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Sealing the Trifecta

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Connecting with shoppers at the shelf is crucial for food packaging concepts, and innovations in fresh food packaging are no exception.

"More and more, purchase decisions are being made inside the store and directly at the retail shelf,” says Paul Weitzel, a consultant with Barrington, Ill.-based Willard Bishop, discussing the “first moment of truth” concept. “It’s that first moment that has a lot of trading partners looking for new solutions to better connect with shoppers.”
 
The folks at Cargill have presented one solution. “Shoppers have spoken and Cargill has listened,” says David Bisek, associate brand manager for the Wichita, Kan.-based meat producer. “They told us their No. 1 frustration with current fresh beef packaging was the fact that it leaked. They leave a mess in grocery carts, they stain car upholstery, and they necessitate refrigerator cleanup during storage.”  
 
So, Cargill launched a new beef brand that targets the demand for more convenient packaging. Grantwood Meats beef is vacuum-sealed in a leakproof package that helps keep the product fresh and is freezer-ready.
 
The case-ready brand targets the growing consumer segment of athome cooks who are time-starved and have little cooking experience. Grantwood packaging provides an easy peel-to-open tab, and includes cooking instructions and simple recipes for novice cooks. Each vacuum-sealed package has a 30-day shelf life, which provides shoppers with more flexibility and helps retailers reduce shrink. Elsewhere in the meat case, packaging design agency Aisle 9 came up with a way to help client Superior Farms sell more lamb products – historically slow movers – at Albertsons markets in California.
 
“Superior Farms came to us looking for a way to increase consumer attention to lamb,” recounts Greg Feinberg, president of Los Angelesbased Aisle 9. “We looked beyond traditional packaging and created a system of highly visual sleeves to call attention to the product and differentiate the pre-marinated products from all other items.”
 
Superior Farms, based in Davis, Calif., created the pre-seasoned, pre-marinated product line as an easy way for consumers to enjoy lamb products, but needed consumers to sit up and take notice.
 
Aiming to differentiate these products from the rest of the meat case, Aisle 9 designed innovative chipboard sleeves that showcase the texture and rich seasonings of the new offerings, as well as communicating the high value of this easy-to-prepare
Product.
 
“We needed to make sure that people saw the new items and were instantly enticed to pick them up and try them,” explains Superior Farms marketing manager Angela Gentry. “We feel this is really a home run and can help revolutionize lamb for today’s shopper.” Meanwhile, in the deli, Robbie Flexibles has enhanced the convenience and sustainability of packaging for prepared foods.
 
“Designed in response to consumer needs in the growing rotisserie chicken market, Robbie’s Hot N Handy Pouch allows retailers to replace conventional deli packaging such as rigid roaster domes, boxes, barns and tubs,” notes Drew Lericos, director of marketing at the Lenexa, Kan.-based company. “Leak-resistant and microwaveable, the pouch has a built-in handle and resealable zipper that offer shoppers convenience and security.”
 
After a great response from retailers and shoppers, Robbie expanded the Hot N Handy concept to include pouches in a variety of sizes for both hot and cold deli foods, including fried chicken, ribs, chicken nuggets and tenders, turkey products, and pre-packed lunch kits.
 
Compostable Concepts
 
Between consumer concerns and new regulations, packaging has become more environmentally friendly.
 
Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv Corp. has rolled out compostable foam meat trays made from corn,marketed under the trade name EarthChoice, in Seattle, where city officials have banned the use of petroleum-based foam products for grocery and foodservice sales. 
 
“This is a revolutionary step to cut down on landfill waste, and we’re delighted to be the first supermarket we know of worldwide to adopt the system,” says Brad Halverson, VP of marketing at Seattle’s Metropolitan Market. “Our customers will now be able to redirect an estimated 1 million meat trays per year – about five 53-foot trailers full – into compost.”  
 
Not to be outdone, Cryovac has its own corn-based meat tray. Dubbed NatureTRAY by maker Sealed Air Corp. of Duncan, S.C., it’s purported to be the first foam tray in the United States made with NatureWorks polylactic acid (PLA) polymers, which have been used to make plastic bottles.
 
“Our partnership with Nature- Works has enabled us to create a tray for supermarkets made entirely from an annually renewable resource,” observes Richard Douglas, Cryovac’s marketing director for rigid packaging. “NatureTRAY keeps with consumer demand for sustainable packaging.”
 
Flush with the market success of its Hot N Handy pouches, whichwon a 2008 Gold Award in Environmental and Sustainability Achievement from the Flexible Packaging Association, Robbie Flexibles has now unveiled Fresh N Tasty, a new standup pouch designed specifically for fresh-cut produce.
 
The pouch has a gusset at the bottom to hold the package upright, prevent spills and keep product away from the liquid purge, creating a more appealing appearance for consumers. A proprietary zipper placed above the large viewing window guarantees closure and enhances freshness.
nter the package based on the specific type of produce being packaged, yielding an extended shelf life. 
 
Further, Robbie says the manufacturing process for the Fresh N Tasty pouch uses significantly less energy when compared with current standard rigid containers, and is lighter, so it takes up less landfill space. “The added benefits of this flexible package clearly demonstrate an advantage over rigid containers with its ability to maintain excellent product quality, save fossil fuels, reduce weight of solid waste and provide overall a more consumer-friendly package,” notes Lericos.  
 
Vegging Out
 
As the nation strives to eat healthier, packaging is going to play a crucial role in attracting more consumers on a frequent basis to more nutritious food choices like fresh fruits and vegetables. 
 
Willard Bishop’s Weitzel cites data from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council establishing nine key consumer needs for grocery shopping. The top need is “care for family,” suggesting that shoppers will be on the lookout for products they deem, at first glance, to be a benefit at home. As such, putting naturally healthy foods like fresh produce and centre in more convenient and freshness-enhancing packaging is a win-win scenario.
 
“Packaging is very critical for us,” says Tony Freytag, director of marketing for Crunch Pak, a Cashmere, Wash.-based apple producer and marketer. “Showing the product rather than covering it up with a lot of graphics is crucial.”
 
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Crunch Pak is a pioneer in bringing ready-to-eat sliced apples in convenient on-the-go packaging to market. The company hit upon the right formula to keep an apple crisp and fresh after it was sliced: a combination of vitamin C and calcium to prevent spoilage, and breathable packaging to ensure quality during transport.. 
 
“The snacking category continues to grow, and we are addressing it,” notes Freytag. “We will debut a number of new products at the upcoming shows in October.”
 
On the opposite coast, Village Farms has enhanced the value-added packaging capabilities at its new distribution Centre.  
 
The New Castle, Del.-based produce grower and marketer has added several new packaging formats to meet the demand for more user friendly fresh produce. New items from Village Farms include 2-pound and 6-count bags of sweet bell peppers, 2-pound tomatoes on the vine, 3-pound Roma and beefsteak tomato clamshells, 2- and 3-pack long English cucumbers, and 8-count mini cucumbers.
 
“Value-added business is a growth sector for Village Farms,” says Bill Robbins, the company’s director of distribution center operations. 
 
And as the quest continues to convince corpulent consumers to improve their diets and increase their intake of fresh foods over processed foods, packaging will play a key role in making fresh food shopping more convenient. Going hand in hand with that are environmentally friendly packaging solutions, along with the perennial need to catch the shopper’s eye.
 
“Packaging is a complex issue, and there are many demands placed on getting the package right,” Weitzel says. “There is an increasing need to include emerging shopper elements into packaging design.”