Sealing the deal

by Lynn Petrak
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It’s an open-and-shut case for many meat and poultry companies looking to deliver both quality and convenience to busy, discerning consumers. Although resealable packaging hasn’t made as big of a dent in the fresh-meat case (i.e., resealable packages of ground beef or pork loins), such packaging features have become common in the frozen, prepared foods and deli segments in formats spanning bags, stand-up pouches, trays, tubs and other flexible and rigid materials.

As convenience has become a significant driver of purchases – and with that, R&D and merchandising efforts – closures have taken on new importance, especially in products geared for quick-and-easy preparation and consumption. Such closures are often press-to-close and zip-to-close, but include other types of seals, as well.

Oscar Mayer’s recloseable features have evolved with consumer feedback.

Producers of deli meats were early adopters of resealable packaging features. The Madison, Wis.-based Oscar Mayer brand from Kraft Foods, for example, has merchandised its deli meats in resealable flexible packaging for years, and its Deli Fresh meats are now sold in a Stay-Fresh recloseable package.

“While not quite a necessity, resealable packaging is an important attribute for many deli-meat and hot-dog consumers. We look to consumers to help guide the package structure that makes sense for a certain application across the portfolio of products we offer. And we do strive to provide resealable packaging whenever possible,” remarks Maria Bracone, director of packaging for Oscar Mayer.

Another sector reflecting growing interest in resealability is the frozen-foods arena. Many frozen meat and poultry products, particularly pre-cooked and heat-and-eat items, are merchandised in resealable packages. The venerable Ball Park brand from Chicago-based Hillshire Brands Co., for example, offers fully cooked beef patties in a standup recloseable pouch.

Likewise, closures were a part of the early discussions at Johnsonville Sausage, Sheboygan Falls, Wis., as the company developed packaging for its new line of frozen skillet-ready meatballs and sausage slices.

“We know that consumers are always seeking convenient solutions, including products that come in packaging that help make portioning, storage and clean-up easier. When developing the meatballs and slices product, we learned from consumers that a resealable package was something they really wanted, since most consumers don’t use all the contents for one occasion,” says senior brand manager Valerie Zanchettin, adding that multiple-occasion consumption is on the rise with the prevalence of smaller households.

The Jennie-O bacon package allows for repeatable resealability, with a precision sleeve rotary die cut.

When it came to the specific type of seal for its frozen sausage slices and meatballs, the team at Johnsonville looked to consumers to see what worked best for their preferences and uses. “We explored a variety of options that would allow for resealability. Based on our research, we learned that consumers prefer recloseable zippers, especially with frozen foods, because they feel zippers will maintain the best product quality. Other options, including pre-applied closure tape, do not offer the same level of convenience and security, in consumers’ minds, to keep the package closed and food fresh,” Zanchettin remarks.

Setting the product apart from the competition was another package design impetus, Zanchettin says. “We also noticed most other meatballs out on the market today do not have a resealable bag, so we also viewed the resealable bag as another point of difference for Johnsonville,” she reports.

The opportunity in that particular segment was also noted by the development teams at the al fresco All Natural brand from Kayem Foods Inc., Chelsea, Mass., who recently incorporated a resealable closure into new packages of frozen gourmet chicken meatballs. Sealability was also a factor in a soon-to-launch frozen breakfast link product sold in a package with an inner liner designed to maintain freshness and better protect against freezer burn.

“Consumers today are looking for products that meet their busy lifestyles and make everything from healthy entertaining to preparing a better-for-you meal for one, simpler. That’s why packaging is an important part of the process when launching a new al fresco product,” says Kayem director of marketing Sarah Crowley. As packaging designers improve on and expand the use of resealability, meat and poultry applications have segued into processed meats.

Bacon is one example. Jennie-O turkey bacon from Hormel Foods’ Jennie-O Turkey Store is sold in a 12-oz. package with a tear-off strip that can be resealed after opening. Plumrose USA offers its center-cut bacon in a resealable thermoformed package called the “Re-Seal It” package from Printpack Inc. That package allows for repeatable resealability, with a precision sleeve rotary die cut.

Resealable packaging has become common in the frozen, prepared foods and deli segments in formats that include stand-up pouches.

Ready-to-eat processed meats also have convenience-driven recloseable features. Stand-up resealable pouches of pepperoni for snacking or for use in recipes are available from the Hormel brand. In the meantime, Farmland Foods offers cooked cube ham in a press-to-close pouch, while Hillshire Brands’ Jimmy Dean line markets pre-cooked sausage crumbles in a standup resealable pouch.

In the hot-dog segment, Oscar Mayer’s recloseable features have evolved with consumer feedback, according to Bracone. “The large majority of our products come in two, separate, resealable packs or our twin-pack format, with zippers for resealing. This is something that is unique to Oscar Mayer among national hot dog brands,” she says. “It allows consumers to be able to pull apart the two packages, open one for consumption, and leave the other in the freezer or fridge to open and consume at a later date.”

Meanwhile, although fresh meat is still packaged in traditional formats, there are some resealable packages on the market. The Trader Joe’s chain of stores sells press-to-close “mother bags” containing single-serve, individually portioned and wrapped chicken breasts.

Packaging companies, for their part, are working to improve recloseable packages for a variety of food products, including frozen items. The Cryovac brand from Duncan, SC-based Sealed Air, for example, offers a snap-on Deli-Snap lidded tray for processed meats, which can be customized in various shapes or embossed logos. Additionally, Cryovac’s Multi-Seal package, is designed for easy opening while offering consumers the option of re-sealing multiple times. The company also recently added a Multi-Seal FoldLOK package, a new format for processed products like jerky that utilizes advanced adhesive technology and is a shorter package that can remove up to two inches or more of material out of the standard-size package.

Oshkosh, Wis.-based packaging supplier Curwood Inc. (part of Bemis Company Inc.) is also meeting the demand of the marketplace with new options for closeability. Among its materials is an EZ Peel film that delivers seal-and-store convenience for multi-portion pouches and tray and lid applications. Other examples include the Sealstrip tamper-evident resealable system from Sealstrip Corporation, Gilbertsville, Penn., and a new Easy-Lock resealable closure for heavier bags from Charlotte, NC-based Aplix, featuring hook-to-hook technology.

Lynn Petrak is a contributing editor based in the Chicago area.

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