Food Packaging Offers Multi-tasking Performance

Product protection sometimes is the only mission of food packages. More often, it’s only the start.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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In Australia and the UK, the company uses high-density polyethylene (HDPE) jugs. In May’s rollout in southern California, a2 used half-gallon gable-tops, partly because four printable panels provide room to tell the a2 story but primarily because of the association with other alternative dairy products.

According to Erin Reynolds, marketing manager for Memphis-based Evergreen Packaging, 95 percent of organic and plant-based milk beverages are sold in paperboard gable-top packages, with the balance using conventional HDPE jugs.

“Paper cartons are gaining momentum,” she maintains, aided by the material’s “eco-friendly” image. (Evergreen’s paperboard does not contain any recycled content, Reynolds says, and the polymer coating must be stripped before it can be pulped for recycling.) “Many of the up-and-coming milk substitutes clearly have chosen cartons,” she adds.

No breeding programs or technology is involved in producing a2 Milk. “In any given dairy herd, anywhere from the high 20s to 40 percent of the cows will produce milk with only the a2 protein,” explains Smith. “With just a hair off the tail of the cow” a DNA test will identify them. Additional validation is done in production, but from that initial identification, the milk from those cows is segregated, mirroring the supply-chain controls for organic milk.

Smith expects retailers will merchandise cartons of a2 Milk adjacent to their organic milk. And with the carton format, “we can tell a lot more of the brand story,” he says.

Separation, not association, from existing packaging systems is the goal in the seafood category. Norway-based Marine Harvest Group hopes to accomplish that with Rebel Fish, the company’s first U.S. brand initiative. There are seven varieties of the 6-oz. salmon portions, each with a different seasoning packet for use as a rub before popping the portion into a microwave for 90 seconds.

Vacuum-skin film extends shelf life sufficiently to allow Marine Harvest to distribute a never-frozen product, according to Racheal Aguirre, brand manager. Introduced in 2014, the over-wrap is undergoing an update, with a bigger window to show off the salmon and printing of a “36g protein” nutritional callout.

Rebel uses Cryovac Darfresh 10K OTR film, which generally extends refrigerated shelf life 2-4 days, according to Sean Brady, market development manager at Sealed Air. OTR is short for oxygen transmission rate. To avoid an anaerobic environment where clostridium botulinum can thrive, particularly at refrigerated temperatures, the FDA requires entry of 10,000cc’s of oxygen per 100 sq. in. over a 24-hour period. Sealed Air’s specialized film was introduced several years ago, but because it requires specialized packaging equipment, adoption has been slow. As fish processors invest in replacement machinery, says Brady, that’s beginning to change.

New Bedford, Mass.-based Pier Fish Co. Inc. commissioned the necessary equipment this year and introduced vacuum-skin packaging at the Seafood Expo in Boston. The 105-year-old family firm, which distributes the product frozen, made the investment because of the retailer issues it addresses, according to COO Scott Bode. For example, Tops supermarkets that lack a full-service seafood counter can store product frozen, then slack off units as needed for placement in self-service seafood cases, reducing out-of-code issues.

“It’s working for us,” Bode reports, “and it’s gotten more and more acceptance because it eliminates a lot of shrink.”

Through freeze and thaw cycles, Pier Fish’s vacuum pouches do the job of protecting the product, but the mission scope is broader. Whether it’s meeting retail needs, foodservice preferences or diet sensitivities, today’s food packages are multi-task performers.

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