When it comes to snacking, variety packs are the next wave of product offerings that cater to consumers’ desire for choice. Whether they’re 12-packs of multiple flavors or types of products, or large bins that provide an instant choice for the shopping cart, consumers want options. In turn, this opens up a world of options when it comes to processing technology for secondary packaging.

“Variety packs here in the US are getting larger and larger, and in multiple formats,” said Rocco Fucetola, Northeast regional sales manager, BluePrint Automation, Colonial Heights, VA, at the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers Association (B&CMA)’s annual technical conference, held earlier this month in Tampa, FL.

To determine their best opportunity, bakers and snack producers must first ask themselves important questions about not only their product’s role in the marketplace but also how this type of secondary packaging fits into their operations as a whole. Specifically, they need to determine if the packaging is taking place as part of the process, or if it’s done offline.

As with most operations, space is always an issue. When a secondary packaging system for variety packs is at the back end of the line, it will take up the least amount of space on the production floor. “It takes less real estate to do that at the back end of the process,” Mr. Fucetola said, adding that it also keeps the process running efficiently. “With a system at the back end, product is coming already organized. You’ll have fewer touches, and fewer touches can mean less cost.”

However, it’s not without a tradeoff. A secondary system like this at the back end of production will often sacrifice flexibility, and the variety pack is limited to the product availability running on that line.

Another alternative is taking the system offline, Mr. Fucetola suggested, such as when a baker or snack producer makes the products, stores them and either sends them off to another facility to be packaged into a variety pack or done later in-house with an offline system. While this would require more real estate for the machinery and possibly more manpower to unscramble and organize the products, “The advantage here is that you’re not limited to your product availability,” he explained. “With those kinds of systems, you can typically build in a tremendous amount of flexibility, whether it’s an 8-count, 12-count or 20-count package with multiple flavors or SKUs.”

As consumers continue to expect variety in product offerings, bakers and snack makers will look to equipment suppliers for options and flexibility with secondary packaging.