Poultry packaging grows green, convenient
Product packaging is in the forefront of the poultry industry’s efforts to meet consumer demand for safe and convenient products that are also green.
Poultry processors couldn’t deliver the convenience, quality, variety and taste that consumers are looking for without the innovative packaging materials and equipment that vendors have developed in collaborative efforts with processors. Packaging plays an integral role in maintaining or enhancing just about every poultry product attribute from extending product shelf life and freshness to attracting the consumers’ attention at point of purchase.
A number of packaging material and equipment vendors shared thoughts with WATT PoultryUSA on new developments in packaging, overlooked opportunities for processors and sustainability.
Rip-and-tear and other options
Easier-to-open packages, more printing options, ‘cook in’ packages and portion-ready packages are all here today, according to packaging suppliers. These innovations will help processors meet consumer desires for quality, food safety, sustainability, health and convenience.
Rip-and-tear, easy-opening film has a number of applications for poultry processors, according to Don Smith, director of marketing, poultry and seafood, Cryovac Division of Sealed Air Corporation.
“It’s a multi-layer material, and we’ve got a way of changing it so that we get a straight tearing propagation,” Smith said. “We started out doing barrier bags. Then we moved into post-pasteurization.”
One application he described was for use in making cooked deli products which are stripped out of the bag after cooking. The easy-opening bag does not require the use of a knife or scissors to open the bag, and this speeds the process for workers.
New films help display
New films with ability to take matte or gloss finishes and be printed are gaining acceptance by the industry, according to Robert Farrell with Packaging Specialties Inc.
“Labeling information is very important and finding new ways to include all the information while making the product visible is always a challenge,” he said. “Shelf space in the store is always a driver creating new smaller or better display packaging. In the next few years we should see improvements to branding and package design offering new and improved sales opportunities.”
Kelly Armstrong with ColorMasters, LLC, agreed and said that printing is getting more high definition and should continue to improve over the next few years.
Fresh, food service/deli operations are now moving to form-fill-and-seal packages, according to Chad Fowler, marketing manager protein segment, International Paper. He said that they are making the change because it offers more shelf life per case. Automation of this process is allowing poultry suppliers to make the packaging change, and in some cases, increase throughput in the packaging department.
Ovenable, all-nylon, multi-layered bags have been developed by Cryovac that can be used to package products for the consumer that can be placed straight into the oven.
The bags can be run on standard, rotary-chamber vacuum equipment.
Smith said, “This bag is designed so the chicken or turkey processor can basically bring it in and almost instantly come up with a value-added product. You put the bird in this bag and seal it on the equipment that you have today.”
“Automation in pack off areas can improve pounds produced per man hour,” said Chris van Wandelen, general manager, of CVP Systems. He explained that some of the biggest savings from automating things like pick-and-place functions come not from labor savings on that line but from removing this area as a bottle neck and improving throughput on lines that feed the packaging area.
Rick Tkaczyk, sales and marketing vice president, M-TEK Inc., said that some processors are overlooking automation opportunities in packaging areas because of the difficulty in meeting return on investment criteria in the tough economic climate of the last few years. He said that taking advantage of automation in packaging areas can reduce total packaging costs and improve margins for processors.
Reducing product giveaway on net weight items provides a cost saving opportunity for processors, according to Brian Barr, sales manager, Heat and Control Inc. He said that high-speed check weighing solutions are available to allow processors to reduce giveaway and sell more pounds of product.
Packaging that is sustainable
Product packaging has sometimes been placed squarely in the crosshairs of environmental activists. Popular packages like the Styrofoam “clamshell” once a mainstay of fast food restaurants have largely been replaced by paper product substitutes after protests from environmental groups. Some activists still see most product packaging as a threat to the environment, but sustainable packaging is not an oxymoron.
Chris van Wandelen, general manager, of CVP Systems, said, “Sustainability in packaging is about providing the functionality that is required in terms of shelf life, product protection, ease of use and attractiveness for the consumer while minimizing materials used and allowing for economical shipping.” He explained that you want to make sure that your packaging allows for trucks shipping your products reach the allowable gross maximum before they “cube” out. “Simply reducing the cube of the product package can reduce the environmental impact,” he said.
Reduction of materials
Sustainability can also be improved by reducing the amount of materials used in a package, even if the size of the package doesn’t shrink. “If we have a customer that is using a 4 mil bag and we can get the same results from a 2 mil bag, we can reduce their cost and the environmental impact at the same time,” said van Wandelen. “Convenience, price and quality are important consumers and people also want packaging that does not create waste for them.” He explained that sometimes there is a trade off between what the customer wants in terms of convenience and their willingness to not buy lots of packaging materials, like what might be found with individually wrapped pieces of meat in a master pack, to help the environment. “If it is a toss up customers will generally go for the convenience of the package,” he said.
Robert Farrell with Packaging Specialties Inc. said that some of the move towards greater sustainability in packaging by the poultry industry is a continuation of the drive for greater efficiencies and lower costs that have been ongoing for years. He explained that the sustainability movement and the data collection and documentation and reporting have focused more attention to the packaging area and that these can help to speed the rate of improvement and innovation.
Wax-free and wax replacement technology has allowed poultry processors to move away from wax coated boxes in many applications. Fowler said that one International Paper customer supplying a large fast food chain switched from packing 16 million wax boxes per year to 16 million fully recyclable wax-free boxes. The end users can now be paid for bailed boxes rather than have to pay to have wax coated boxes land filled.