Big trends in packaging automation

by Lynn Petrak
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Today’s flowwrappers combine packaging flexibility and the latest in hygienic design.
 

As consumers move into the new year resolving to — or at least trying to — eat healthier, they have an increasing number of pre-portioned dessert options that help them indulge, in a more measured way, or with better-for-you products.

Portioned treats and desserts fit into the ongoing quest for a moderate and wellness-focused diet. However, such items fit the bill for other trends as well, from interest in novelty products to the clamor for grab-and-go eats to the move toward multipacks of single or smaller products.

What consumers want

Demand for portioned desserts can be split into two categories. “First, many customers want the convenience of just purchasing one individually wrapped portion and not the entire cake or pie. Others will purchase the entire product pre-portioned and frozen and just use it as needed,” said Doug Petrovich, vice-president, sales and service, FoodTools, Inc. “Second, you have restaurants and foodservice operators looking for the convenience of serving a ¬≠dessert that is equal in size and maximizes the number served for profitability.”

The short-term future for smaller-sized desserts on the retail side bodes well, based on some US demographics. “In the frozen food sector, we have noticed that the number of members per household has declined in the past few years,” said Fabian Manger, product manager, Bosch Packaging Technology. “Consequently, the demand for smaller packaging sizes is on the rise, which is suitable for singles and the on-the-go lifestyles.” He added that Bosch has focused on helping manufacturers react quickly to changing requirements of packaging styles with systems that combine product flexibility and the latest hygienic design.

According to Bill Kehrli, vice-president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging Group, the price-value equation for both consumers and food manufacturers is also contributing to the growth of pre-portioned dessert products that are merchandised in larger packs. “In addition to portion control, another reason is to get the price point down to meet certain thresholds,” he said. “Snack manufacturers are changing packaging formats, going to single-serve multipacks, and there is a drive to get away from previous indulgent snacks in a carton because it limits itself.”

Providing smaller portions — including single-serve, individually wrapped products or bags and pouches with fewer items — can also be done by using systems like flowwrappers or automatic packaging machines for products like cookies, snack cakes and other items with a regular shape.

Mr. Kehrli said that customers, particularly those in Latin America, often create larger packages with smaller ones inside. “They package cookies two or three at a time, and then those get repackaged in a flowwrapper, so there are six bags within one,” he explained. Among other solutions, Cavanna offers wrapping lines that include automatic stacking, buffering and wrapping multipacks.

Packaging changes require investments, and they are being made around the US. Mr. Kehrli cited major manufacturers like Mondelez International, Deerfield, IL, which now offers short slugs of cookies. “Consumers want [smaller packs]; it’s quicker for lunch to just take three cookies. We’re seeing the same thing in snack cakes as well, with smaller-sized portions,” he said.

Likewise, Kelly Meer, product manager, Bosch Packaging Technology, said strong industry demand for flowwrapped cookies on edge, as well as sweet snacks in larger formats, have spurred new features and improvements. “The modular design of these solutions allows for layout flexibility and scalability, enabling bakers and snack manufacturers to easily expand their production capacity or increase the level of automation from entry level, hand-fed machines, right through to fully automated solutions,” Mr. Meer said.

In addition to cookies and snack cakes, frozen desserts — including pies, cakes and ice cream — can be packaged individually for one-off consumption. “There is a move to single serve, partly because people are saying, ‘I will eat less.’ We’re also seeing more variety packs of ice cream novelty products,” said Jerry Buckley, Midwest regional sales manager, Blueprint Automation, which offers systems for primary and secondary packaging, palletizing and integrated systems.

Meanwhile, the recent popularity of bar products has also affected equipment used to individually wrap products and multipacks. “Bar items continue to grow, but they are often blurred between the breakfast, snack and dessert categories,” said Vince Tamborello, senior vice-president, material handling group, ProMach.

Read on to learn the best way to efficiently automate your packaging line.

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