Packaging not only protects meat and poultry products, but it can also aid in the cooking process, enhance preparation convenience, draw consumers and can serve as a vehicle for scanning technologies among other things. What’s more, packaging is constantly being improved upon by progressive processors to enhance sustainability. Although consumer demand for convenience in meat and poultry packaging is nothing new, their demand in this area continues to build and processors are responding.

Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., most recently launched Jimmy Dean Hearty Sausage Crumbles, which features a package that is a stand-up, gusseted, gas-flush pouch with zipper. Each package makes four to five servings.

One of the most unusual packaging innovations of its time rolled out in 2007, when ConAgra’s Healthy Choice brand launched Café Steamers. Healthy Choice classifies its steaming innovation “the fourth wave   in the evolution of the frozen entrée” in America, which began in the 1950s with the original oven-baked, foilwrapped TV dinner and progressed to microwaveable   meals in the mid-1980s. Healthy Choice introduced a healthful version of the microwaveable frozen meal to consumers in the late 1980s and now claims to have taken “healthy frozen entrées” to a new level when it launched Healthy Choice Café Steamers.

Healthy Choice Café Steamers claims to be the first line of complete frozen meals incorporating microwavesteaming technology designed to maximize the individual components of an entire meal, preserving the flavor, texture and color of each ingredient. The Healthy Choice Café Steamers line utilizes a one-of-a-kind microwaveable Steam Cooker that circulates steam throughout the meal during cooking.

The Steam Cooker is composed of a bowl, which contains the sauce and a steamer basket, which nests above the sauce and contains the meat, vegetables and pasta or rice. Steam from the sauce cooks the meal components in the steamer basket; all the ingredients can then be combined after cooking, with the sauce bowl doubling as a serving bowl. This unique design, which separates the sauce from the other ingredients, allows components to retain their individual character and freshness, alleviating some key consumer barriers in traditional frozen microwave meals, including the inability to taste individual ingredients, excessive uniformity in flavor and texture and unappetizing appearance.

“Building on the strength of the steaming trend, combined with our packaging innovation, Healthy Choice Café Steamers has the ability to reinvigorate the category,” said Bill Partyka, vice president of Healthy Choice marketing, during the launch.

The new steaming technology has been applied to the entire Healthy Choice Café Selections line. In 2007, 12 varieties of Healthy Choice Café Steamers were launched nationwide and the acceptance of the products has resulted in the line expanding.

A digital pioneer
Thanks to Meyer Natural Foods’ new on-pack labels on its Meyer Natural Beef product line that launched nationwide in November, the meat case has officially entered the digital world. The Loveland, Colo.-based company claims to be the first in the US to apply Microsoft Tag barcode technology to packaging in the meat case.  

“We’re excited Meyer Natural Foods is using Tag to engage with customers at a deeper level,” said Bill McQuain, director of Tag product management at Microsoft Corp. “Microsoft Tag makes the world around you clickable, and now with the scan of Tag from a package of Meyer Natural Foods meat, customers will get a rich interactive brand experience.”

Natural product shoppers are more interested in learning about the brands they purchase, research indicated. To meet that need, Meyer’s 2D   barcode encourages shoppers to scan the label with their smart phones to view a 20-second video. In addition to providing information about the brand, the video helps shoppers understand the difference of natural.

“Savvy shoppers seek out brands that match their lifestyles,” said Chris Anderson, marketing director of Meyer Natural Foods. “Bringing new technology into mainstream food products like beef is important to stay relevant with consumers. Finding fresh ways to connect with shoppers is one way Meyer is staying ahead of the curve.”

Tag barcodes also provide Meyer with a new way to offer information about its brands while keeping the meat case clear of clutter – a growing concern from retailers, Anderson said.

To drive trial during the launch of the product, the 2D barcode was paired with an on-pack coupon. Meyer will track barcode scans to monitor effectiveness. The company will explore additional barcode content for future application.  

Hunting consumers
Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Minong, Wis., along with the help of Realtree Camo, which produces camoflauge patterns, is offering a selection of Jack Link’s beef-steak products in blazeorange-colored packaging featuring distinctive Realtree Camo patterns. This new packaging is available in 2-oz. Original and Teriyaki Beef Steak products.  

Launched in time for hunting season, the stand-out blaze orange packaging adds extra visibility, while the beefsteak offerings provide hunters with a satisfying snack to fuel their outdoor adventures. The pocket-sized packages are easily stored in a hunter’s field bag or jacket and require no refrigeration, allowing them to take Jack Link’s wherever the hunt may lead them.

In October, Gold’n Plump Poultry, Saint Cloud, Minn., added a leaner option to its Recipe Ready Ground Chicken line-up. Available nationwide and sold under the Gold’n Plump brand, lean ground chicken can be found in meat cases in both tray packages (95 percent lean) and new, compact “chubs” (93 percent lean) for easy storage and stacking in refrigerators and freezers.  

Found in the frozen meat case, the 93 percent lean chub features a fullcolor photograph of a ground chicken dish as well as easy meal ideas. The ideas intend to help educate consumers on how to swap-out ground chicken for ground beef in traditional dishes, such as tacos, lasagna, chili and Sloppy Joes. Since most recipes typically require “1 lb. of ground meat,” the ground chicken packages are available in convenient 16-oz. sizes.

“Consumers continue to look for healthy, family friendly meal ideas and ground chicken has a more neutral flavor base than beef, so it’s a natural choice for dishes like chili and spaghetti-especially for finicky kids,” said Sara Danforth, product manager for Gold’n Plump. The company clearly labels fat content and provides easy meal ideas on the front of the label, instead of inside or on the back.

In July, Cargill launched Grantwood Meats beef, which consists of traditional beef muscle cuts and roasts that are vacuum-sealed in a leak-proof package to help keep beef fresh. This freezer-ready new beef brand is targeted to meet consumer demand for more convenient packaging.

This case-ready brand is designed for cooks who are short on cooking time and experience.

Shoppers have spoken and Cargill has listened, said David Bisek, associate brand manager, Cargill. “They told us their No. 1 frustration with current fresh-beef packaging was the fact that it leaked,” he added. “These leaks plague consumers throughout the shopping process: they leave a mess in grocery carts, they stain car upholstery and they necessitate refrigerator clean-up during storage. This insight led Cargill to develop a product line that meets consumer needs for cleanliness and convenience.”

Cargill’s new leak-proof packaging keeps everything cleaner; provides an easy peel-to-open tab; and includes cooking instructions and simple recipes for novice cooks. Each vacuum-sealed package features a 30-day shelf-life from date of pack, which provides shoppers with more versatility and helps retailers reduce shrink.

Moving forward, progressive meat and poultry processors will continue to closely monitor consumer trends to ensure they’re offering the right packaging options for the times – whether it is smallersized packaging or packaging to enhance cooking or preparation. As a result, more “on-target” packaging should continue to help enhance processors’ bottom lines.