Reclose technologies add value, convenience to refrigerated, frozen prepared foods.

by Bob Garrison

Perhaps it’s the best example of a “win-win-win” proposition.

When it comes to bulk frozen foods – meatballs, chicken nuggets, snack rolls or bread rolls – food processors want attractive, durable packaging that’s also economical to purchase and efficient to run in the plant. Moreover, it needs to protect product, stand up to the rigors of a cold supply chain and still retain its eye appeal.

There are several “wins” right there.

Then again, when it comes to these types of multi-use products, the package needs a re-close technology that’s going to repeatedly win (open and close) and satisfy consumers at home. Otherwise, a faulty package ruins the entire product experience and discourages repeat buys.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foodsapproached one food processor and one supplier for a more three-dimensional look at what’s happening in the market. Meanwhile, food processors do have many choices to select from, as evidenced by several winning new package concepts (see sidebar, page 34) in the market.

Processor’s perspective
OSI Group is one the world’s largest processors of value-added prepared meats and entrees. Based in Aurora, Ill. (near Chicago), this private company produces a wide range of refrigerated and frozen items for various types of customers in retail co-pack, private label and foodservice applications.

One person familiar with internal and external customer and consumer demands is OSI Assistant Vice President of Commercialization Mike Yeager.

“We focus on our customers’ needs and we use a variety of packaging technologies,” notes Yeager. “In part, our packaging decisions depend on product quantity (small portions may not require reclose) as well as a customer’s other product offerings (when a customer already has an established package look). We also consider the cost per package (particularly if there’s a feature such as reclose) as well as the item’s ‘green’ position relative to the amount of packaging or complexity of packaging involved – and how the package will be received by those viewing it.”

For more than a year now, OSI has used a Peel&Seal reclose technology from Sealstrip Corp., Gilbertsville, Pa. One of several reclose technologies at OSI, Sealstrip’s Peel&Seal appears on two frozen processed meat items: a co-packed national brand product; and the other, a private label offering for a major retailer. Both applications involve vertical form/fill/seal packaging lines.

“There are many re-close technologies for food packages and these have evolved – resulting in more manufacturer options,” Yeager says. “Moreover, different technologies serve particular applications and there’s a wide range of expense.

“It all depends on the product and package and I’ll note that all processing fees are charged to the customer. That said, an operations perspective, our people appreciate Sealstrip’s (1) ease of application, (2) small changeover times, (3) smaller upfront capital costs and overall line productivity (up time).”

Supply side angles
Those operational benefits are no small matter and don’t come by mistake, notes Heather Chandler, Sealstrip president.

“We have been designing re-sealable features since 1984,” she says. “Other technologies – as well as ours – required a significant capital investment, and were not as easy to implement as customers needed. Most required 16 to 20 weeks to make wrapper and film changes.

“We wanted to offer a system that was simple, easy to implement, and capital investment free. Manufacturers needed a way to meet the consumer demand for resealable packages in a solution that added value without a 10-year return on investment. Rapidly changing markets and packaging needs require quick returns on investment.”

Chandler says Sealstrip developed Peel&Seal – a tape adhesive system – especially for vertical form/fill/seal pouch applications (though horizontal flow wrapper applications work as well). She says her company provides the adhesive applicator as a no charge license and there are a few minimal, one-time engineering fees to custom retrofit the applicator to the wrapper.

She notes that a trial applicator lets customers can “take a test drive” and make resealable packages after just 30 minutes set-up.

“This is useful for operations personnel to see how easy the system is. Meanwhile, other departments can quickly get as many samples as they’d like,” says Chandler. “No less important, we’re only talking about minimal graphics changes because Peel&Seal doesn’t require extra film or any real packaging alterations.”

With that Sealstrip realized it also had to do its homework with consumers – literally.

“Since introducing Peel&Seal in 2006, I’d say the most significant change with this product involved a process improvement,” says Chandler. “We need Peel&Seal to adhere strongly to start, remain peelable and have a strong reseal. We learned that a more aggressive adhesive does not result in a better product.

“We use standard testing as developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) but it took some experience to learn that real (world) testing is most effective,” she continues. “We make real packages, complete open and reclose tests with specific processes – and we’ve learned to use real refrigerators and freezers to better simulate a real user’s experience. This led us to develop a tape specifically designed for freezer applications.”

When testing Peel&Seal in more “real world” conditions, researchers learned that – even after it’s removed from the freezer – packaged product remains cold and real packages are much colder when resealed.

“We needed our adhesive to reseal when pressed against a film, which remains much colder due to product inside the package,” Chandler notes. “It sounds obvious, but standard test methods didn’t go this far.”

No matter what, everyone has the same end-goal in mind.

“Consumers have been looking for more re-sealable options in refrigerated and frozen foods,” says Chandler. “Freezer and refrigerator space is so limited and a flexible package that rolls down – becoming smaller and smaller as product is used – provides a huge advantage over a box or bulky bag that takes up the same amount of space regardless of whether it’s full or almost empty.

“Easy to use and reliable are two very important re-sealable features if you want the package to bring consumers back for repeat purchases.”

And the winner is…
More winning recloseable prepared food packaging ideas, as recognized by the Flexible Packaging Association’s 2009 and 2010 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards.

Company: Ampac Flexibles Div., Ampac Packaging
Product: Recloseable Retort Pouch
Award: Gold award, technical innovation

Company: Cryovac Food Packaging Div., Sealed Air Corp.
Product: Cryovac Multi-Seal
Award: Gold award, technical innovation

Company: Bemis Co. Inc.
Product: Bemis Advance Pak Printed Roll Stock with Inno-Lok Zipper
Award: Achievement award, technical innovation

Company: Curwood Inc., a Bemis company
Product: EZ Peel/Reseal Tray/Lid System
Award: Achievement award, packaging excellence, technical innovation

Company: Curwood Inc., a Bemis company
Product: Oscar Mayer “Sneak-a-Peek” Snack Pouch
Award: Achievement award, packaging excellence, technical innovation