Innovative Food Packaging Catches the Eye — and More

Feb. 23, 2009
Savvy structural design adds functionality in new ways.

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. (, 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. 

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. (, Evansville, Ind., supplies the outer tub and green-pigmented strainer lid, and London-based Rexam ( 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 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 ( recently blew the cereal category wide open with a recloseable composite cannister for its private-label Archer Farms cereals. Sonoco (, 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.

For Target stores, the package design offers merchandising efficiencies. “They can fit more of it on the shelf,” Trader says. “The consumer gets the same amount of cereal or perhaps more, but the container is not as wide or deep as a conventional cereal box.”

Target sells 18 stock-keeping units of Archer Farms cereal, several of which were introduced with the launch of the new package. “They wanted the cereal package to create a destination product for them,” Trader explains. “A big portion of [Target’s] cereal aisle is devoted to this.”

Interlocking bottles

In glass packaging, some of the most interesting design innovations are occurring in the spirits and mixers categories. To design a memorable bottle for the Rose’s Mojito line of cocktail mixers, Dr Pepper Snapple Group (, Plano, Texas, worked with design firm Ignited Minds (, El Segundo, Calif. 

Rose’s Mojito line of cocktail mixers, from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, come in an asymmetrically curved shape that allows the bottles to nest against each other on-shelf.

The tall, 21-oz. glass bottle sports an asymmetrical curved shape that allows the bottles to nest against each other on-shelf. The colorful mixers, in Traditional, Mango and Passion Fruit flavors, are visible through the bottle’s frosted glass. Clear pressure-sensitive labels decorate and provide product information on the front and back panels, and a leaf pattern is embossed on the shoulder of the bottle.
From a practical point of view — creating a bottle that could run at acceptable speeds on filling lines, that is — this design project was “a 10 in difficulty,” recalls Robin Utay, creative director, Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG).

Package engineers at DPSG worked closely with bottle supplier Vitro Packaging Inc. (, Plano, Texas, to modify the initial structural design for commercial use. The work group “really pushed the envelope to make this work with our operating system,” Utay says. And yet the final bottle “is very close to the original sketches.”

The package provides functionality for consumers and retailers, as well. Although the bottle’s center of gravity is not the same as a conventional bottle, the container is easy to pour from. And the package’s interlocking shape makes a bold visual statement on the shelf while saving precious merchandising space.

For the Rose’s Mojito product line, DPSG “wanted something that was eye-catching, but they also wanted something that would be easy to stock on the shelf,” says Gabriel Gentile, business manager with Vitro Packaging. The package design delivers on both requirements.

Stand-out sweets

Among high-end dessert and confections companies, package structures often combine aesthetic appeal with user benefits such as ease of serving or easy opening.

The Filthy Food Co. (, Manchester, England, packages its premium, chilled chocolate dessert bites in a carton that stands out from competition both graphically and structurally. Thanks to folds in the paperboard, the carton fans out to become a serving dish when the lid is removed.

In contrast to other chilled indulgent desserts in the United Kingdom, which use squat packaging, often in dark colors, Filthy Food uses a tall, slim, light-colored carton.

The product is “more like a confectionery product than a traditional dessert. Therefore, we borrowed packaging cues from gift confectionery,” says Simon Preece, brand consultant at London-based design firm Elmwood (, which designed the package.

Inside the carton, a printed cellophane wrap adds a layer of ritual to opening the package and builds anticipation. In keeping with the brand’s tagline, “Obsessed by Pleasure,” the carton has a soft-touch finish that is “similar to skin, making it more sensual and indulgent,” Preece says. 

They’re not breath mints, they’re “a stylish, on-the-go lifestyle accessory.” So Oral Fixation Mints chose an elegant, minimalist package that evokes a 1920s-era cigarette case.

Confectioner Oral Fixation (, Hopewell, N.J., uses packaging to give Oral Fixation Mints a fashion-forward personality. The premium-quality mints are packaged in a small metal tray with sliding cover. The cover is deeply embossed with the brand’s logo, which is an image of two people feeding each other mints. Planet Canit LLC (, Highland Park, Ill., supplies the tins.

The gourmet mints, which come in nine flavors, are hand packed inside the tin in a single layer. Covering the mints is a sheet of parchment printed with graphics that key to the product’s flavor.
Oral Fixation Mints are marketed as a stylish, on-the-go lifestyle accessory. Thus the elegant, minimalist package design evokes a 1920s-era cigarette case. But, with a depth of only 6mm, the tin can be tucked into tight jeans pockets. It also offers one-handed opening.

The compact size and easy-open feature add continuing value for Oral Fixation because the package is ideally sized to hold credit cards and business cards. So consumers continue to carry the tin — and look at the company’s logo — long after they’ve consumed the mints.

Note to Marketing
Some of the most intriguing package design innovations happen when processors look outside their own product category for packaging ideas. As an example, Batter Blaster (, San Francisco, launched its first product, an organic pancake and waffle batter, in an aerosol can.
The product targets the organic-conscious, time-crunched consumer, making it easy, fast and fun to make pancakes and waffles. It also eliminates the mess of making them from a dry mix or from scratch. Batter Blaster is sold refrigerated, and each 18-oz. can makes about 28 four-inch pancakes or waffles.
The aerosol cans are made of recyclable steel, and the carbon dioxide infused into the batter does double duty: The gas is the aerosol propellant, and it also aids in leavening and browning the batter as it cooks.
Batter Blaster currently is developing other products for the aerosol can, including cupcake, muffin, cookie and brownie batters. Crown Cork & Seal (, Philadelphia, supplies the Batter Blaster cans. Package graphics were created by Focus Design (, San Francisco.

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