Packaging: Looking back & forward

by Lynn Petrak
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Considering the impact of the packaging-focused news of this past year, processors will likely continue dedicating resources in the introduction of more products with functional packaging that accentuates convenience and minimizes waste without adding costs. As an example, offering varying packaging formats to appeal to evolving and more diverse consumer demographics will likely be an ongoing theme.

This past summer, Sarah Day Levesque, food analyst with Mintel, said the Chicago-based market research firm’s most recent food-packaging trends report shows that consumer demand is anything but stagnant when it comes to packaging.

“Consumers are looking to get more and more out of their food packaging. Food companies will need to find innovative ways to cater to demand for convenient, transparent and environmentally responsible packaging while providing consumers with the utmost value,” she said.

This is hardly news to meat processors and food companies. There has been a correlating emergence of combo-packs, multi-packs and suggested meal-solution pairings that include various food and protein combinations. In September, for example, Tyson Foods Inc. and Birds Eye debuted new Mix & Match Creations at select Walmart stores around the country. The product addresses the trends of variety and convenience, in addition to customization: shoppers can create their own meals by combining Tyson proteins, Birds Eye vegetables and starches along with Tyson Bistro flavors sauces. A total of 76 meal combinations are possible. Packaging plays a big role in this meal solution because the Mix & Match Creations products are sold in color-coded packages – proteins are red, vegetables and starches are blue and sauces are green.

Perfect pairs

There has also been growth in multi-packs and duo-packs featuring product combinations within one package. The Oscar Mayer brand from Kraft includes Deli Fresh Combos that allow for two sliced deli-meat varieties in one package, while the Butterball brand from Garner, NC-based Butterball LLC, offers 9-oz. and 12-oz. variety packs with co-packed Honey Roasted Turkey, Smoked Turkey and Oven Roasted Chicken Breast in a recloseable flexible package.

Pairings are also popular with snack foods. Mirroring other duo-packs like carrots and dip, apples and caramel and crackers and peanut butter, meat snacks aren’t just going their own way. Jack Link’s, for instance, now offers a Big Dippers product, with meat snacks co-packed with dipping sauces. Such new packaging formats require some updates in materials and packaging systems.

Smaller bites

In early 2013, Phil Lempert – known as the Supermarket Guru – predicted that consumer demand for smaller bites would show up in more products and affect package sizes and types. “We’ll see a smaller bites/more frequent eating pattern that reduces overall portion sizes and increases variety,” Lempert noted, adding that the trend will likely be sustained by the growing number of mature consumers who eat smaller portions and younger consumers, who tend to “graze” more often.

That trend toward smaller portions was noted in “The Power of Meat 2013” report from the Food Marketing Institute, which revealed shoppers are gravitating toward smaller portions. This nationwide survey of consumers found that more frequently than any other year, respondents asked for smaller pack sizes to accommodate their households. In addition, 49 percent of those polled said that they would buy protein in bulk if it was pre-portioned for smaller or individual-sized servings.

In the marketplace, demand for smaller and portioned proteins and protein-based products is evident in a variety of ways, bearing out Lempert’s prediction. Major supermarkets and specialty markets increasingly offer perforated packaging for products like boneless skinless chicken breasts that allows for portions to be removed and prepared when desired.

Waste not

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations made a stir recently when it announced that a third of the food produced in the world is lost or wasted. As interest in sustainability grows across the globe and among US consumers, the packaging industry and food manufacturers are taking a fresh look at their products’ eco-footprint and potential waste. Many processors are embracing new materials, technologies and capabilities that help enhance sustainability in package design. Poultry company Bell & Evans is now using a clear polyester tray that can be recycled. At its beef-processing plant in Souderton, Pa., JBS is packaging some of its products on a polyester tray, which can be recycled.

Other suppliers, too, are focused on sustainability. The Dow Chemical Company, for example, has devised a 100 percent PE Recyclable Stand Up Pouch, made with only one raw material, polyethylene, to increase its recyclability. Dow also is promoting its urethane cure alternative to traditional adhesives, which can be used in meat packaging applications.

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