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Taking a stand

by Lynn Petrak
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The crowd seems to like the stand-up routine.

Stand-up pouches offer a variety of attributes that are appealing to food manufacturers, including meat and poultry processors. For starters, the flexible format allows the package to be stored flat and merchandised upright, maximizing convenience and saving space (and sometimes costs) throughout the supply chain.

Pouches are available in a variety of sizes and shapes and are used for meat items ranging from small pouches of crumbled bacon toppings to large packages of frozen meat portions sold in club stores. Pouches can be paired with different openings and closures, from easy-to-peel openings to press-to-close seals, zippers and, for liquid products, spouts.

From a quality perspective, stand-up pouches can extend the shelf-life of products. There are some food-safety benefits as well, with barrier properties that provide protection compared to some other materials.

In addition, as demand for sustainable packaging grows, pouches offer certain eco benefits. Flexible packaging materials like those used in stand-up pouches result in less waste than other rigid packaging types.

Beyond benefits for processors and retailers, this convenient, space-saving packaging format catches the eye of consumers, too. The stand-up pouch enables processors to use the entire surface of the packaging material for high-impact graphics, as well as on-package information.

“A stand-up pouch has multiple functions,” agrees packaging consultant Huston Keith, principal of Keymark Associates, Marietta, Ga. “There is its ability to stand up and the space-saving aspect, but it also offers some characteristics of cartons, such as a billboard effect. On the shelf or in the upright freezer case, where you may have a door, it can be hard to look and see what is in there, but with a stand-up package, you can see the varieties a lot better.”

That said, Keith notes that some in the meat and poultry industry have been cautious when deciding when and how to switch over from other packaging types, whether cans, cartons or other forms.

Some concerns center on end user acceptance. “If they see a packaging change, some consumers may think you’re messing with their product. But if they can clearly see a benefit to them, then that is a different situation,” he observes.

The cost of adding new pouch materials and equipment to a processing operation also is a major factor, especially at a time of already-lean margins. “That will be something that major food processors have to study,” Keith says.

Still, when large players like Tyson Foods and Hormel Foods invest in stand-up pouch packaging and expand their respective range of products sold in pouches based on positive ROIs, such moves have an overall impact on the industry. “That often ends up driving change,” he notes.

Standing out in the cold

Certainly, stand-up, flexible packages have been used for a while now in the frozen meat category. That’s evident in the plethora of frozen, heat-and-eat breaded chicken tenders, filets and nuggets and frozen fully-cooked meatballs and grill-ready burgers on the market.

A quick glance inside a supermarket freezer case shows that more stand-up pouches are being used to package fully cooked frozen meals and meal kits. In addition to larger, family size, stand-up pouches of both frozen meat portions and meal kits, the smaller 12-oz. pouch size is especially hot right now.

A variety of prepared foods manufacturers and protein companies offer meal solutions in the form of heat-and-eat entrées and appetizers merchandised in more compact stand-up bags, some of which are resealable. From the P.F. Chang ‘s brand to Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine to the Bertolli line of heat-and-eat meals (whose bags recently won a graphics award from the Flexible Packaging Association), such smaller packages are commanding attention.

Microwave steam-in-bag capability, which is already strong in the frozen vegetable category, is being used in some of these frozen entrees. The natural Kashi brand, for instance, recently expanded its line of steam-in-pouch products.

According to Keith, vented pouches that offer steaming capability likely will continue to grow in use, with implications for meat and poultry processors. “These are often products that involve meat but are in a meal. You microwave it, and three minutes later, you have a meal,” he says.

Ready for change

In addition to entrees, the stand-up pouch has become an option for other heat-and-eat and ready- to-eat (RTE) foods containing meat and poultry. Pouches have become an alternative to cans, for instance.

Examples of the can-to-pouch shift can be found in the soup category. The stalwart Campbell’s brand, for instance, is expanding its Campbell’s Go! Soup line of pouch soups later this year. Some manufacturers are moving full speed ahead to take advantage of the benefits of flexible stand up pouches: a flexo retort pouch developed by Cincinnati-based supplier Ampac for Tesco Soups recently won a Flexible Packaging Association award for its high-definition flexographic printing.

The traditional canned meat segment has been penetrated with pouches as well. Tyson, for its part, now sells an easy-open pouch of premium chunk white chicken breast that complements its canned chicken offerings. In the tuna category, cans have made way for pouches over the past few years.

In the refrigerated case, other types of RTE meat and poultry products lend themselves well to a stand-up pouch. Tyson has added to its line of frozen Grilled & Ready fully-cooked chicken breast strips with a refrigerated version. Grilled & Ready refrigerated chicken breast strips are available in different flavors and touted as a convenient way to add protein to a salad or enjoy as a snack.

Makers of shelf-stable RTE products also have gone to stand-up pouches for some items. Hormel Foods packages several of its RTE products in a stand-up resealable pouch, including diced pepperoni, Pepperoni Minis, Pepperoni Stix, and pizza toppings in beef crumbles and sausage crumbles.

Stand-up pouch packaging for those products has been a win-win, reports Hormel senior packaging engineer Chad Donicht. “At the manufacturer level, the pouch helps to ensure food safety by allowing us to design a strong oxygen barrier to meet our stringent shelf-life requirements. Moving through the supply chain, the format is very flexible for display options at retail and allows for a unique customer experience in a couple of ways,” he explains.

As Donicht points out, the pouch also provides a space for potential on-package “engagement vehicles,” such as coupons. “And once the product is in the home, the pouch design is very functional, allowing the consumer a convenient way to use and store the product,” he adds, citing its collapsible shape and lightweight profile.

Taking a different stand

As more processors add stand-up pouches to their range of packaging formats, packaging material and equipment suppliers are making investments of their own for the future.

Some pouches allow for unique applications, like a recently-introduced pouch developed by DuPont and Chicago-based designer, Kornick Lindsay. The Genesis Duo-Pouch, featuring DuPont’s Surlyn material, features compartments of both dry and wet ingredients that can be mixed when the pouch is squeezed. Although that pouch is currently used for items like infant formula, there is potential for products that include meat or poultry.

Meanwhile, as sustainability becomes an important driver for both consumers and processors, packaging suppliers are working on new sustainable solutions in pouches. Ampac, for example, now offers a “No. 2 Pouch” approved for post-consumer recycling.

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