Clear-Packaging Innovations

Inline Plastics PackagingSeveral years ago, Inline Plastics switched all its containers over to 100 percent recyclable PET material. (Photo Courtesy of Inline Plastics)

The ability to see and preserve produce while still marketing the features and benefits is a delicate but attainable balance.

Seald Sweet Kiddie Clems

Marketers agree grab-and-go bags work well with easy-to-peel fruit such as Mandarins and Clementines.

As packaging in the produce department evolves, the options for displaying commodities increase. New packaging concepts give marketers and growers opportunities to tell their story and inform customers about product origin and nutritional benefits. Food safety, longer shelf life and better stacking options also play into the design of packaging and the systems used to create them.

Convenience is a driving factor across the retail supermarket space, and the produce department is no exception. “Convenience has become more apparent in the produce department,” says Hans Christian Schur, chief executive, Schur Star Systems based in Oceanside, CA. “When we look around retail produce, we’re seeing more stand-up pouches with handles. Before it was with grapes and cherries, but now you’re starting to see it with tomatoes, apples and more produce categories.”

The mobility of consumers is reflected in packaging design as people move away from sit-down meals and consume smaller meals throughout the day. “Mobile packaging designs are in high demand,” says Roman Forowycz, chief marketing officer for Clear Lam Packaging, Inc. headquartered in Elk Grove Village, IL. “Consumers live increasingly active lifestyles. Being able to eat at work, school, in the car, while walking, are all benefits to today’s consumers.”

For citrus, grab-and-go bags work well with easy-to-peel fruit such as Mandarins and Clementines. “We’ve been growing and shipping easy peelers for more than a decade now and have seen the shift from 5-pound, gift-type cartons to bags in various sizes such as 5-, 3- and 2-pounds,” says Kim Flores, marketing director for Seald Sweet based in Vero Beach, FL.


“Mobile packaging designs are in high demand. Consumers live increasingly active lifestyles. Being able to eat at work, school, in the car, while walking, are all benefits to today’s consumers.”

— Roman Forowycz, Clear Lam Packaging

For Stemilt fruit company based in Wenatchee WA, grab-and-go packaging has been a tremendous success, especially for their Lil Snappers bags of “kid size” fruit. As Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt, explains, “We had record sales in the past three years. It continues to sell for two reasons: it’s grab-and-go and easy, but it’s also targeted toward a usage. People need to be marketed to. They want solutions, and kid-sized apples have really resonated with parents. The grab-and-go aspect adds to that. It shows better in the store.”

Jacob Shafer, marketing and communication specialist for Mann Packing Company in Salinas, CA, recognizes the demand for quick meal and snack options that are priced right. This inspired the development of Mann’s Nourish Bowls. Shafer explains, “The veggie-blend bowls take 3 to 4 minutes to prepare in the microwave and pair nicely with an added protein of choice. The bowls are kid-friendly, pre-portioned and low in calories.”

The company has enlisted help from food bloggers and launched social media campaigns and in-store promotions to boost awareness and leverage the products’ innovative and convenient features.

Inline Plastics Corporation, headquartered in Shelton, CT, has come up with its own product to meet demand. According to the company’s market research manager, Jack Tilley, “Inline has just added to its grab-and-go packaging by introducing its new RoundWare line of tamper-evident round containers, ideal for packaging cut fruit and vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and other produce items.”

Convenience Rules

The demand for smaller, convenient retail options must first be met by packaging system manufacturers. “Convenient, single-serve packages continue to be popular for dried fruit and nuts, as well as small, fresh-cut produce,” says Kim Magon-Haller, marketing manager at Triangle Package Machinery Co. based in Chicago.

“Through the years, we’ve seen a growing demand for smaller bag sizes such as those used for tube nut bags or individual servings of baby carrots. Customers want to be able to run a variety of bag sizes on the same machine, and they want to be able to run at high speeds.”

“As a manufacturer, you always wonder if something is just a trend or here to stay, and it seems like the pouch bag is here to stay,” says Aaron Fox, executive vice president at Fox Packaging headquartered in McAllen, TX.

“Our job is to make it better and friendlier to the packinghouse. We developed a pouch bag with more ventilation for increased shelf-life, and we’re developing a bagging machine to pack pouch bags that will be quick and simple to use.”

Seeing Clearly

Transparency in packaging means several things: It means consumers are clearly informed on nutrition and food origin but are also provided a clear look at the product inside the package. “Transparency throughout the supply chain is an expectation with consumers today, in particular with Millennials,” says Forowycz at Clear Lam Packaging.

“People want to know everything about the product and the packaging materials. Traceability from raw materials to finished goods and from finished goods to raw materials is essential,” Says Forowycz.

Tilley says crystal clear packaging is as an important tool in appealing to consumers. “The freshness and bright colors are spotlighted, and the consumer can see the quality of the contents. It often will lead to impulse buying, increasing sales for the retailer.”

Megan Arnold, senior manager of food safety for Robinson Fresh based in Eden Prairie, MN echoes these preferences. “Consumers want transparency and instant assurance that the product they are purchasing is fresh, clean, and at peak quality. Clear packaging means less guessing on what they will open when they get home.”

Flores at Seald Sweet notes many suppliers and retailers lean toward high-graphic, stand-up pouch bags, but this isn’t necessarily a universal preference. “In the last year or so, we’ve seen a divide between retailers where some prefer this type of bag and others are requiring generic, clear packaging with little to no graphics printed on the bag, so the product inside the packaging has maximum visibility.”

Flexible Means Controllable

Flexibility is about more than just packaging pliability, it also means flexibility in terms of products offered. “One of the biggest things in consumer packs that we’re providing to growers, partners, shippers and packers that’s going to end up in the hands of consumers, is anything that will allow the package to be more user-friendly and add value,” says Sam Monte, director of operations at Monte Package Company, based in Riverside, MI.

“Resealable zippers on pouch bags are not the newest thing, but every week we’re looking at new commodities that can be put into those types of pouch bags.”

Flexible packaging also provides opportunities for portion control. “We are seeing continued movement toward portion control — packaging that allows for mobility, reclosing and product visibility,” says Forowycz. “We are trending away from rigid packaging to flexible packaging formats. Lots of stand-up pouches, trays with lidding films versus clamshells and designs that are easier to store and dispose.”

“Reclosable bags are also in demand,” says Magon-Haller at Triangle. “Our solutions for reclosable bags include zipper applicators, seal strips, or resealable film. Another option is the exclusive new PrimaPak package, which we introduced last year with Clear Lam Packaging.”

The flexible package comes in a variety of sizes, has a resealable lid and works well for individual servings of fresh cut produce or for up to one pound packages of lettuce.

Smart packaging design can also help limit food waste, according to Roy. G. Ferguson, chief executive of Chantler Packaging Inc. headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. “The easiest way to dramatically reduce food loss is to properly package the food so it lasts longer in consumers’ refrigerators. One example of food waste reducing packaging is our PrimePro shelf life extension film, which extends the freshness of fruits and vegetables.”

Sustainability

Mann Packing's Veggie Blend Bowls

Mann Packing’s veggie-blend bowls take 3 to 4 minutes to prepare in the microwave and pair nicely with an added protein of choice. The bowls are kid-friendly, pre-portioned and low in calories.

While consumers like the convenience of stand-up pouches and grab-and-go handled bags, many have environmental concerns. “We know consumers are looking for packaging to be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly,” says Tim Debus, president and chief executive of the Reusable Packaging Association, headquartered in Tampa, FL.

The RPA addresses issues related to transport packaging such as bins, totes, and crates for the shipment of product to retail. “A study by Mintel [a London-based global market research firm] found 63 percent of U.S. consumers said ‘reusable and repurposable packaging is a key purchasing driver,’” says Debus. “Consumers are becoming more aware that the reuse of packaging is the preferred option to eliminate waste and reduce the environmental footprint of products.”

Reusable packaging products not only reduce a retailer’s carbon footprint, according to Debus, they are also designed to protect commodities through distribution and “preserve the quality from farm to point-of-purchase by optimizing temperature control and maintaining the cold chain, which can have a significant impact on freshness and shelf-life extension.”


“Our Pull-n-Pak bagging solution is produced to be eight times stronger than other bags without having to use thicker film, which allows for source reduction and allows the customer
to place more items in one bag.”

— Clarissa Trejo, Crown Poly

“Sustainability issues and environmental concerns have become a normal part of business and culture,” says Forowycz at Clear Lam Packaging. “Many companies are trying to take a holistic approach and are trying to help explain short-term and long-term benefits to consumers. It’s still pretty confusing for consumers. In the area of packaging we are working hard to develop designs and structures that use less plastic, are more space efficient, and can be either recycled or included in composting.”

“Several years ago Inline Plastics switched all its containers over to 100 percent recyclable PET material,” says Tilley. “To further enhance the sustainability of our containers, we now utilize DPET material, which has been shown to have a carbon footprint as low as containers made from 50 percent post-consumer recycled material.”

According to Shafer, Mann Packing Company is mindful of consumer wants because the company has done the research. “We found 92 percent of the consumers we asked said they did not use the black tray (lids) for serving, per the package design,” he says. “So we redesigned our vegetable platter/tray and removed the black plastic ‘lid’ of the package.

“Our new large tray has 38 percent less packaging material than the old tray — small trays have 43 percent less — and 50 percent less packaging than other trays on the market.”

The redesign reduced 1.4 million pounds of plastic from landfills annually. “Additionally, removing the bottom tray allows consumers a bigger viewing window to the products. Sustainability and protecting our precious environment and valuable resources will continue to be top-of-mind at Mann’s throughout all of our operations in the future.”

Likewise packaging company, Crown Poly based in Huntington Park, CA, introduced a number of products with environmental concerns in mind. “Our Pull-n-Pak bagging solution is produced to be eight times stronger than other bags without having to use thicker film, which allows for source reduction and allows the customer to place more items in one bag,” says Clarissa Trejo, digital marketing manager. “Also, with our dispensers that make it easier for people to take one bag at a time, there is less waste produced by unused bags.”

The RPA addresses issues related to transport packaging such as bins, totes, and crates for the shipment of product to retail. “A study by Mintel [a London-based global market research firm] found 63 percent of U.S. consumers said ‘reusable and repurposable packaging is a key purchasing driver,’” says Debus. “Consumers are becoming more aware that the reuse of packaging is the preferred option to eliminate waste and reduce the environmental footprint of products.”


“People take comfort in the fact that packaging provides food safety. That’s a key element and part of the reason we’ll see more retailers demand that
from the produce sector.”

— Hans Schur, Schur Star Systems

Reusable packaging products not only reduce a retailer’s carbon footprint, according to Debus, they are also designed to protect commodities through distribution and “preserve the quality from farm to point-of-purchase by optimizing temperature control and maintaining the cold chain, which can have a significant impact on freshness and shelf-life extension.”

Food Safety

Food safety is a critical factor for packaging. “People take comfort in the fact that packaging provides food safety,” says Schur at Schur Star Systems. “That’s a key element and part of the reason we’ll see more retailers demand that from the produce sector.”

In some packaging the zip lock is exposed on the front of the pouch, which means shoppers, looking to sample a commodity, may slide them open and gain access. However well-meaning they may be, this is a cause for concern. Schur Star Systems has addressed this issue with its packaging systems.

“We can offer to seal our zippers in so you can’t open it from the outside. The only way you can gain access to the zipper is through a laser score where you tear off the top of the pouch to gain access to the zipper,” says Schur.

“For several years now, Triangle has offered customers a choice of sanitation levels when it comes to vertical form fill seal baggers,” says Magon-Haller. “These include stainless steel, stainless steel wash down, and models that meet USDA/3A sanitation standards.”

As a way to simplify the cleaning and maintenance of machines, as well as to help food packagers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, Triangle’s equipment features pitched top plate, continuous electro polished elements, eliminated crevices and stainless steel food grade motors.

“With food safety issues and the need to comply with FSMA, food packagers are looking at cleaner equipment designs, as well as equipment that is easy to keep clean in a plant setting,” says Magon-Haller.

According to Forowycz at Clear Lam Packaging, “Tamper evidence is also a very important consideration. A variety of new designs entered the market. Peel and reseal films that clearly identify if someone has tampered with a package offer a benefit for processors, retailers and consumers.”

Other Trends In Innovation

Schur Star Systems

Schur Star Systems specializes in advanced pouch options with high graphics.

New innovations and advances in technology have allowed many opportunities to reduce waste, provide information, increase safety, and display produce in the best light. “The technology is so much more sophisticated now, packaging can be developed and selected based on the respiration of the actual product to be packaged versus the “one size fits all” approach in the past. This really is better for the product, the consumer, the retailer and the grower/shipper,” says Karen Caplan, president and chief executive of Frieda’s Specialty Produce headquartered in Los Alamitos CA.

Schur Star Systems specializes in the fresh-and-go concept. “Handle bags, stand-up pouches — that’s our bread and butter,” says Schur, “but we also specialize in more advanced special pouches in which you can incorporate different spices or fruits in three different compartments in the pouch. You could put cherry tomatoes on one side and celery sticks on the other side. It allows for flexibility.

“With our equipment, we’re able to make very quick changeovers from a handle pouch to a compartment pouch,” says Schur. “You’ll only have a 5 minute change over between SKUs. In general, we try to encourage our customers to try a new concept. For example, our conversion technology allows us to offer a wide range of bag shapes. If you want a pouch shaped as a Christmas tree, we can make it.”


“A problem that we were regularly seeing on store shelves with traditional pouch bags was a lack of ventilation that caused too much condensation and resulted in diminished shelf-life.”

— Aaron Fox, Fox Packaging

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL, sees a continued trend toward value-added products that are also microwaveable. New technologies and innovations in consumer-friendly produce packaging also improves shelf life. “Micro-perforation technology evolved to the point where oxygen transmission rates can be fine-tuned to provide the best atmosphere for any fresh vegetable or fruit.”

“A problem that we were regularly seeing on store shelves with traditional pouch bags was a lack of ventilation that caused too much condensation and resulted in diminished shelf-life,” says Fox at Fox Packaging. “We addressed that challenge by designing our Stand-Up Combo Bag, the first bag to incorporate a mesh side to a pouch bag. This drastically increases airflow and increases shelf life the same way our Fox Fresh Mesh Combo bag improved the performance of the straight poly film bag.”

“As the innovator of the bag on a roll and self-opening dispenser, we continue to be the market leader in consumer friendly produce packaging solutions,” says Trejo at Crown Poly. The company’s bag rolls are self-opening, allow for one-at-a-time dispensing, and can be dispensed right to the last bag.

“Since the produce bag is the only product that is interactive with the customer, providing an easy to use system is key to keeping the customer happy,” says Trejo. “Additionally, for our upscale clientele, we offer High Clarity clear bags to provide the customer full clarity of their produce,” adds Trejo.

“Modified Atmosphere Packaging is being used more for both wet products and dry products,” says Forowycz of Clear Lam Packaging. “For fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, the packaging is designed to allow oxygen in at a specific rate and carbon dioxide out. With dried fruits and nuts the packaging is designed to keep out oxygen.

“Antifog capability has been a big deal in recent years. Technology has evolved to allow plastics to truly prevent the package from fogging up and losing clarity. Consumers want to really see what they are getting and they want it to look fresh.”


Telling the Story

Packaging creates branding opportunities which allows growers to tell their stories and make a personal connection with the consumer. This is something Stemilt takes advantage of, as Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, WA-based Stemilt explains,“Stemilt is a big storytelling company, we always told stories about our products.”

This is evident with the brand’s Half Mile Closer to the Moon cherries. The packaging not only tells the product’s story, it also provides a QR code to lead consumers to a product page where there is a video to further support the story. “People want to know who grew your food and packaging really allows you to do that.”

Seald Sweet also takes advantage of increased space on packaging. “When space allows, we list nutritional benefits — especially for citrus, which is packed with valuable nutrients,” says Kim Flores, marketing director for Seald Sweet based in Vero Beach, FL. “Regarding the origin, we also have used QR codes linked to our “Meet the Grower” videos. Consumers are increasingly interested in their food source, where it comes from, is it safe, etc. So we are able to share the story of our growers, who are part of the Seald Sweet family, and have been for a very long time.”

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL, also sees the value in communicating directly with consumers through packaging.

“Our Southern Selects packaging affords us the ability to inform consumers regarding nutrition, health benefits, preparation, recipes and storage — all in one convenient location. And, of course, establishing a premium persona for our product,” he says.

Sam Monte, director of operations at Monte Package Company, based in Riverside, MI, sees clamshell sleeves as another great opportunity for creating billboard space. “Everyone is fighting for placement in the produce department,” says Monte.

“On a clamshell, if that label is on the top you have to stand above it to look down and see that label. One feature we started doing more of in 2016 is a glued chipboard sleeve that slides right on around the clamshell. It can be anywhere from a 1-inch to 3-inches wide. Now you have 360 degrees of printable area that you can put your message on — Pure Michigan, Fresh from Florida, Georgia Grown, whatever it is.”

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