Good things may come in small packages, but there is strong demand for good things in large packages, too. Advances in bulk packaging underscore the notion that a bakery or snack manufacturer’s customers have big expectations for larger-format packages, from quality and shelf life to security and safety to sustainability.

As with smaller or single-serve packages, there are different types of bulk packaging. This style spans ­cases, cartons, multipacks, large bags, pouches and more. As Paul Garms, product and marketing manager for Bosch Packaging Technology, Minneapolis, pointed out, “When I think of bulk packaging, I think of a product that is not designed to be consumed at one sitting.”

On a roll

One type of technology applies to bakery buns and rolls via systems that create different types of pillow packs. Reflecting operators’ needs, bulk bun packers, deployed by both large-scale and mid-size bakeries, are designed for improved efficiency and quality.

AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA, is one packaging equipment supplier that has focused on efficiency and throughput in recent years. AMF’s recently upgraded HS40 bulk bun packer loads up to 40 packages a minute with a variety of slicing options and numerous packaging configurations, according to John Keane, post packaging product manager. “Our HS40 Bulk Bun Packer is now equipped with an impulse sealer, which offers a safer sealing assembly with the removal of the hot seal bars typically used. The patented independent lane hold-downs reduce pressure on the rolls and eliminate indexing errors,” he explained, citing the benefits of speed, packaging quality, reliability and efficiency.

In general, Mr. Keane said, bakeries are looking for greater flexibility to produce different varieties as well as better efficiencies. “Our equipment provides more integrated designs and fewer parts for less downtime, as well as higher packaging speeds,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Jackson, MI-based LeMatic, Inc. produces bulk packers, baggers and sealers as well as slicers and product handling equipment for the baking industry, including a bulk bun packer designed for greater efficiency and speeds that won’t slow down packaging production and hence, optimize production costs. Recently, LeMatic complemented its high-volume bulk packer with a new LS3 bulk packer designed for mid-sized and smaller bakeries; the LS3 can process 22 packages a minute in both automatic and hand-fed processes.

Brandon Woods, LeMatic’s director of sales, said the bulk packers offer a variety of advantages for different applications. “We have used our bulk packers to pack a boule bread for quick-serve restaurants. Instead of bagging the product, you bulk pack it. Using different seals, you can get the same configuration of nine loaves potentially for a less expensive cost,” he explained.

Sizing up the competition

In addition to systems for buns, bulk packaging also describes larger format packages that, to Mr. Garms’ point, aren’t meant to be consumed in one usage occasion. The rise in popularity of club stores and value packs fueled the development of bigger packages and multipacks. Many equipment suppliers have responded to this demand with new machinery and upgraded systems.

For instance, the Southern Packing Machinery division of Benchmark Automation in Athens, GA, specializes in pouch packaging, including larger pouches. Among its offerings is a new brand packaging horizontal form/fill/seal (f/f/s) machine that can be used to package stand-up pouches with zipper closures. “Compared with a pillow bag, advantages include an appearance with a better shelf presence, recloseability for the consumer and the ability to stand up on a shelf or in the pantry,” explained Vince Tamborello, president, Benchmark Automation. Applications might include 1-lb packages of granola or nuts, he added.

Mr. Tamborello also noted that large stand-up pouches represent a growth area for packaging. “I think people have become accustomed to club stores,” he observed. Thus, many processors now must accommodate special packaging styles for market segments that offer consumers an attractive price with a larger package size. “You may not think people would want a 1-lb bag of cashews, for example, but according to the people we work with, it’s one of the largest-growing segments of the business,” he said.

Montreal-based WeighPack Systems, Inc. recently introduced a vertical f/f/s machine that can produce a finished package 24 in. wide and up to 60 in. long.

According to Marketing Manager Christie Taraborelli, the machine was designed for low cost of maintenance using off-the-shelf parts. It interfaces with auxiliary ­equipment and can run both polyethylene and laminate materials. “Its heavy-duty tubular steel construction make the Vertek 2400 perfect for any bulk packaging application and offers an excellent ROI based on material savings and higher productivity,” she added.

Likewise, Mr. Garms said that such packaging styles help bulk up the bulk category. “There has been growth in one-person households and smaller households that are looking for value, as well as growth in club stores for family-size packages. In that regard, we’ve seen increased demand for stand-up bags with recloseability,” he remarked.

Bosch recently re-engineered a vertical f/f/s machine to produce Doy Zip bags for such applications. “It’s the fastest Doy Bag machine, handling up to 100 packages a minute,” reported Mr. Garms, who said that products like trail mix are well suited for this system and that it also offers versatility and recloseability for a variety of popular bag styles.

The ability to produce multipacks is another area related to bulk-style packaging. “On the family pack side, we’re doing a lot with flowwrappers and multipacks of items like sandwich crackers,” Mr. Garms reported.

Better controls, sustainability

In addition to efficiency and speed, technology is another way for bakery and snack companies to maximize value. Ms. Taraborelli, for instance, said that WeighPack invested in data acquisition and service support. Changes include a bulk packaging system featuring an industrial PC with a Windows operating system that provides event logging and archiving of production results, uptime and downtime, yield analysis and unit costs. “As for servicing, all bulk filling applications include an industrial stainless steel encased digital camera mounted to our system,” she said, adding that real-time support helps eliminate delays and downtime, and the costs associated with them.

Mr. Garms also indicated that a burgeoning interest in sustainability is spurring food companies to take a second look at trays in multipacks. “For sustainability and, frankly, for cost-­cutting, some are trying to do away with the tray and overwrap individual packages together,” Mr. Garms explained, adding that Bosch offers flowwrapper technology that enables a tight overwrap to keep individual packages together without a tray.

The ongoing search for greater ROI, cost savings and efficiency among baking and snack companies, along with consumer interest in sustainability and value, will continue to impact bulk packaging technology, according to Mr. Garms. “Sustainability isn’t going away, and we only see recloseability growing,” he observed.