.com) recently blew the cereal category wide open with a recloseable composite cannister for its private-label Archer Farms cereals. Sonoco (www.sonoco.com), Hartsville, S.C., supplies both the container and the overcap for Archer Farms cereal.

The interior of the tall, slender container features an approved food-contact surface, so no inner bag is needed. In addition to providing source reduction, eliminating the bag was a big hit with consumers.
“That’s always the chief complaint consumers have with the traditional bag-in-box cereal package. Everybody hates the bag,” says Derek Trader, market segment manager in Sonoco’s consumer marketing group. “You can’t get it open. Sometimes when you do, it splits down the side and spills cereal all over the place. And you can never get it reclosed properly, so your cereal goes stale in the cupboard.”

The new package addresses all those complaints. Freshness features include a metallized film membrane heat sealed across the top of the container and a snug-fitting, hinged overcap. The container’s multi-layer material also provides barrier properties.

As an added advantage, the package is easier to handle and pour from than conventional cereal boxes. Its oblong shape fits easily in the hand and creates a curved pouring lip. After the consumer has removed the film membrane and started to consume the product, she can peer through a clear dome on the overcap to see how much cereal remains in the container.

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