ELMWOOD PARK, NJ – Steve Menza, president and founder of Menza Foods, was looking for a high-quality package when he began exploring packaging options for the company’s Firenze line of ready meal entrées.

Menza wanted a package that not only performed well, but also showcased this product. “We use the best ingredients and processing methods in our category, so we don’t want to hide our product behind a box or carton,” he explained.

Having more than 20 years of experience in producing home-meal replacement concept products, Menza Foods is considered a pioneer in the high-quality. ready-meals industry. Today, its Firenze line of products are sold in most large supermarket retailers as well in convenience stores and even office vending machines.

Focusing primarily in frozen meal formats, Menza’s company is working to alter consumer perceptions of the category by offering restaurant-quality meals in microwavable trays that are ready to eat in four to five minutes. “Our entrées are unique because we blend multiple components with a sauce base before the product is packaged and frozen, unlike most ready-meal formats that require the consumers to blend them during or after the reheating process.”

Menza was introduced to the Cryovac Simple Steps package when his sales rep, Joe Schaefer, brought him samples of vegetables packaged in the ready-meal format. “We were always interested in finding a better package,” Menza said. “We looked at a variety of different packages and technologies, and we weren’t satisfied until we got the call from Joe. When I saw the samples, I knew this could be an opportunity to enhance our entrées.”

Pouches didn’t make the mark

Before adopting Cryovac’s Simple Steps package, Menza Foods packaged its ready-meal entrées in pouches. However, since the company couldn’t pull a vacuum with the pouches, frost and ice crystals could form and affect product visibility. “The pouches required our customers to pierce the film for ventilation and called for careful handling once the product was heated,” Menza said.

Menza Foods also had difficulty regarding label adhesion on the pouches, unless it used pre-printed materials.

In the end, Menza Foods attributed many of the benefits of switching to the Simple Steps ready-meal format to the vacuum-skin packaging technology. For example, the tight vacuum plus eliminating freezer burn not only increased the product’s freshness and shelf-life, it also improved the product’s visual appeal. Increased product visibility also allowed Menza Foods to merchandise the line using a sleeve cover with a large window to show the actual product.

In addition, the new package allowed more convenience at the customer level. “We liked that the Simple Steps package was self-venting and had safety features that allowed for easier handling after the product was heated,” Menza said.

Switching from pouches to the Simple Steps tray also prevented the need to transfer product to a bowl or plate after heating. What’s more, the vacuum-skin packaging creates an environment for steam-assisted cooking in the microwave, which results in flavor enhancement plus even heating of the product.

Before Menza Foods adopted the Simple Steps solution, it went through multiple testing phases to determine how the Simple Steps package would perform with its Firenze product line. Cryovac’s engineers initially developed test samples at their labs to show the visual aspects of the package with the Firenze product. Next, Menza Foods rented a semi-automatic T200 Multivac traysealer to run in-house production tests for a six-month period.

“Every product is unique to that machine, so we were running a lot of tests to find the best performance level for our product,” Menza said.

Late in 2008, Menza Foods adopted the Simple Steps package for its Firenze entrée line following a successful testing process. Menza said his company eventually upgraded to an automatic T400 Multivac system to increase speed and production efficiency.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the past few years and we attribute part of it to the success of the new packaging format,” Menza said. “We are hearing that the product is exceeding customer expectations at all levels, especially product quality and the packaging. Our biggest challenge with the product is that we can’t seem to stock it fast enough.”

Firenze has particularly performed well in the campus convenience store market, where it is available on 150 university campuses throughout the US. Menza Foods is also considering expanding its offerings in the office vending machine market, with products now in vending machines in Chicago and South Carolina markets.

“We are currently working with club store chains, as well, to offer the Firenze entrées at wholesale,” Menza said.

Enjoying double-digit growth over the last couple of years and with sales showing no signs of slowing down, Menza Foods is a great example of the successful combination of a high-quality product with the right packaging technology.

“We have a great relationship with our packaging suppliers,” Menza said. “With our processing and what we’re doing, we’ve been committed to ready meals for 20 years now. A lot of the benefits of the Simple Steps package have allowed us to take our product to another level that has surpassed our customer’s expectations.”

Menza Foods is a pioneer with expertise in high quality ready meals. For more than 20 years, it has been developing trade secret processing methods and solutions.

To ensure its premium entrées consistently feature superior flavor, the company said it has always done things differently than its competitors. The company also runs its business on a set of unique but fundamental principles designed to continually enhance its products, Menza said.

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