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Convenience Drives Food Packaging Innovation

Jan. 6, 2014
Convenience features are the focus for packages that enhance ease of use, both at home and on the go.

Convenience features such as easy opening, reclosability, portability and one-handed use continue to drive food-packaging innovation for a range of processed foods, including entrees, snacks and even foodservice products.

To make microwave cooking of chilled and frozen entrees even easier than it already is -- and to improve palatability, to boot -- microwave-packaging supplier Shieltronics, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has created a multi-compartment tray that enables microwaving of vastly different foods with no time-outs to stir the contents or spoon sauce over them.

Brand owner Conveni, Liessel, The Netherlands, will launch Qizini-brand refrigerated entrees in the package this May. The injection-molded, dual-compartment Qizini tray will contain a fresh vegetable in one compartment and a ready-to-cook protein and starch (fish and potatoes, for example) in the other.

“The use of separate compartments prevents the mixture of taste and aroma and allows an optimal heating of the different food components," explains Hans Gehéniau, Shieltronics’ chief operations officer. "As different food components have different dielectric properties, they have their own optimal heating characteristics” based on a combination of power and time.

Making Life Easier for Foodservice Operators

In the foodservice market, convenience features focus on the needs of back-of-the-house personnel, servers and bartenders.

In making a switch from cans to plastic containers for its seafood products, Bornholms A/S, Roedovre, Denmark, first launched the new shelf-stable packaging in the foodservice market. Bornholms is using the new plastic tubs for retorted mussels in brine, cod roe and fish balls.

The tubs, which come in four sizes, are heat-sealed with film lidding and topped with a rigid plastic overcap. The tubs’ multilayer packaging material includes a layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) for oxygen barrier. This layer, together with a polypropylene in-mold label that completely covers the tub, provides oxygen barrier sufficient for two years of ambient shelf life.

In commercial kitchens, the tubs have proven to be easier and safer to open than cans, and the packages are reclosable, for mess-free, in-package refrigerated storage. In addition, the products can be microwave-reheated in the tubs.

Following the successful foodservice launch, Bornholms introduced the plastic packaging in the retail market in Denmark in 2013. The company worked with the RPC Superfos - Nordic Region unit of RPC Group Plc, Northamptonshire, England, to develop the plastic packaging.

Another RPC project -- a collaboration between the RPC Cobelplast unit and Cefour Wine & Beverage AB, Åhus, Sweden -- streamlines wine service for caterers and concessionaires. The Easy Wine Glass is a pre-filled, 18.75-centiliter plastic glass wine. Cefour sells chardonnay, merlot and rosé de syrah in the package.

The glasses are made from a multilayer plastic that sandwiches a layer of EVOH between layers of polypropylene. After filling, each glass is sealed with lidding film. To serve the product, the bartender simply peels off the lidding. In addition to a conventional stemmed glass, Cefour offers the Easy Wine Glass in a stemless format. Both versions are recyclable.

Cefour also sells the Easy Wine Glass at retail, in multipacks and singly, through Sweden’s government-run Systembolaget liquor stores.

The Shieltronics technology addresses these differences “by shielding the most vulnerable components so they receive less energy,” Gehéniau adds. A microwave-shielding label is molded into the vertical wall of one compartment of the tray using in-mold labeling; consequently, the food in that part of the tray receives gentler treatment from the microwave than the food in the unshielded compartment.

In addition to regulating temperature, the shielding label, which is on the exterior of the package, can be printed in full color with graphics and/or text.

The package’s convenience and product-quality benefits are noteworthy. According to Gehéniau, the shielding technology eliminates hot and cold spots in microwaved food and delivers “the same culinary taste from a microwave meal as [the consumer] would get served in a restaurant.” He adds that cooking instructions are extremely simple. The meal cooks in 4 min. without “instructions like ‘heat for 30 seconds then stir, and do this three times.’ ”

In addition to entrees, potential applications for the package include combinations of hot and cold foods, such as meatloaf and salad, or even ice cream and chocolate sauce.

That’s a wrap

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., is targeting on-the-go consumers, specifically teenagers, with the product concept and packaging for its Hormel REV wraps.

Introduced nationally in the U.S. in July 2013, Rev wraps are protein-rich snacks that can be consumed cold or hot. Sold refrigerated in the lunchmeat case, the product comes in an array of flavors: Pepperoni Pizza, Meat Lovers Pizza, Peppered Turkey, Ham and Cheese, Hot Peppered Ham, Italian Style Ham, Italian Style and Spicy Italian Style.

The package is a thermoformed polypropylene tray heat-sealed to barrier-film lidding. The opaque lidding is printed with brand and product information, and the tray is transparent so consumers can view the product. The tray’s shape features a wide base so the packages can be merchandised standing up. In addition to single-serving packs for all varieties, Hormel sells the Pepperoni Pizza wraps in three-packs.

The product and its packaging are the epitome of convenience. “Hormel REV wraps are easy to open, portable and designed to be held in one hand, so no utensils or plates are needed,” says Holly Drennan, senior product manager of meat products marketing at Hormel. Drennan adds that the “packaging is quiet, recyclable and the product can be warmed directly in the packaging” in a microwave oven.

On the home front

Packaging for products used in-home also continue to emphasize convenience. Iselin, N.J.-based Domino Foods Inc., which is part of the ASR Group, recently introduced an unusual new package for Domino and C&H brand Quick Dissolve Superfine white sugar and Pourable brown sugar. Both products are formulated for easy pouring with no clumps.

The rigid package (12 oz. for white sugar and 10 oz. for brown) is a curvy, vase-like structure with a flip-top dispensing closure. The bottle is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and the closure from polypropylene. Both parts are recyclable, although not all municipalities collect polypropylene curbside.

The Domino and C&H packages are decorated with a full-body shrink label, and the graphics incorporate plenty of transparent space so consumers can see how different the texture of the products is from that of conventional white and brown sugars.

In addition to creating a good-looking package, the bottle was ergonomically designed for easy gripping by hands of all sizes. And the flip-top dispenser can be operated with one hand. “We wanted something that would be very easy to pick up and easy to dispense” from, says Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of Domino Foods.

Using the new package, consumers can add sugar to their beverages, cereals and other foods easily and with control over the product flow. The design eliminates the need for a spoon and perhaps even a sugar bowl. Domino worked with industrial design firm 4sight Inc., New York, on the package design.

Easy-open salad greens

Produce products are moving toward more convenient packaging, too. Ready Pac Foods, Inc., Irwindale, Calif., has switched to an easy-open rigid package for salad greens. Consumers peel back the lidding film to open the pack, and they can easily reseal the lidding afterwards.

Dubbed the Peel and Reseal Tray, the package consists of a recycled-PET container heat-sealed to dual-layer polyester lidding. Ready Pac worked with Clear Lam Packaging Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill., to develop the package.

The pack’s design provides several benefits vs. a clamshell with a plastic lid. It offers convenience plus product protection “by improving opening and closing and providing a reclose feature that keeps air out better than a traditional lettuce tray,” says Roman Forowycz, group president and chief marketing officer at Clear Lam.

Clear Lam provides Ready Pac with the lidding; the thermoformed trays are supplied by D&W Fine Pack, Elk Grove Village, Ill., and Sabert Corp., Sayreville, N.J.

The package also enhances shelf life vs. conventional clamshells, because the lidding incorporates laser perforations that control oxygen and carbon dioxide transmission into and out of the package.

Its sustainability benefits are noteworthy, as well. “The new peel-reseal package significantly reduces the amount of plastic used as compared to traditional lettuce trays that include a rigid lid and PVC shrink band,” says Forowycz. “It eliminates preformed lids that require a lot of warehousing space and truck shipments that need to move the preformed plastic lids from the thermoformer to the produce processor.” Thus the package reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

“And most importantly,” Forowycz adds, “the new peel-reseal package enhances the consumer experience.”