Ham packaging must adapt to a variety of product formats.
Ham products come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit the needs of users from consumers in the home, to distributors, to foodservice operators in the back of the house. Also, hams vary based on the size and purpose of the end use. For example, a product meant to serve two to four people at an everyday meal vs. a whole ham meant to serve 15 or more people at a holiday gathering. How processors package and label those ham products often varies as much as the products themselves.



Ham products usually fall into one of two categories: large whole and half hams meant to serve a larger group, and smaller portioned hams used for everyday occasions and meals. The smaller portioned ham products will often serve more than one individual, but the occasions are not necessarily special occasions.

California, Missouri-based Burgers’ Smokehouse produces a large variety of specialty ham products. Regardless of size and end use, Burgers’ strives for certain criteria on all of its packaging, but after those initial parameters specific use becomes a major factor.

“When we review the best packaging for a product, we have the integrity and quality of the product in mind and usability for the customer at equal priority,” says Kelly Perrier, director of marketing at Burgers’ Smokehouse. “We want to make sure the package is of high quality to prevent any damage during the supply chain, but is also as easy to use and appealing to customers as possible.”

Once the two criteria of quality and customer usability are met, Burgers’ then looks to physical size of the item. “We have traditionally matched the size of the product to the best packaging available and then labeled it accordingly – sticking to a color scheme by product line,” Perrier says. She notes that larger, whole and half hams are vacuum sealed in a bag, while portioned ham cuts are more focused on retail presentation and consumer usability.

Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Virginia, moves through a similar process when developing packaging strategies for its portfolio of ham products. Will Brunt, chief innovation officer at Smithfield, says the company views its ham product portfolio as two basic categories. Seasonal/Holiday hams consist of large-format hams associated with typical holiday meals. Smithfield’s second category of hams is what Brunt calls “anytime favorites.” These are items designed around Smithfield research that determined consumers wanted more ham products that went beyond sandwiches and the aforementioned seasonal hams.

“When we look at choosing packaging for a particular ham item, it really varies depending on what that item is and where it sits in the portfolio,” Brunt says. “For our holiday hams, a lot of it is calling attention to the case to get excitement in the case for the holiday season, so there’s a shopability aspect to it. If it’s an everyday, anytime favorites product, if it’s a reusable product, is there a utility in it, peel and reseal? Is there a cook-in-bag opportunity? And then image, again going back more to the holidays.”

At Hormel Foods, Austin, Minnesota, an effort to strike a balance between the objectives of the sales and marketing team and the company’s internal capabilities determine packaging in general, says Brian Hendrickson, director of cured and smoked meats. But a key factor that goes into choosing the right packaging for a ham, is whether or not the ham is boneless or bone-in.

“Typically, boneless hams use a flexible shrink bag which showcases the product while providing necessary protection and branding space on the label,” Hendrickson says. “The primary difference in the packaging of bone-in versus boneless hams is that additional materials are required with the bone-in hams to prevent the bone from puncturing the film. This is typically done by using pads, bone caps or other packaging materials that would impede the bones from puncturing the film.”