On The Go
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Dairy products make perfect companions for busy consumers.
When it comes to portable packaging, convenience is still king. But con­sumers don’t only want dairy products they can take with them — they also want products that will give them portion control.
“One of the hottest packaging trends right now relates to health; not only do consumers want healthy snacks, they want packaging to help them with portion control,” says Dennis Burian, marketing director at Oshkosh, Wis.-based Curwood Inc. “That means consumers want single-serving foods for ‘life on the go,’ as well as for managing their diets, no matter where they happen to be eating.”
While grab-and-go foods continue to gain popularity, consumers are also eating more cheese, a trend that got a boost from the now-cooled low-carb craze. “As consumers are becoming more health conscious in general, portable cheese products are seen as nutritious alternatives to traditional snack foods,” Burian says. “Consumers are looking for high quality and variety in their snack or convenience cheeses.”
For cheese to go, Curwood offers films for individually wrapped string cheese, natural cut sticks and bars, and multi-portion snacks in recloseable packaging and thermoformed trays and flexible lids for snack kits.
“Consumers also want their convenience products to taste just as fresh and flavorful as their full-size cousins, so packaging with superior barrier protection is critical for these products,” Burian says. Features such as easy-open open packages, directional tear technology and recloseable sliders and zippers make portable packaging easy to use.
Consumers are demanding more convenience. “On-the-go-eating and drinking is a big trend,” says Bud Lane, president of primary packaging at Pro Mach Inc., Loveland, Ohio. “You have to balance out these benefits with cost. Consumers are willing to pay a premium to a point, and only if it makes sense. For example, drinkable yogurt would have been hard to imagine 20 years ago, but today it’s a hot product in the market. A lot of this is common sense about how far consumers are willing to delve out of their comfort zones with how we consume products.”
Chilling Effect
Packaging consultant Aaron Brody says dairy processors are restricted in their packaging options because their products require refrigeration. “To make products [that stay fresh] in ambient temperature and be credible to the consumer takes expensive machinery. Not a lot of dairies want to spend that kind of money,” says Brody, president and chief executive officer of Packaging/Brody Inc., Duluth, Ga. “Single-serve bottles that have to be refrigerated, consumers are afraid of these as portable packaging because of the refrigeration factor. It can be done, but how do you convince the consumer?”
Brody says drinkable yogurt and tubular packaging for yogurt have found success, as have cheese sticks and snacking cubes. He also points to the fledgling Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear, a clear aseptic package that Tetra Pak introduced in Mexico last year and will offer in the United States in 2006.
Aseptic technology allows for shelf stability without preservatives. “The package also delivers clarity, play value, novelty and fun appeal, as well as functionality and convenience,” says Jeff Kellar, vice president of strategic business development, Tetra Pak, Vernon Hills, Ill.
“There is a big opportunity for dairies and brand owners to use the Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear for existing products like milk and smoothies and a variety of new dairy products,” Kellar says. “The Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear allows for both high- and low-acid applications, making pouch-style, shelf-stable packaging a new possibility for the dairy and soy industries.”
The package’s size and shape make it ideal for kid beverages. Ergonomically, the Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear was designed with smooth sides and no sharp edges, and its slim 6.75-ounce design allows small hands to easily handle the product, Kellar says.
With kids — and their parents — as the intended audience for portable packaging, drinks have to be easy to handle and hard to spill.
International Paper offers the Eco-Pak Plus with a unique opening feature designed for straw puncture. The patent-pending design is an embossed cross that allows for easier straw penetration without leaking, says Judy Zeigler, marketing services manager, Evergreen Packaging Equipment, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This packaging is primarily used in foodservice, including school lunch programs.
Stanpac Inc. is market testing its new Spoon’N Lid premium frozen dessert package, which includes a 4-ounce paper/poly cup with full-color lithography and ultraviolet varnish. The closure is a plastic molded tamper-evident lid with a channel in the top of it for a plastic molded pre-wrapped spoon. Over the top of the spoon is a paper poly printed disc with graphics to match the cup and a window cut in the disc so that the spoon is visible but held in place.
“I believe the consumer is looking for a package that is safe with a tamper-evident feature that is visible at point of purchase, shows the quality of the product inside with high-quality graphics and is easy to consume with a spoon that looks and feels like a spoon and goes down to the bottom of the package without getting your fingers sticky,” says Murray Bain, vice president of marketing at Stanpac, Smithville, Ontario, Canada.
As always, high-impact graphics are important so products capture the attention of a time-pressed consumer.
“Society has become much more fast-paced in recent years, and on-the-go consumption of beverages and food has increased simultaneously,” Zeigler says. “Eye-catching graphics are important for shelf appeal to make your products stand out.”  
Lane agrees. “A lot of dairy products are being done in full shrink sleeves and labels that offer 360-degree packaging. We’ve noticed at Axon, our division that manufactures shrink labeling and stretch-sleeving equipment, that even small companies are getting into this trend, as it helps them compete against larger, more established companies.”
Lane points to capping as another product feature. “Capping is also getting more intricate,” he says. “The ability to offer up different styles of caps is helping products differentiate on the shelves.”
Lane notes that Pro Mach’s Fowler Products division offers more complex machines to handle different styles of caps, such as hinged caps. “And caps that can be quickly removed, with a one-half or two-thirds turn to get the cap off quickly as opposed to two or three turns like a carbonated soft drink,” he says.
Carried Away
Handles for carrying and bundling portable packaging are becoming a differentiator as well. “A lot of dairy products are shrink-wrapped together in bundles, but companies are also wanting the ability to carry with a handle for both convenience as well as enhanced marketing,” Lane says. “Our Roberts PolyPro division, which manufactures handles and applicators for a wide range of beverages, has noticed this is particularly true for companies selling through club stores.” Dairy processors also want options for bundling items together, whether that’s two-packs of milk gallons or six-packs of single-serve drinks.
Zeigler says this type of bundle packaging is growing in super stores and club and warehouse-type stores, especially in extended-shelf life and aseptic products.  
Dairy products, especially milk, have seen marked growth in foodservice, says Chris Moore, vice president of foodservice channel development, Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill.
“We are clearly seeing that McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Culver’s continue to sell a lot of milk in plastic bottles that meet the needs of their on-the-go customers. We’re also encouraged by the evidence that other national and regional chains have either completed or are establishing consumer test markets to sell milk in plastic bottles with their customers,” Moore says.
Suppliers say another trend is to use less plastic in the actual package for a lighter container. Whether this is due to the after effects of Hurricane Katrina, which stifled petroleum refining capa­city and affected resin production, or a new trend remains to be seen. Moore says the spike in resin prices is temporary.
“What we hear from our foodservice partners is recognition that resin prices — like all other raw materials costs — are cyclical in nature and will ultimately be corrected by the market,” Moore says. “The good news for the dairy industry and for dairy consumers is that it’s not stopping them from moving forward to an improved single-serve milk offering in a plastic bottle.”
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.
Insights on Moving Milk
With families on the go in this fast-paced world, portability is an important packaging feature. Retailers and foodservice operators alike have noticed increased demand among consumers for products that combine convenience and portability with healthy attributes.
Tetra Pak examined this portability trend in its just-released survey focusing on healthy kids’ beverages at quick-serve restaurants and defining strategies to increase milk consumption through this channel.
“In a business where 76 percent of milk drinkers are kids under the age of 12 and the majority of milk is purchased in the drive-through or carryout and then consumed in cars, function as a portable package is crucial,” says Jeff Kellar, vice president of strategic business development, Tetra Pak, Vernon Hills, Ill.  
Kelton Research identified several key findings regarding consumers’ preferences when it comes to portable packages for dairy products and other healthy beverages. Through the study, Tetra Pak was able to identify the following key trends in portable packaging:
Spill-proof: The majority of milk is consumed in cars and moms want a drink their kids can’t spill when they’re on the go. “Spill-proof” capability matters most when picking a single-serve container for their children, said 51 percent of parents surveyed, making it by far their No. 1 demand.
Safe outside the refrigerator: Parents want beverage containers that are safe without refrigeration, which was named the second most important attribute. Nearly 20 percent said that was the most important consideration when picking a single-serve container. The study showed 88 percent of parents end up throwing out uneaten food or drinks every day because they have been out of the fridge for too long.
Kid-friendly: Both parents and kids want something that is kid-friendly – easy to open, easy to hold. Kids like something that is uniquely “theirs” that they feel is made especially for them.
“Not only is portable packaging important for consumers, it is also important to retail and brand owners because it allows them to provide consumers with what they are looking for and do it in a convenient way,” Kellar says.
Kelton’s survey with 102 parents of children age 2 to 10 tested parents’ reactions to Tetra Pak’s Hershey Tetra Brik Aseptic carton and the Horizon Organic Tetra Prisma Aseptic carton. Parents commenting on the Hershey Brik container said they would definitely buy a product in this packaging again for their child. Nearly nine of out 10 children were able to finish their beverage without spilling a drop on themselves or their parents’ car when drinking from a Horizon Organic Tetra Prisma container. At least 75 percent of parents said the Horizon Organic Tetra Prisma package and 96 percent said the Hershey Brik was “perfect for their child to drink on the go.”