The continuing power of paperboard packaging

Versatile, recyclable, colorful and cost-effective , folding cartons have a long track record of service to the food industry

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Paperboard packaging has been a mainstay of the food industry for generations. It sometimes gets taken for granted despite continual advances in production, coating, ink and printing technologies. But these technical advances are being put to good marketing advantage by savvy food packagers.

A broad spectrum of food packages , from cereal and snack boxes to prepared dry mix and frozen food cartons to multi-pack and club store-size containers , represents the majority of annual paperboard packaging sales. Specifically, the food industry accounts for approximately 53 percent of the U.S. paperboard folding carton market (59 percent based on tonnage). The Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), Alexandria, Va. (, projects $9.0 billion in overall paperboard folding carton sales (not limited to food industry applications) for 2004.

In the U.S., about 300 companies operating almost 500 plants serve the food industry's voracious appetite for paperboard packaging. The top 10 suppliers , Graphic Packaging Corp. (Riverwood recently merged with Graphic Packaging), MeadWestvaco, Smurfit-Stone, International Paper, Rock-Tenn, Field Container, Gulf States Paper, Caraustar, Simpkins Industries and Specialized Paper Group , account for approximately 67 percent of projected overall 2004 folding carton sales.

According to the PPC, more than 50 percent of paperboard folding cartons are made from recycled paper from such sources as old newspapers, office paper, corrugated containers, and original paperboard folding cartons. The council also notes many post-consumer paperboard folding cartons are used as recycle content to produce such products as shipping cases, mailing tubes and card backs for blister packages.

Compatible with a variety of coating, printing, embossing, stamping, forming and sealing technologies, paperboard provides food packagers with the versatility they need to create unique, high-profile, sales-enhancing containers. The following are some recent notable examples of highly successful applications of paperboard packaging for food products.

Microwave popcorn box challenges bags
Family Time Snacks Inc., Valparaiso, Ind., teamed with packaging materials supplier Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. (, Chicago, and packaging equipment engineers/manufacturers AFA Systems Ltd. (, Georgetown, Ontario, to create a novel microwave popcorn package. Recipient of both the President's Award and the Innovation Award in the 2004 National Paperboard Packaging Competition sponsored by PPC, the new container concept consists of an outer five-color printed paperboard carton with an inner paper-based pouch (incorporating microwave susceptor material) glued within the carton.

Family Time Snacks is recording weekly sales increases with its bag-in-box microwave popcorn.

The pouch is formed, filled and sealed from roll stock on the AFA machine; the AFA system then glues the filled, sealed pouch to the interior of the folded/erected carton blank before the carton is closed. Finally, the carton is over-wrapped with clear film to finish the package. For special promotions, inserts such as coupons can be placed under the clear film as the over-wrapping step is executed.

The consumer removes the over-wrap, pulls carton tabs according to instructions on the special fluoro-chemically treated box (which is grease- and heat-resistant with reinforced corner structures to block oil leaks) and places the carton in a microwave oven to pop the corn. Consumers can eat the prepared popcorn right from the convenient, easy-to-handle, bag-in-carton package.

"Limited market tests of this new microwave popcorn package in Indiana and the greater Chicago area have met with very favorable consumer response," says Ron Leskiw, director of sales and marketing for Family Time.

"Sales have been increasing on a weekly basis. Right now, we are producing about one million packages per month," he continues. "We hope to be moving into broader market areas in the near future, as we work with our packaging systems suppliers to make refinements in the operation of the AFA beta-test packaging machine to increase production capacity."

Hologram heightens shelf visibility

Minneapolis-based General Mills allied with Graphic Packaging Corp. (www., Marietta, Ga., to create unique cartons for its limited edition, honey-sweetened puffed corn breakfast cereal Yu-Gi-Oh. The packaging, based on an animated Japanese video game of the same name, garnered a 2004 PPC Award of Excellence.

General Mills gained a point-of-purchase visual impact advantage with limited-edition packaging of Yu-Gi-Oh! cereal. The boxes use rotogravure graphics reverse-printed on the inside of thin, flexible, transparent, holographic film.

The cereal cartons are manufactured at Graphic Packaging's Lawrenceburg, Tenn., plant, using a multi-patented process called Composipac. The process incorporates rotogravure graphics reverse-printed on the inside of thin, flexible, transparent, holographic film. Because the graphics are printed on interior film walls, they resist scuffing and abrasion during transport and shelf stocking.

The film is vacuum-metallized behind the inks and then extrusion-laminated to the paperboard. Transparent portions of the carton graphics enable the metallization to appear through the film, producing a holographic effect that catches consumers' eyes in the crowded cereal aisle. Composipac cartons also provide aroma and moisture barriers and increased structural durability. Limited-edition, collectible cereal boxes (for example, the Wheaties Olympic Champions boxes) provide a point-of-purchase, visual-impact marketing advantage and generally have a proven track record of attracting increased sales.

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