Whole-bird packaging must combine form and function to protect the product while appealing to consumers.
Whole-bird packaging must combine form and function.
It’s not a major information leak to say that a whole-bird package that doesn’t look good or hold up well won’t entice buyers.

“If a bird’s packaging shows signs of purge or is a leaker, the average consumer will not typically purchase that bird no matter how fresh it may be,” says Tim Kieny, vice president of marketing for packaging manufacturer Coveris, Greenville, South Carolina.

Others agree that whole birds pose challenges that can be addressed with packaging. “The No. 1 complaint at retail related to whole-bird packaging is leaking packages. Leaking packages create frustration for consumers as well as retailers as it contributes to waste and an overall unpleasant experience,” says John Kearny, marketing manager for Bemis Co. Inc., Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Larry Churchwell, marketing director, poultry sector for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Sealed Air Corp., echoes those consumer concerns. “A lot of what we hear about from the package performance angle is having a good shrink – you don’t want a loose package with a whole bird. It can’t be ‘sloshy,’” he remarks.

To control leakage and purge, processors utilize packaging materials and systems designed to offset such issues. Kearny, notes that shrink rollstock “virtually eliminates” leaking packages and offers other benefits over traditional whole bird packaging materials like poly bags and shrink bags. To guard against any odor build up on shrink rollstock compared to poly shrink bags, he adds, Bemis has the ability to incorporate odor adsorbing technology.

When it comes to shrink bags, such formats offer a range of benefits for whole birds that are frozen or fresh, from durability to flexibility for non-uninform shapes. Vacuum packages also allow for extended shelf life in many cases.

According to Churchwell, while having a leak-proof package is “table stakes” for appearance at the point of sale, there are issues with purge once the consumer gets the package home, too. “For cleanup in the kitchen, consumers view purge very seriously due to food safety concerns,” he points out. “Our Grip and Tear technology removes the need for scissors or knives for the consumer, and helps reduce the amount of purge that is released from the bag onto the prep surface.”

Lee Coffey, associate marketing manager at Bemis, agrees that just because a package is durable, doesn’t mean it can’t accommodate consumers’ needs when they get home to prepare it. “Easy open features can also be added to shrink rollstock to eliminate the need to open packaging with a knife or scissors,” Coffey says.

In addition to controlling leakage and purge, chicken and turkey processors are looking for other attributes in whole bird packaging, including physical appearance of the package. On-package graphics are part of that, enabling whole birds to stand out at a busy point of sale.

Churchwell reports that processors are increasingly interested in color and artwork. “They want to dress up the bag with color and vibrant images,” he says, noting that Sealed Air-Cryovac has focused on improved print capability. “One of the things we’ve been working on recently is to enable digital printing.”

Higher quality digital printing also helps processors connect with customers to tell them the story behind their product. “What digital printing can do is address trends, such as consumer interest in animal welfare and local supply. Some companies are highlighting their farmers. We’ve had some concepts in which you can use different digital images of farmers, and then marry that with recipes or other ways to draw in the consumer,” Churchwell explains.

In today’s marketplace, a more engaging package helps attract consumers who may not know how or want to cook a whole bird, including Millennial consumers who like the idea of being “foodies” but who have demonstrated less interest in cooking. “There has been a lot of outreach on whole birds, including interactive packages with QR codes. Someone can take a smartphone and scan the code that takes you to a YouTube presentation on cooking a whole bird,” Churchwell says.
Packaging Solutions

Packaging with purpose

Interactive packaging is already being used in different and insightful ways. Recently, Wichita, Kansas-based Cargill launched a traceable turkey pilot program using blockchain technology for whole birds sold under the Honeysuckle White brand. Consumers can enter an on-package code on the brand’s website to find out more about the particular turkey farm. The technology also enables consumers to access a product finder website to find retailers who offer the traceable birds.

Just Bare Chicken, St. Cloud, Minnesota, a brand of Pilgrim’s Pride subsidiary, GNP Co. also touts transparency with clear packaging and a traceability feature. Consumers use a five-digit code on the Just Bare package to discover where the chicken was raised and by whom.

Kieny agrees that today’s packaging systems are more shopper friendly. “Consumers tend to be drawn to skin tight packages decorated with enhanced graphics and visuals that reinforce the message that the bird within the package is fresh and safe to eat,” he observes. To deliver on that kind of messaging and merchandising, Coveris has developed a shrink bag with strong shrink properties and abuse resistance with the ability to print up to 10 colors on the front and back, he notes.

Beyond the use of graphics and colors, advances in materials and equipment can lead to a different type of on-package billboard effect. “The ability to see the bird is a relatively new concept, but clear shrink bags could begin to take the place of white, printed bags. New resins are available that allow for increased elongation and stretch, improving shrink properties and appearance of the finished package while reducing the risk of leakers,” Kieny explains. “Soon, processors will no longer need to rely on high-end graphics to promote the freshness of their birds -- the package will be able to tell that story for them.”

In some cases, the package will also do the cooking for them, to a certain degree. Oven-ready packaging, like the kind used for Hormel Foods, Jennie-O Turkey Store’s oven-ready birds and Butterball’s Ready to Roast oven-ready birds, among others, allows consumers to go from freezer to oven without thawing or other prep. “We are seeing more interest in that. People talk about convenience, and that fits in with the overall trend of what’s coming,” says Churchwell of Sealed Air’s Oven Ease packaging.

In addition to consumer-driven innovations in packaging for whole birds, other advances are geared to make operations easier and more efficient for processors. “On that point, we want to keep a low-cost package and help our customers manage the cost process,” declares Churchwell, noting that Sealed Air will introduce a new solution in early 2018, an automation that will help increase productivity and operational efficiency. “In that regard, you have more functional hours and get more production,” he says.

Likewise, Kearny says Bemis rollstock packaging for whole birds is designed to help processors in their day-to-day production. “There’s a big opportunity for reduced labor expenses, as you are eliminating the need to manually load the bags. The improved puncture resistance of shrink rollstock is also a benefit, which leads to reduced waste and rework in the plants, and provides a better retail experience for consumers compared to traditional polyethylene bags,” he explains, adding that shrink rollstock also helps operators improve worker ergonomics.