Food Manufacturers Rethink Flexible Packaging

Processors are rethinking and improving existing products and make new ones possible thanks to advances in pouch packaging.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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When the products were in the old packaging, preparation consisted of removing the sandwich from the pouch, wrapping it in a paper towel, microwaving it on 50 percent power for 1.5 minutes, flipping the sandwich over and heating it for one minute at full power and finally letting it stand for a minute before unwrapping and eating.

“In the new package, you put the pouch in the microwave, paper side down, for anywhere from 80 to 90 seconds. There’s still a stand time, but you don’t have to remove the product [from the package], you don’t have to wrap it, you don’t have to flip it, you don’t have to worry about 50 percent power or full power,” Czarny explains.” There’s no … guessing. You just pop it in, hit a minute-and-a-half, and you’re on your way.”

Schwan’s soft-serve pouch

Schwans ice cream pouch

Schwan Food Co. itself designed this pouch to bring soft-serve ice cream to home consumers. Product comes out of the package in swirls, and the 8-oz. pouch has a reclosable screw cap.

Schwan Food Co., Marshall, Minn., used its packaging ingenuity to develop an unusual package for a new product -- soft-serve ice cream that’s delivered to consumers’ homes via Schwan’s Home Service subsidiary. The package won a gold award for packaging excellence in the 2014 FPA awards competition.

Thanks to Schwan’s package design, the product comes out of the package looking like the swirly ice cream parlor version of soft-serve. The ice cream comes in chocolate and vanilla.

Nominally a single-serving package, the 8-oz. pouch has a reclosable screw cap in case consumers want to save some for a second serving. Unlike many food pouches, this package has no gussets.

The pouch’s “spout has sort of a star shape,” observes Mike Richmond, vice president of consulting solutions at Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions, a division of Havi Global Solutions LLC, Downers Grove, Ill.

The custom-designed spout fitment creates a professional-looking swirl when the consumer squeezes the product out of the pouch. But if preparing a cup or cone of ice cream is too much trouble, “you can squeeze the soft-serve ice cream right into your mouth,” Richmond says. The pouch is shaped like an ice cream cone, with a narrow bottom that makes it easy to grip.

In addition to making soft-serve ice cream more convenient for in-home consumption, the package design provides operational benefits. In particular, Schwan designed the pouch for filling on existing equipment.

That fact, and Schwan’s focus on keeping the package simple and practical in every regard, helped the company get the package to market in less than a year.

Sal Pellingra, vice president of innovation and technology at Cincinnati-based Ampac, which supplies Schwan with the pre-made pouches, gives the brand owner high marks for finding ways to simplify the package and make it a reality as quickly as possible. “You can come up with really cool ideas, but unless you’re taking how you can manufacture it, fill it and produce it all into consideration, it’s just unfeasible.”

Schwan kept all those requirements in mind as it designed the soft-serve package. Pellingra says strong collaboration and abundant communication among the partners on the development team -- Schwan, Ampac and the fitment supplier -- made it possible “to work out the details of the design so that it’s manufacturable, it’s fillable and [it was brought] to market quickly.”

Paperboy Wine

Technically, it's a bag-in-bottle, similar to bag-in-box wine, except the "box" is shaped like a conventional 750-ml wine bottle. The PaperBoy brand deliveris sustainability benefits plus convenience with its hybrid paper/flexible package.

Bag-in-bottle wine

In the wine category, the PaperBoy brand is delivering sustainability benefits plus convenience with its hybrid paper/flexible package. The concept is similar to bag-in-box wine, except the package is shaped like a conventional 750-ml wine bottle.

The PaperBoy package consists of a molded-paper shell and an internal liner, or bladder, made of film. A rigid plastic neck fitment is attached to the liner, and the package is topped with a screw cap.

The shell, neck and cap are all recyclable where appropriate recycling streams exist. The shell also may be composted, because it’s made from undyed, recycled paper fiber and the labels are printed with inks made from natural ingredients. Ecologic Brands Inc., Oakland, Calif., supplies the packaging.

Truett-Hurst Inc., Healdsburg, Calif., makes the PaperBoy wines, which comprise a 2012 Mendocino Chardonnay and a 2012 Paso Robles Red Blend. The package and brand launched nationally at Safeway supermarkets in 2013.

The eco-benefits of the package are noteworthy, as is generally true when comparing flexible packaging to rigid. Stranger & Stranger Ltd., London/New York, which designed the PaperBoy package, estimates it is 85 percent lighter than a glass wine bottle and requires 15 percent as much energy to manufacture.

The lighter weight translates into less fuel use and reduced transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. More packaging supplies can be packed onto trucks supplying Truett-Hurst, as well, because the “bottles are stackable like egg cartons,” says Kevin Shaw, Stranger & Stranger’s founder and creative director.

When the consumer has finished drinking the wine, the PaperBoy bottle is easy to prep for recycling. The package’s back label provides detailed instructions, with line drawings, to teach consumers how to separate the shell from the liner.

In addition to being eco-friendly, the package has several consumer benefits when compared with glass bottles. For example, “you can carry it with you for events that are held outdoors, like picnics,” Shaw says. The package’s light weight makes it easier to tote to the beach or a camp site, and the lack of glass makes it safer than glass for activities like pool parties and tailgating. Plus the PaperBoy package purportedly insulates better than glass.

Clear-bottomed pouches

Progresso Recipe Starter

Like Campbell Soup, General Mills created sauces for home cooking. Also like Campbell, General Mills used a flexible pouch with a transparent bottom gusset.

In product categories where stand-up pouches have become a familiar sight, flexible packaging is changing more subtly.

Kraft and General Mills recently announced that for certain products they will use stand-up pouches that incorporate a transparent bottom gusset. Kraft Foods Group Inc., Northfield, Ill., began rolling out this type of pouch for its Capri Sun drinks in February 2014.

Around the same time, General Mills, Minneapolis, announced a new package for its Progresso Recipe Starters cooking sauces. This one, too, is a clear-bottomed stand-up pouch.

General Mills’ packaging choice reflects a changing look for shelf-stable sauces as a category. Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., launched Campbell’s Skillet Sauces in a clear-bottom stand-up pouch in 2012.

The Progresso Recipe Starters pouches have a shelf life of 12 months, according to General Mills, and each pouch holds 9 oz., or four servings. The product had previously been packaged in cans. The brand owner cites convenience and user-friendliness as primary reasons for switching to a stand-up pouch.

As the proliferation of food and beverage pouches illustrates, flexible packaging is attractive to brand owners and consumers alike. Cost effectiveness, environmental friendliness, convenience and other consumer benefits all contribute to the value proposition.

For this reason, flexible packaging will continue to experience stronger growth than other types of packaging, predicts Mike Richmond, vice president of consulting solutions at Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions, Downers Grove, Ill. “Flexibles [are] riding a pretty nice heyday,” he notes.

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