Butterball's Variety Pack includes four different products in one package with a zip closure. 

Package deal

Just as there is variety in protein, there is differentiation in the way variety packs of deli meats are presented to consumers and used at home.

To convey quality and freshness, many deli meat packages embody the “seeing is believing” approach to packaging. “Each package was created with a clear panel to show the quality of the meat that consumers can feel good about giving to their family,” says Truxal of Oscar Mayer’s Deli Fresh Combos and Sub Kits.

Truxal also says that user-friendly features are important for this convenience-minded user group. “Across all of our products, Oscar Mayer knows the importance in providing efficient and functional packaging for shoppers. Our Sub Kit packages, in particular, feature zip pak functionality that allows for re-sealability, making it simple to maintain freshness and quality. In addition to that, the Sub Kits are also designed with parchment paper between the meat types, allowing for easy sandwich prep,” he reports.

To that point, because variety packages are larger and often have more servings, re-closeability is a common feature, whether in a press-to-close or zip-to-close bag or in a tub with a removable lid, like those used by Buddig for its deli meat variety tubs.

David Luttenberger, global packaging director for Mintel, says it is important to ensure freshness through closures. “Across the board, freshness is the No. 1 packaging attribute consumers seek with food packaging. To achieve true freshness preservation, packaging must be re-sealable, not simply re-closeable. There is a huge difference,” he points out. He cites information from Mintel’s 2016 US Food Packaging Trends report, showing 62 percent of consumers indicated re-sealable packaging would cause them to select one product over another.

Additionally, although zippers and sliders are convenient, there are other improvements in re-sealability, according to Luttenberger. “Advances in non-migrating peel-and-reseal adhesives for flexible lidding films for deli trays is delivering yet another level of sophistication and convenience to the category. These peel-and-reseal features are being touted with front-of-pack messaging, which aids in the purchasing decision for consumers. Reseal features are one of those specific packaging attributes, which, when product price and perceived quality are equal, become the tiebreaker among similar looking packed products,” he comments.

Visual appeal, too, is increasingly important on the shelf, points out Johnson. “While flavor has long been a primary focus of innovation, our more visual and share-focused society is driving product innovation that pushes visual boundaries to break through the mundane and enhance transparency,” she notes, adding that a third of those ages 18 to 24 and 29 percent of those ages 25 to 34 consider a package design to be more important than the product itself.

From a functional perspective, processors have invested in machinery that enables them to best produce combination and variety packages. “Packaging machine manufacturers with feedback from processors have made great strides in recent years, especially with horizontal form fill machines,” Schad observes.

One challenge for processors combining deli meats in one package, Schad adds, relates to the characteristics of individual products. “Specifically, shape, light oxidation, oxidation relative to oxygen and shelf life considerations,” he notes, adding, “The packaging material and ‘environment’ within the package will be an ongoing challenge.”

To overcome challenges and maximize opportunities, processors work with packaging suppliers to deliver products in formats that work best for their audience. “It really comes down to a brand and its packaging converter partners understanding multiple target demographics and a multitude of use occasions,” Luttenberger points out. “There are opportunities for converters and brands to create solutions-based packaging innovations – those that create some sort of emotional, practical or rational connections with consumers. In short, that means there are opportunities for all formats. But the ultimate winners will be highly functional packages that perform, and in the deli meat category, that means the preservation of freshness no matter the package format.”