To keep up with demand, operations should focus on line speed and flexibility.

To meet consumer demand for clean label, organic and free-from products, food manufacturers are investing in better ingredients and processes. But one of the most critical aspects to consider when capturing consumers’ attention is packaging and its effect not only on sales but also on the product itself.

During 2017, advances in products and packaging have gone hand in hand. Clean label products require better seals and packaging to meet shelf-life demands. The better-for-you trend in the baking and snack industries requires innovation on the packaging line. How are all of these changes going to affect the final packaged product once it’s on a shelf or in the hands of the consumer?

“That’s a question every baker, every food supplier, needs to be asking themselves,” said Dennis Gunnell, vice-president of sales and marketing, Formost Fuji. “These companies are spending money to make the product better, but are they looking at delivering a better package as well?”

Other areas of innovation have included increasing packaging speed, smaller pack sizes, portability, single-serve and display packaging. Resealable stand-up pouches, carton displays with single-serve flowwrapped products and gusseted stand-up bags also are trending. Additionally, corrugated shippers that convert into shelf-ready displays are becoming more common as retailers look for ways to reduce the time and effort it takes to get items on a shelf.

No matter the strategy, food manufacturers must realize that the package makes the first impact on consumers. Once attracted to the package, people explore the added health or quality benefits.

“It’s essentially the ‘face’ of every product,” said Mark Lozano, sales manager, North America, TNA. “As a result, the perception of any product’s quality or value is closely related to the ease-of-use and the look and feel of its packaging. In many ways, the packaging of a product is as important to the customer experience as the actual contents inside.”

Automating the packaging line increases throughput in a smaller footprint. Source: BluePrint Automation

Pitching premiumization
Matching a product to packaging requires considering several consumer trends, such as single-serve packaging for convenience, portability and resealability.

At Pack Expo held in September, Cavanna showcased a project for gluten-free clean label cookies. Through a heavier-gauge film or gas flushing to force oxygen out of the pack, Cavanna offers several solutions.

“The challenge is how do you marry packaging with increased shelf life?” asked Bill Kehrli, vice-president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging.

He added that reduced package sizes emerged as another growing trend. Mr. Kehrli said he sees a lot of companies requesting the ability to place four or five smaller packs into a larger secondary package to allow consumers to eat one single-serve item while the others remain sealed and fresh for another time. In addition to extended shelf life, individually wrapped products provide portion control.

Mr. Gunnell noted shelf life can be increased by combining gas flushing with an oxygen-consuming packet inside the package. Some film materials also are lined with oxygen scavenging materials. Formost Fuji can gas flush a package to get oxygen levels down to 1% residual oxygen and insert the added oxygen-consuming packet or material to take that down to zero.

The key to achieving shelf-life goals is that bakers and snack manufacturers collaborate with film and equipment suppliers to ensure everything is compatible.

“The big thing coming out of this year is the increased awareness of partnering between suppliers and producers,” he said. “It’s a two-way street and no two people are the same.”

Formost Fuji introduced the fast and flexible Alpha 8 horizontal flow wrapper this year. The wrapper includes a stronger, simpler and more accessible end-seal system that is quieter and more reliable than previous models with high sealing pressure. The Formost Fuji Vision System has an “auto-teaching” feature that detects film registration, allowing for easier setup and product changeovers.

To match the right product with the right film on a new machine, companies need to communicate with suppliers before installation to make sure everything passes factory acceptance tests and product trials.

“Without that partnership, you don’t get what you want,” he added.

Mr. Gunnell said Formost Fuji will release six more configurations, including left- and right-hand models, of the Alpha 8 wrapper in 2018 as well as an improved sealing mechanism to address extended shelf life and the long-term quality of products. The long-term quality and premiumization of products is top of mind for many producers and suppliers.

“The trend toward premiumization not only applies to ingredients but also to packaging as this plays a key role in communicating a product’s premium credentials,” Mr. Lozano said. “Flexible bags are a great option for a lot of manufacturers because it allows them to easily upgrade the look and feel of their product. In fact, there are a number of snack manufacturers that have started to replace boxed formats with flexible bags to enhance the consumer appeal.”

Higher-grade packaging films in vertical and horizontal flowwrapping convey premiumization. Metallization, for example, improves the film’s barriers to moisture, air and odors and adds a glossy shine to the packaging. However, additional coating increases the overall thickness of the film, which in turn affects other processes like the sealing temperature, pressure and time required to achieve the necessary seal integrity. Mr. Lozano said TNA developed high-thermal conductivity (HTC) jaws for its TNA robag system. Made from a composite material, the HTC jaws deliver optimal seal performance even on thick laminate films.

There is a tightrope to walk when upgrading films or decreasing sizes of packs for convenience. All of this must be done at the same rate as larger, simpler packages. Production time cannot be lost. Innovations over the past year feature the ability to bolster throughput while increasing the variety of options at the end of the processing line.