Foodservice, club stores demand bigger, better packaging

by Lynn Petrak
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It’s a big deal when today’s consumers and foodservice operators make their purchase decisions — literally. An increased desire for value and convenience is spurring interest in both bulk and larger-size packaging for a variety of products. In turn, that demand leads to the use of bigger bags for items like cereal, snack foods and some baked goods.

Club stores are one outlet for consumers’ big appetites. According to findings from the Chicago market research firm Mintel, 40% of consumers who shop at warehouse clubs say those stores carry quality products. Latinos, a growing buying group in the US, are also inclined to go big and go home when it comes to shopping. According to a recent study from GeoScape, Miami, Hispanic consumers rank, in order, Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and Sam’s Club as their preferred retail outlets to buy groceries and household items. Latino shoppers prefer family- and club-size packaging both at club stores and grocery stores, according to that study.

Beyond club stores, there has been some upsizing on traditional grocery store shelves, too. Although single-serve products are in demand, many food manufacturers offer family-size and larger packaging for items ranging from potato chips to cookies to accommodate growing households and interest in value. At the same time, there has been a push from major retailers like Wal-Mart to become more environmentally sustainable and thereby reduce secondary packaging, also impacting the demand for larger bags.

The result from such trends in the retail marketplace, along with needs and demands from foodservice operators who often buy in bulk to maximize savings and enhance efficiency, has led manufacturers to add bigger bags and machines that can handle them.

Nicholas Taraborelli, vice-president of sales and marketing for WeighPack Systems, Inc., Montreal, has seen these evolving and diverse preferences. “Demand is ­ever-increasing for club-size packages because many consumers prefer to purchase in these formats,” he said. “This remains retail-driven and highly competitive.”

Likewise, Sales and Project Manager Eric Aesen of Bosch Packaging Technology Inc., New Richmond, WI, reported a similar marketplace interest. “Demand is there; it’s increasing, and companies are accommodating in the best fashion they can. As in any industry, certain segments are up, and certain segments are down,” he noted.

On the foodservice side, Mr. Taraborelli said a similar kind of value proposition affects interest in bulk bags. “Foodservice clients often are price-driven because these packages are used for internal usage or re-packing,” he said.

Offering up diversity

Whether for foodservice or retail, bigger and bulk bags are just part of manufacturers’ increasingly broad and diverse offerings as they seek to offer solutions to their disparate yet discerning customers. “I do see a trend that more and more bakeries want to have as much flexibility as possible in terms of different packaging — whether bulk packaging product in a lined box, bigger family packs or even small counts for retail bags,” observed Bert Vandmiddelem, area sales manager for Pattyn Bakery Division (PBD), a French designer and manufacturer of automatic lines for bakery packaging with North American offices in Quebec.

Also underscoring the point about flexibility is Michael Lea, spokesperson for tna North America, a global supplier of integrated food packaging and processing solutions with US offices in Coppell, TX. According to Mr. Lea, consumers’ desire for more product in different packaging formats can also be reflected in the increased demand for bulk packs. “These packs were originally referred to as multi-packs. With snack foods, the multi-pack would contain anywhere from six to 36 small packs from approximately 12 to 20 g, which essentially allowed the consumer the convenience of having multiple small, individual, portion packs in their cupboard at home,” Mr. Lea said, citing other benefits to multi-packs of bags. “Two independent layers of wrapping protection provide higher levels of physical protection for less product damage to the consumer. Where products are susceptible to oxygen or moisture degradation, the two independent layers significantly improve product quality and shelf life.”

Flexibility and simplicity

When it comes to bagging machines, baking and snack companies have definite needs and interests for their increasingly diverse product lines. On the materials side, Mr. Aesen said, customers have high expectations. “Materials, first and foremost, need to meet the customer’s needs for protection and performance,” he explained. “Along with this, they need to have the proper structure so they give the packager the look and feel that they are looking for while having the processing capabilities to achieve the speeds and throughput without intervention by the operator.”

On the equipment side, flexibility and simplicity seem to be top-of-mind among manufacturers of products sold in bulk or large bags.

“Flexibility and changeover time is our primary focus,” Mr. Taraborelli said. “We have to provide our customers with the capability of meeting all of their clients’ ever-changing demands.”

At Bosch, Mr. Aesen agreed that simplicity and ease of use are important, along with versatility. “Foodservice operators want to minimize the number of steps and effort, and they would like to eliminate guesswork if possible, like ‘right sized’ packaging,” he explained. “Consumers expect bulk bags to have that convenience aspect to them as well. They expect the product to be 100% protected, and they also want the convenience of being able to stand the package up wherever they may store it with a closure system that will maintain the quality of the product inside, as well as maintain the product in the package.”

At AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA, bakery customers are looking for simplified operations in bread baggers, according to John Keane, engineering product manager for packaging and distribution. “They are looking for simplified operation and adjustments, quick scoop changeover capability, automatic wicket bag exchanges, combined controls for both slicer and bagger and air reduction in the bags to assist with automated basket and case loading,” he said. Mr. Keane added that enhanced guarding requirements and energy efficiency are also on customers’ wish lists. When it comes to wholesale bulk bun packaging, he related that customers want a variety of package sizes and configurations along with consistence.

Mr. Vandmiddelem, for his part, emphasized the importance of accuracy for baggers like those integrated into PBD’s line. “On projects where we count product to send to one or more baggers — sometimes up to four of them — the most important point, in my opinion, is count accuracy,” he explained. “The bakeries want to limit their product giveaway as much as possible to have the highest possible efficiency of the line, but they also want to avoid undercounts at all cost. Therefore, they rely on us to provide them with the right number of product in the bags.”

Meanwhile, the importance of graphics on bulk and larger bags depends on the end user. “Foodservice clients are far less focused on the aesthetics of a package than a typical store operator. For club stores, it’s imperative that the final product is attractive for a consumer to choose from the shelves. Trends in club stores are moving to stand-up pouches with re-closable features and high-quality graphics,” Mr. Taraborelli said.

Notable innovations

As manufacturers of snacks and baked goods look for flexibility, ease of use and accuracy in their bagging capability, they have new choices, thanks to equipment suppliers’ updated offerings.

Mr. Taraborelli pointed to WeighPack’s Swifty bagger. “It’s engineered for automatically opening, filling and sealing pre-made pouches and is easy to service, reliable and faster to clean,” he said of the bagger that can be used for a variety of bag styles, including pillow, stand-up, gusseted and quad bags, with a zipper enclosure or a carry handle.

According to Mr. Keane, AMF Bakery Systems also offers new features and capabilities, including a slicer/bagger combo integration that eliminates conveyor transfers. For bulk bun packaging, he added that the company has worked on improving grouping and laning by using patented independent hold-down systems. “We’ve also simplified design for easier sanitation and improved maintenance access,” he remarked.

Another example of market-driven innovation for bulk and bigger bags comes from Bosch. Mr. Aesen used the example of the company’s bag closing equipment that seals pre-made bags commonly used in club stores. “In the world of vertical form/fill/seal baggers, we have machines that can produce the ever-popular Doy Zip package,” he added, noting that the system can produce such packages quickly in a footprint the third of the size of traditional pouch horizontal form/fill/seal machines.

Other machinery suppliers are also offering versatile systems that can handle larger bag sizes. The line of Apache continuous and intermittent motion bagmakers from Kliklok-Woodman, Decatur, GA, for example, can produce bags up to 13.75 in. wide by 22 in. long for items like shelled peanuts, candy, cookies and mini-muffins.

And at tna North America, Mr. Lea said the design of modern baggers for multi-packs also reflects food manufacturers’ demands. “Due to their continuous motion and relatively compact construction, there is a short vertical drop; this minimizes any damage to the product during secondary packaging,” he said. In market segments where size matters, choosing the right packaging technology can make a big difference.        

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