Sure, consumers bring home the bacon. But they also tend to throw it away.

That’s according to some brow-raising consumer research conducted for Smithfield Packing Co. Inc., Smithfield, Va., a leading producer and purveyor of bacon. “Anecdotally, we were talking to different groups, and people said they were either cooking the whole pound of bacon or putting it back in their refrigerator drawer after consuming an average of only two slices. We then did some focus groups around it and conducted quantitative research and found that 75 percent of consumers threw away bacon on a regular basis,” says Will Brunt vice president of marketing. “We were surprised it was that high.”

Various research studies also confirmed that due to reasons ranging from budget concerns to changing demographics, portion sizes aren’t what they used to be. Brunt cites studies showing that more adults are eating smaller portions, while younger generations are embracing portion control for health, cost and waste issues. Other industry reports, meanwhile, reveal consumers are cooking up a few slices of bacon at a time to use as ingredients or toppings in dishes besides breakfast.

Back to the drawing board

To address what appears to be a true issue among its consumers, Smithfield went back and looked at its bacon packaging to determine a format that would deliver on quality, ease of use and relevance to users’ daily lives. “What drives people is taste first, then freshness. The idea was to keep the package as fresh as possible,” Brunt says.

For nearly a year, Smithfield’s packaging and R&D experts, along with their packaging equipment and material suppliers, worked on a bacon package that would ensure freshness and taste yet prevent waste at home. The result is an innovative new design that allows users to cook a few slices at a time.

Rolled out in October, the Smithfield PouchPack is the only bacon package to offer two adjacent, perforated and stay-fresh pouches containing six slices of uncooked, stacked bacon. Each pouch of Smithfield’s’ Hometown Original bacon also features an E-Z Peel opening that helps users avoid greasy fingers after handling. The retail price for the 12-oz. two-pouch package is competitive with other types of 12- and 16-oz. packages in the category.

According to Brunt, the semi-rigid PouchPack provides what other packaging formats can’t in terms of freshness, access and convenience for both the consumer and the retailer who stocks and displays the package. “You see a lot of resealable tubs, but even with a tub, oxygen can get in. This way, the oxygen stays out to keep it as fresh as possible,” he explains.

While the PouchPack was created to be incorporated easily into a supermarket and home refrigerator, it also had to work well internally at Smithfield’s bacon processing plant. “It uses a lot of the same equipment, with different dyes, molds and films. We didn’t have to bring in totally new systems,” Brunt reports.

Educating employees

Another departure in bacon packaging for the company: Smithfield’s marketing team and brand managers went to the bacon facility to explain to workers on the line the reasons behind the new format. “We did a presentation to explain the product and consumer benefits,” says Brunt. “After all, they are customers in stores, too. When you help them see the perspective and are not just asking them to do certain things for no reason, it gives them ownership.”

The flow of information has gone both ways. After an initial training before the launch, the brand management and marketing teams conducted more sessions in the plant after the rollout, to learn how they could make improvements based on feedback from Smithfield personnel at the point of production.

To support the new product’s introduction at the point of sale, meanwhile, Smithfield developed POS materials like shelf talkers and floor graphics for retailers to effectively showcase the new package on the shelf. “The PouchPack is also designed to be merchandised with regular L-board bacon. That is one of the reasons it’s rigid – so it can stand up,” Brunt adds. After only a few weeks following the rollout, he reports that a “slew” of stores around the country, including many major chains, are carrying the product and reaction has been positive across the board.

The folks at Smithfield knew they had a winner when early feedback from retailers and consumers resembled a “Why-didn’t-I-think-of- that-before?” moment. “When you see it, there is no explanation on how to use the package. People are like, ‘Of course!” It’s what I like to call a blinding flash of the obvious – when you come out with an innovative idea and people instantly get it,” Brunt points out. “Innovation equals quality and when you are the brand that is really focused on consumers, they appreciate that.”

Even as Smithfield’s new PouchPack shows up on more shelves, the company’s teams are looking at other innovations in both product and packaging. “We’re always looking forward,” Brunt notes.

For more information on bacon packaging solutions, click here.