Whether it be an easy-open or a recloseable feature, packaging suppliers for the meat and poultry industry continue pushing ahead to develop new, convenient packaging formats with distinct points of difference for retail and foodservice markets.

“Convenience attributes in meat and poultry packaging are very significant for end-users and consumers,” says Jay Wilson, senior director of marketing for Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Division in North America, Duncan, S.C.

“Convenience features are definitely a significant focus in our development of new packaging,” adds Ryan Till, product manager for Carroll Manufacturing & Sales (CMS), Avon, Ohio. “The addition of convenience features is being driven by consumer demand.”

Market-driven solutions

Four years ago, Sealed Air/Cryovac developed strategic pillars to address in its new product development. “One pillar is to focus on developing packaging that is market-driven,” Wilson says. “I would loosely define those as products that add value for the consumer – this includes convenience. If it provides a benefit to the end-user, then we think it also produces a benefit for our customer, the processors.”

Wilson provides several examples of newer, convenience-based packaging developed by Sealed Air/Cryovac in recent years. “The biggest example would be easy-open, as well as recloseable features,” he adds. “One new format we launched in March with a broad portfolio is our Grip and Tear vacuum packaging. It has an easyopen feature that’s on our traditional shrink bags we use in the marketplace. We came about with the initial version on the standard barrier bag a few years ago. We have since broadened it. Applications might include a broiler, roaster, turkey, ham item or cheese.” Products in this line combine superior shrink, toughness, oxygenbarrier properties and a complete seal expected from a Sealed Air/Cryovac vacuum-shrink bag with the addition of an easy-open feature. Easily opened by pulling a tab, the Cryovac Grip and Tear bag’s knifeless design eliminates the mess created when opening some bags, according to the company.

It is ideal for use with a variety of non-abrasive applications and features enhanced toughness and better performance under normal handling and distribution. The bag can be used for processed meats, cheeses and a variety of fresh red meats, such as roasts.

For processors, the Cryovac Grip and Tear bag doesn’t require any new equipment investment and can be used with existing Cryovac rotary chamber vacuum systems. Other products in the line include the Grip and Tear
cook-in bag; poultry bag; bag for frozen export meat applications; and post-pasteurization bag.

“We have different seal configurations designed for different applications,” Wilson says. “Some open in the middle of the bag, some on the side. We have some that open a side-seal bag and you can pull out portion by portion. We’re starting to see a lot of traction with it after just several months.”

Sealed Air/Cryovac’s Portion-Pull bag is another new technology that allows a barrier bag to be removed from a product one strip at a time, keeping unused portions fresher longer. Using the easy-open technology of the Cryovac Grip and Tear bag, the Portion-Pull bag incorporates horizontal side-seal tabs to allow consumers and foodservice operators to use only what they need without removing the entire product from its packaging.

In 2009, Cryovac launched its Multi-Seal reclosable packaging, which it says opens easily and recloses consistently for the life of the product. It’s machineable on most standard thermoforming equipment. And it merchandises well in a wide range of sizes and display types. It is designed primarily for sliced luncheon meats and cheese.

“We wanted to come up with something new that would offer the security to end-users the package would close multiple times,” Wilson says. “Our testing shows the package can be resealed numerous times over the life of the product. This could be for the bigger packages – anywhere from 16 oz. sliced luncheon meats down to 7 oz. and even as low as 4 oz. on traditional products.”

Sealed Air/Cryovac’s Marinade on Demand package is a two-part, thermoformed rollstock package that separates fresh meat from the marinade portion, allowing for an easy and sanitary marinating process. When the consumer or foodservice operator is ready to marinate, the marinade pocket can be broken by squeezing the seal between the two pockets. Marinade is transferred to the meat side beginning the marinating process that lasts as long as the user desires.

Sealed Air/Cryovac recently launched its new Oven Ease ovenable bag for bone-in or boneless products, such as ribs, roasts, whole turkeys, roasters and hams. The Oven Ease bag allows pre-seasoned items to be cooked inside the same material it is packaged in, reducing prep-time, clean-up time and, in some cases, cooking time.

This format features exceptional clarity and can be used with cookfrom-raw or reheat applications. Withstanding temperatures of up to 400°F for two hours or 375°F for four hours, Oven Ease bags can cook a rack of ribs in about 60 minutes and a whole roaster in 90 minutes.

Oven Ease bags run on existing rotary chamber systems, offering an easy changeover for processors. The Oven Ease bag can also expand foodservice offerings and features an impressive holding time, keeping items hot in the package hours after being removed from the oven. Since the Oven Ease bag is vacuum packaged, it is freezer-ready.

“It offers enhanced food safety because the end-user doesn’t open the package until after the product completely cooks,” Wilson says.

With the Oven Ease product, processors would season to desired levels. “Instead of a big mess and a pot to clean up, you have self-contained gravy with the meat product that is cooked,” Wilson says.

Convenience means different things to different people, Wilson says. “To some, convenience is being able to reheat dinner in four minutes, which could involve our Simple Steps microwaveable concept. To other consumers, unattended cooking is a convenience feature... you can put something in the oven and you don’t have to do anything else; you know it’s being taken care of and you have a 99 percent chance of having a good product at the end.”

Among the biggest challenges regarding marketing new convenient packaging is how can the consumer recognize its value without trying it, Wilson says. “How do you promote it?” he asks. “How do consumers become aware of why this is convenient? The products I mentioned have an awful lot of good features, but one of the biggest hurdles is how is the consumer or customer going to know that before trying it?”

Technical challenges could include getting adhesives to the balance they need to be to ensure recloseability, and formulating a barrier bag or shrink bag to tear linearly like a Grip and Tear bag, among other things. “When you look at some of the things that go into high-temperature packaging, there are regulatory issues with regard to what resins you can use or what ink can you print to what approved resins.”

Easy open, effective close

Examples of the most-wanted consumer convenience features are tear tabs on pouches and zipper closures for easy opening plus resealability of pouches or large packages of deli meats, CMS’ Till says.

“Zipper closures, along with improved barrier bags and pouch materials, do a good job of maintaining freshness,” Till says. “Consumers also want packaging in which foods can be reheated in the microwave or the oven. These bags may have zipper closures as well.”

CMS recently designed new retail pouches for the meat-jerky industry. “Many changes have been made in these pouches over the years,” Till says. “We have added an easy-open tear notch plus an easy-reseal zipper closure to keep the product fresh.”

CMS has recently designed thermoformed plastic packaging with an easy-open feature for whole chickens in the retail market. “Traditionally, thermoformed packaging has been notoriously difficult to open,” Till says. “CMS has incorporated tear tabs to make opening the package much easier for the consumer. CMS is the only packaging company currently offering a tear-tab feature on thermoformed packaging for whole chickens.”

Challenges in developing convenient packaging appear to be application-specific and include an incremental increase in unit cost, as convenience features are incorporated into packaging, Till says. “Also, processors may incur a capital expenditure for converting existing production line equipment to accommodate packaging with convenience features,” he adds.

One challenge for a packaging designer might be developing a soup pouch, for example, that can be sealed by the processor and then able to be resealed after opening by the consumer, he added.

The future

CMS has observed a need for more convenient frozen poultry packaging applications for smaller portion sizes, Till says. “We are offering films that work with vacuum-skin packaging technology, a process in which the film is placed over chicken breasts in a tray and is then vacuumsealed. Vacuum-skin packages allow consumers to purchase and freeze smaller or individual portions and remove just the amount of product they want and reseal the rest.

“Vacuum-skin packaging helps retain moisture in the frozen product and eliminates freezer burn,” he adds. “So when the chicken is thawed and cooked, it stays juicier and fresher tasting.” Sealed Air/Cryovac’s Wilson says
packaging companies must find ways to skip a step at a reasonable cost for end-users in their drive to add more convenience.

“Skipping steps, making products easier to prepare and making sure when you’re done with dinner you don’t have a whole stack of pots and pans you have to clean up are important to us in looking to the future and developing packaging materials,” he concludes.