The Power of Packaging
Packaging in the all-important perimeter has become more vital to success in fresh than ever before. From quality and healthfulness to convenience and safety, today’s fresh packaging needs to convey a clear and powerful message that can influence a consumer’s purchasing decision as much as the product within.
“One area where there is tremendous packaging innovation is in prepared foods, which is growing at the fastest rate among the dairy, deli and bakery categories,” says Eric Richard, education coordinator for the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) in Madison, Wis. “We also see meal kits becoming more and more important, where all of the components for a meal—and maybe even a couple of drinks—can be carried in one easy package.”
To compete with the numerous home-delivery meal kit services, a growing number of supermarkets are expanding their strategically packaged meal kit solutions. In December, Cincinnati-based Kroger announced the extension of its Prep+Pared Meal Kits to four new divisions.
As it focuses on redefining the in-store experience in tandem with its Restock Kroger plan, the company said it will rapidly accelerate the footprint growth of Prep+Pared Meal Kits, said Robert Clark, Kroger’s SVP of merchandising, earlier this year. All of the fresh, seasonal ingredients in the kits are prepped and measured to provide customers with only what is needed for each recipe, so there is no waste. Cooking time for each meal kit is about 20 minutes, and the kits feed two adults for $14 to $20.
Offering More Value
The latest innovative packaging solution from Canada’s Transcontinental Packaging was developed to offer supermarkets the opportunity to package fresh seafood or poultry meals with vegetables using store-brand chef-inspired recipes, spices and seasonings.
Created by the teams at Robbie in Lenexa, Kan., the Oven N Done bag—which can go directly in the shopper’s oven or microwave—“gives supermarkets a way to increase their perishable sales by offering their customers convenient prepackaged meals that are fresh and healthy,” says Rebecca Casey, senior marketing director for Transcontinental Packaging. “Online meal deliveries and Uber Eats are changing things rapidly, and supermarkets need to broaden their offerings and approach if they want to win this battle. For the supermarket perimeter to win this challenge, they will have to offer more value-
added, convenient and affordable options.”
Transcontinental’s Robbie facility also developed the Steam N Eat Pouch for fresh-cut produce. The microwaveable pouch is designed with customized laser venting technology that allows the produce to cook evenly. “Grocery delis are becoming the new destination point for fresh lunch and take-home dinner options,” says Carrie Cline, product manager for Inline Plastics Corp. in Shelton, Conn. “We are seeing more grocery stores invest in their deli and produce departments—adding enhanced lighting, attractive displays and clear packaging that showcases the fresh food they are offering.”
Clean and Clear
When it comes to fresh packaging trends, clean and clear attributes are critical in coaxing shoppers to buy. “Consumers want to see the product, and they want to know what’s in it,” says Richard of IDDBA. “People are reading labels more than ever before, and as a result, clean labeling has become incredibly important.”
In its top global food packaging trend forecasts for 2018, the market researchers at Mintel predict that “clear and succinct package messaging will be rewarded as consumers prefer brands that embrace minimalism.”
While today’s consumers are better informed than previous generations, packaging that overloads the consumer with information will raise questions regarding the “provenance, authenticity and transparency” of the product, says David Luttenberger, global packaging director at Mintel.
“The top trend is toward clean labels, all-natural and product transparency,” says Mike Rosinski, marketing director for Charlotte, N.C.-based Sealed Air Corp. “Today’s consumers want a minimum of added ingredients and full disclosure on the providence of the product. Because seeing is believing, high-visibility packaging is emphasized.”
With this in mind, Sealed Air has developed its Cryovac Grip & Tear Bags, a family of barrier, post-pasteurization and cook-in bags that offer excellent product presentation and protection attributes combined with knifeless opening for enhanced deli worker safety and sanitation.
It has long been said that people eat with their eyes first. With this in mind, the latest fresh packaging designs showcase the product front and center.
“Today’s fresh packaging has moved to clear packaging with wide fluting and generous curves,” says Dave Fosse of the Lindar Corp., in Baxter, Minn. Just how important is product visibility to success? Fosse points to grocers who have switched their in-store bakery cookie packaging from a box with a window to clear packaging.
“When retailers switch to cookies in clear containers, sales have increased by 40%— just by changing the package,” Fosse says. “The clear package costs more, but the retailer gets enough of a sales lift to justify it.”
Produce is another fresh department where the ability of the shopper to see the product quality is essential to spurring sales. Several years ago, Sev-Rend High-Performance Packaging in Collinsville, Ill., launched a protective pouch for mini potatoes, which can get green and bitter when exposed to light.
“Not only did the package block light, but it also allowed the consumer to see the product through a window at the bottom of the pouch,” says Graphics and Marketing Manager Jeff Watkin. “The package has been so successful because it helps to insulate the product from harmful light and extend its shelf life,” all the while allowing consumers to see the freshness within.
Convenience and On the Go
“Packaging is an essential part of the purchase experience, and typically the first interaction the consumer has with the product at the store,” says Andy Laible, marketing manager for Sonoco in Hartsville, S.C. “Therefore, it must entice the consumer to actually purchase the product, provide confidence that the product inside is safe to consume and, finally, be a convenient delivery and consumption vehicle.”
Laible sees convenience as the driving force of innovation in packaged produce. “Shoppers are demanding fresh products that are as easy to consume as a snack, and on the go at any time during the day,” he says. “Single-serve snack trays or snap-apart snack kits can profit from this trend toward portable packaging and significantly expand usage occasions for fruits or vegetables.”
Sonoco’s consumer research has shown that packaging that reflects the consumer’s busy lifestyle increases consumption of fruits and vegetables. To satisfy this need, Sonoco recently introduced its patented PrimaPak system for fresh or frozen spiralized veggies, with a flexible package that’s easy to open and reclose. PrimaPak is also intended for other fresh applications, such as organic lettuce.
“Reclosable packaging consistently ranks high among consumer needs for food packaging,” says Laible, adding that it has been a “game changer” in the cookie category. Sonoco offers SmartSeal easy-open and -reclose flexible lidding options for various produce categories, including greenhouse tomatoes, grapes and salads.
“A shift to more grab-and-go and single-serve fresh packaging certainly fits the dynamic of today’s consumer,” says Richard. The trend toward smaller, one- and two-person households is also influencing the desired quantities of freshly packed items, he says.
To address the increase in demand for convenience in healthful, on-the-go snacks and small meals, Inline Plastics plans to launch extensions to its Safe-T-Fresh Snackware line this year. “It’s inspired by eating on the go, which is a huge trend,” says Cline.
Curtailing Food Waste
The reduction of food waste through a focus on packaging innovations that extend food freshness and safety is another key driver. “The throwaway culture of today will evolve into one that understands and embraces the role of packaging as a primary means to reduce global food and product waste,” says Luttenberger.
Pinpoint Software Inc.—a Madison, Wis.-based provider of Date Check Pro, an expiration date management solution for grocery stores—is hoping to play a significant role in waste reduction. It recently introduced an upgraded version of its freshness solution that enhances reporting and increases savings in labor and expired shrink. Since its initial launch in 2011, grocers have prevented more than 4 million expired items from ending up in shoppers’ hands.
“The U.S. throws away $165 billion worth of food every year,” says Pinpoint Software CEO Andrew Hoeft, who cites the promising opportunities “to offer an even more efficient and effective solution for grocers to fight waste within their stores.”
The upgraded release features integration with sales data to determine the best merchandising action for each soon-to-expire product, and a management dashboard with real-time data on top loss products, ROI and store performance.
“Pinpoint has taken the Date Check Pro app to a new level,” says Chad Knutson, asset protection profit improvement manager for De Pere, Wis.-based Skogen’s Festival Foods. “My favorite new added feature, the dashboard, allows users and administrators to fully immerse themselves, more than ever before, in date verification and receiving the direct impact of the program, such as savings/ROI, user performance and timelines.”
Fresh packaging is playing an increasingly critical role in the ability of supermarkets to present a safe food supply.
“Food safety has always been important. It shows customers that you care about them,” says Richard. Smart packaging, which contains sensors that detect changes in food quality and spoilage, is already in development, he says.
“Going forward, we will see packaging that plays a more active role in keeping products fresher over a longer period of time,” says Laible. “In addition, there will be special types of packaging that will actively identify products that may be unsafe to consume.”
Helping to reassure consumers about the safety of the foods they put in their shopping carts, tamper-proof product packaging is gaining momentum across the store. “Our Simply Secure tamper-evident packaging is a huge trend for us,” says Fosse of Lindar Corp.
With Simply Secure products, the consumer has to pull a plastic tab from the package to open it. Another advantage of the pull-off tab is that it eliminates the need for a wraparound label, allowing better product visibility.
Snacking and safety go hand in hand at Mansfield, Mass.-based Lacerta Group Inc., which recently introduced a new tamper-evident snack pack that “combines food safety and convenience,” says Marketing Coordinator Jazmin Lotfi. The snack pack also features a compartment that accommodates a 2-ounce cup for dipping.
“In general, we have been coming out with more tamper-evident containers, as the industry is looking for peace of mind and innovative designs,” Lotfi says.