In recent years, the vacuum skin packaging platform has continued to see growth and technical advancement. This progress and growth over time combined with consumer interest in transparency, convenience and food safety have fueled skin packaging’s increasing popularity, according to Bryan Mueller, marketing manager for Oshkosh, Wis.-based Amcor Flexibles North America.
“Amcor strives to provide the packaging formats that processors and consumers value, and skin packaging clearly provides benefits across the value chain,” Mueller said.
Once applied and vacuum packed, skin packaging provides a longer shelf life for meat and poultry products, and by completely draping the film over the entire product, it shows the product in a clearer way as if there is no film.
“Everyone benefits from longer shelf life,” said Mike McCann, packaging specialist at Reiser, Canton, Mass. “Retailers will reduce their shrink, consumers will reduce their food waste, and processors will be able to enter new, distant markets with their products.”
“Skin packaging offers several advantages to customers,” said Jason Angel, vice president of sales and marketing at Battleboro, NC-based Ossid. “For starters, it presents the product in a very appealing manner. Skin packaging allows the product to stand out by letting the color and beauty of the food pop through. This allows the consumer to inspect the product more closely and choose which package they’d like to ultimately purchase.”
The transparency and clarity of skin packaging not only gives consumers a better view of the product, but also delivers a high-end and premium appearance to go with longer shelf life, said Mike Hanneken, product market manager for Multivac Inc., Kansas City, Mo. Multivac offers two types of skin packaging. One type allows for minimal product protrusion while the other permits product protrusion of up to 95 millimeters.
“Packages with minimal product protrusion still create a premium and unique look, but packages with greater product protrusion really help the product stand out,” Hanneken said.
Farmer Focus in Harrisonburg, Va., a 100% organic poultry processor and network of family farms has used skin packaging for several years based on what its consumers want to see in the store. Farmer Focus’ research consistently drove the company to hone its packaging style to present aesthetically pleasing instore presentations of product on the shelf, as well as giving customers the ability to see what’s in the package before purchase.
“For Farmer Focus, it’s also another symbol of the transparency we offer throughout our whole process,” said Stephen Shepard, executive vice president of operations. “With the skin packaging consumers can evaluate all sides of the meat. When you couple that with our Farm ID system allowing consumers to trace back to the farmer, it becomes an added symbol of our transparency.”
Skin packaging not only offers a clean look, but it also offers a clean use to consumers in the home or otherwise.
“A skin package is normally far less messy to deal with on opening versus conventional vacuum packs,” McCann said.
Processors want high performance, low power consumption and overall cost efficiency when it comes to the equipment and machines necessary to operations, and skin packaging is no different. Ossid’s ReeEco tray sealer operates on electricity without the need of compressed air. Its infeed conveyor gives operators up to three loading positions, easy tooling changes and a user-friendly control panel.
According to McCann, in addition to shelf life and other advantages, processors like the ease of use in loading products into or onto packages in Reiser’s machines due to the collapse and evacuation in a quickly executed, yet controlled sequence.
“Of course, customer support is another critical component of a vacuum skin packaging system,” Angel said. “You can build the best equipment in the world, but if you do not have the infrastructure in place to support that system, you are going to fail your customer. A strength Ossid brings to the industry is a robust customer support network that tends to our machinery and customers long after the sale.”
Ultimately consumers push what a processor produces, how it packages, its ingredients, etc. Portion control may have started out as a trend but has become a mainstream consumer habit and tendency. Meat and poultry companies have taken notice, and skin packaging aids in attracting those consumers.
“More and more meat packaging is limiting portion sizes, and skin packaging can be an efficient way to package single portions for today’s consumer,” Mueller said.
Minimal protrusion skin packaging offers meat processing facilities a lower cost option, but products don’t present as well as those in a package with greater product protrusion. Maximum product protrusion machines possess a higher level of sophistication and create a more premium look.
“For both types of packages, the top film contours the product very tightly without the product puncturing the film,” Hanneken said. “Some products are more challenging to skin pack. Multivac can work with the customer to run samples of their product using the customer’s film to evaluate such concerns.”
Shepard from Farmer Focus agreed, “Boneless cuts are going to be more successful than bone-in products purely because you are taking out the potential of bone puncture risk. However, we use this packaging for all cuts and success is really a matter of aligning the thickness of film and settings used when sealing.”
Jerry Rundle, vice president of sales for Taunton, Mass.-based Harpak-ULMA Packaging LLC, emphasized, “…reliability, reliability, reliability,” when addressing the things processor customers need most from skin packaging systems.
Rundle also agreed that while providing longer shelf lives and a superior look to packaged meat products, skin packaging offers more versatility in achieving those qualities.
“You can skin onto flex film, semi-rigid film, flat board, paper trays, etc.,” he said. He added that customers often seek out machines and machine builders whose equipment provides the best-looking skin packaged product because attractiveness implies quality.
For meat and poultry companies considering the purchase of a skin packaging system, many reasons suggest it’s a worthy investment. The aesthetic value of skin packaging gives consumers an instant verification of reliability and quality when making purchasing decisions.
“Skin packaging also provides a consistent appearance on the shelf with better purge control than traditional formats and no product shift during transportation,” Mueller said.
Reiser works with customers to produce samples of the different styles of packaging so they can evaluate before purchase. The company has seen success and satisfied numerous customers using this process. Reiser welcomes its potential and existing customers to visit and be a part of that process at any time.
“Working with our Customer Center affords processors the opportunity to investigate thoroughly their various options without gambling on the purchase of a dedicated line that may not even be able to handle their product,” McCann said. “We encourage processors to bring your product, make your packages, present them to your customers, and observe their preference so that you can proceed with the best package for your customer, your product, and your business.”
Farmer Focus prioritizes its mission to promote and protect generational family farms and bases its choice of vendors on alignment with that mission.
“We also evaluate other more operations-focused things like quality of sourcing, transparency in costing and service, clear lead times, collaboration on inventory demand levels, technical support, and willingness to innovate with us,” Shepard said.