Bold shapes and graphics draw shoppers to products on the shelf. Processors also need packaging that is lightweight, recyclable and tamper resistant.

Meet the Panel
Dave Andronico, regional sales manager, Reiser, Canton, Mass.
Murray Bain, vice president of marketing, Stanpac Inc., Smithville, Ontario, Canada
John W. Nycklemoe, vice president/chief sales officer, Burd Fletcher, Independence, Mo.
David Yenor, vice president, global business development, Graham Engineering Corp., York, Pa.
Penny Staats, manager, marketing services, Huhtamaki Consumer Goods Division, De Soto, Kan.
Paul R. Vanden Heuvel, director of marketing, Curwood, Inc., Oshkosh, Wis.

“The economy and the environment are both playing a greater role in packaging decisions than they have historically,” one consultant told Dairy Foods.

Packaging prevents damage to foods in transit as well as spoilage on a retailer’s shelf or in a consumer’s home. Processors seek to shed packaging weight and reduce the risk of tampering.

Against this backdrop, Dairy Foods invited leading manufacturers to share their thoughts about developments in rigid packaging for dairy products.

Dairy Foods: What are the one or two attributes of rigid packaging that processors demand?

John W. Nycklemoe, vice president/chief sales officer, Burd Fletcher, Independence, Mo.: Two attributes processors demand are unique sizes and shapes and ease of manufacturing. Ice cream processors continue to walk a very fine line between uniqueness and ease of production. On the one hand they want to offer the most unique products, packaged in a way that allows them some type of differentiation. However, they are under extreme pricing pressure, so they must continually seek out unique styles that are cost efficient for their supplier to produce and for their manufacturing group to produce.

We worked on a unique 48-ounce package for ice cream that had to meet both of those criteria. The idea was to create the package that would command a higher shelf profile, with a right scooping surface, but would run at the same line speeds as an existing package.

We always begin the packaging development process with a pretty blank slate and then build all the relevant manufacturing parameters around a great product design, with the goal of creating a package that stays cost competitive and allows for efficient customer manufacturing.

Murray Bain, vice president of marketing, Stanpac Inc., Smithville, Ontario, Canada: Dairies are developing strategies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Unique shapes and sizes have been developed for some and others prefer the old standard as their model for success. Tamper evidence on ice cream packaging is increasingly on the minds of many in the industry. With limited floor space available on most plant floors, [processors must give] careful consideration to the tamper-evident feature and equipment required to apply the feature.

Dave Andronico, regional sales manager, Reiser, Canton, Mass.: We see a lot of common requests from our dairy customers. They are looking for individual portion sizes, unique and original package shapes, eye appeal and reclosability. Our horizontal form/fill/seal packaging machine is able to deliver on all aspects. We work closely with our customers and their film suppliers to ensure that the finished package meets all of their requirements.

David Yenor, vice president, global business development, Graham Engineering Corp., York, Pa.: The No. 1 focus of most of our customers is improving sustainability through product light weighting and saving energy. We have seen a dramatic upsurge in the demand for light-weighting services, in the form of bottle design services, finite element analyses and molding trials.

A similar trend has been the desire of companies to replace older, inefficient machinery platforms with rotary-wheel equipment in order to both improve production efficiencies and reduce energy consumption. We have assisted a large number of companies in establishing multiple goals - improving container functionality and performance by design, while reducing weight and increasing production efficiencies. This perfect storm of efficiency is a winner, even in tough economic times.

Penny Staats, manager, marketing services, Huhtamaki Consumer Goods Division, De Soto, Kan.: Customers are looking for more flexibility with size and shape in order to react to a changing marketplace.  They are also looking for more ways to manage costs in the materials and in the shipping and freight. Huhtamaki Systems plays well into both of these with our in-plant container forming.  Customers receive package components flat and form the containers on demand right on the production floor. The equipment can be changed over to vary sizes and new shapes implemented with minimal lead time.

Paul R. Vanden Heuvel, director of marketing, Curwood, Inc., Oshkosh, Wis.: Functionality of the package is critical and ease of use for the consumer has become very important as companies continuously work on cost containment. Curwood attacks each project from a point of differentiation. We try to make our customers products look and perform differently through innovation and technology.

Dairy Foods: How do rigid packaging needs change by channel of distribution, such as school foodservice, hospital/senior living facility foodservice, retail or vending machine?

Yenor: Retail and vending sales require point-of-purchase marketing advantages such as high-impact graphics and unique package shapes. Margins are typically better with these types of products as consumers are primarily paying for convenience. Institutionally distributed products, on the other hand, tend to require the lowest package and distribution costs as contract pricing is a greater factor in whether or not a producer even has the opportunity to participate in that particular piece of business.

Andronico: Our customers who produce retail packaging are most interested in smaller portion sizes, highly attractive point-of-sale graphics and package integrity. The HRI (hospitality, restaurant, institutional) sector is less interested in package graphics and more interested in package integrity. Package integrity is the common theme. Our machines are constructed with two four-point lifting stations which generate up to five metric tons of closing pressure for reliable sealing to virtually eliminate “leakers.”

Nycklemoe: Rigid packaging needs change by channel based on the end user and the point of distribution for the package. We are working on an ice cream package that may have a broad channel appeal, but it is targeted to the same end user. By this I mean the purchaser of the product is the same demographic, but the penetration to the end user can be improved if the product can gain a wider distribution. In order to accomplish this goal, the package must be able to work at the primary manufacturing plant and then be configured after production to flow through each distribution channel.

Staats: The retail shelf demands more from the packaging graphics and shape in order to create and maintain the brand’s identity. If you go outside the retail environment, the high-quality graphics and brand become less of a factor and cost seems to be the primary driver for those packaging decisions. 

Vanden Heuvel: Each distribution channel has different criteria based on the project needs. Products done through central commissary channels tend to focus on high speed and consistent use. Vending products are no longer snacks and have elevated to meals and nutritional on-the-go alternatives.

Dairy Foods: What are the packaging ramifications of processors adding multipacks?

Bain: Processors in the ice cream industry have many options available now for variations of portion size. Companies seem to use this upsizing or downsizing for various marketing and cost reduction benefits. To a supplier of packaging it means that more equipment, tooling and changeovers are required to provide all of the products that the industry needs.

Andronico: Multipacks quite often require a secondary package involving other equipment. Other options are multipacks that can be easily separated by the end user. Package cost is usually increased, yet it encourages higher volumes of products be purchased at one time.

Nycklemoe: Processors are continuing to look at size variation for all their high-demand products. We are constantly working on ways to make size variation easier, whether that means looking for common lid options, tooling modifications that can help with size transitions in my plant, and manufacturing options for the processor’s plant.

New sizes may not have the critical mass needed to create the best pricing module, so options for new size creations that can help contain some of the introductory costs are almost becoming a prerequisite.

Yenor: Milk producers are missing out by not offering more single-serve multipacks in conventional grocery stores. Overall, the industry has done a decent job of positioning single-serve dairy drinks in the convenience stores vis-à-vis soft drinks, but I don’t see multipacks being offered as an alternative to juice boxes to be packed in school lunches or taken as after-game snacks to the soccer fields. I think this type of product could be a real high-margin opportunity for most dairies.

Staats: There is not a downside to adding multipacks from our perspective. We are seeing portion sizes decrease for a variety of reasons – portion control, production costs and consumer requests. From the packaging side, it means we need to be more flexible and efficient at making the size changes quickly.

Dairy Foods: What rigid packaging ideas from non-dairy food and beverage processing could be adopted by the dairy industry?

Nycklemoe: Our primary niche is in the dairy segment for any type of rigid packaging. I think the dairy processors are very aware of the some of the key trends: single serve, size variation, common lids, etc. We are working on all of the key trends because the dairy marketing teams are constantly scanning the shelves and seeing concepts that they can bring to the dairy segment. I think smaller sizes, housed in consumer-friendly packages will continue to drive innovation.

Andronico: We’ve seen some interest in post-applied lids, custom sizes and shapes and party packs.

Yenor: We are seeing a renewed interest in the benefits of multilayer coextrusion in dairy applications. Multilayer technology has typically been limited to specialty niches in the dairy industry, even though the technology is proven and well accepted in more traditional applications for household detergents, motor oil, and even food products such as fruit packaging, juices, condiments and jellies.

A three-layer structure allows processors to bury post-consumer regrind (PCR) in the center layer, without the PCR being in direct contact with the contents. By putting colorants only in the outer layer, package costs are reduced significantly. We have seen the savings in these areas alone justify the incremental capital cost increase for multilayer blow molding equipment.  By incorporating a structure with multiple layers, there is a dramatic reduction in the potential of pinhole leaks over a large production volume.

Staats: Convenience has been important for consumers in all food markets.  Portion, portability and value are some considerations when consumers are making buying decisions. The impulse-purchase market continues to be an opportunity for dairy product sales growth.

Vanden Heuvel: Dairy products have helped lead the way in convenience of cooking through a variety of flavors and formats. Shredded cheese is a perfect example. Table ready is an area that suits dairy. Some companies have begun by offering cheese in platters or recloseable formats. Rigid-rigid or rigid with a variety of flexible film sealing options has opened new opportunities for Curwood’s customers.

Dairy Foods: What other issues are key to the development of rigid packaging?

Andronico: Our customers are mainly concerned with product and package integrity, especially with reclosable packages. Many of our cheese customers are concerned with their product drying out in a reclosable package. Our packaging specialists work closely with customers and film suppliers to ensure that our reclosable packages function properly and extend the life of the product after it has been opened.

Yenor: I would encourage anyone who is looking to create a new package to collaborate with a package-design firm that is knowledgeable in the particular manufacturing process that will be used for producing the eventual package.

Many times throughout my career in blow molding, I have seen really neat-looking bottles that have been drawn which are not practical or cost-effective to manufacture. By getting involved in the process at a very early stage, we have made a point to help our customers avoid losing significant time and expense, while effectively balancing design criteria and cost-effective functional performance.

Staats: Efficiency, flexibility and speed-to-market are top of mind. The cost of change beyond the package development is looked at for improving line speeds, production efficiencies, as well as how the package performs for the consumer.

Vanden Heuvel: Other issues that are key to the development of rigid packaging range from real sustainability initiatives to how the product is used. I like to think that not all package formats perform the same, but we put equal effort in making the package perform the best. Understanding the needs is the difficult part. Customers will ask us for a recommendation and we’ll respond with a list of questions. We have so many great choices that selecting the right one can become challenging. Our goal is to enhance our customer’s brand or product so they in turn can sell more product.

Dairy Foods: What’s the “next big thing” in the rigid packaging world?

Yenor: The current trend, driven by large retail chains, is the focus on sustainability, which is a very complex issue. Packaging concerns today relate to packaging source reduction, energy efficiency in the production and distribution process, optimization of distribution and shelf-space requirements, package safety, and end-of-life recycling. This vast array of issues is leading to a whole new way of looking at packaging. I think we will see a number of different material substitutions for traditional packaging as a result.

Vanden Heuvel: The next big thing is really a few things. We’ve been working on zone cooking to have food at different temperature ranges coming out of the microwave. Curwood Encompass is our new complete line of rigid and flexible film options that can be customized around the needs of our customer’s applications. We also have our new CPET Lite 1 trays that allow customers to have better performance at a lighter weight tray. Through material and process developments, we’re able to deliver a real source reduction to the market while maintaining its versatile performance from -40°F to 400°F.