It’s Grab-Bag Time
By Dan Malovany
Consumer demand for portion control, resealability and increased freshness are driving innovation in the packaging world.
For snackaholics, the magic number is 100. That’s what Kraft Foods was the first to discover when it rolled out its 100-calorie packs of Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Wheat Thins, Cheese Nips and other varieties of portion-controlled treats.
In fact, Kraft’s line of Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs raked in $107 million in sales last year in supermarket, drug and mass merchandiser channels, excluding Wal-Mart, notes Information Resources Inc. That’s enough cash to make it the fourth most successful new product, according to IRI’s 2005 New Product Pacesetters.
Obviously, such success didn’t go unnoticed. In March, Pepperidge Farm introduced 100-calorie packs of its popular Goldfish snack crackers. Frito-Lay jumped on the bandwagon, too.
Toby Steward, regional sales manager for TNA North America Inc., isn’t surprised. In Europe, the trend toward smaller bags has been going on for years. Americans are just now catching up to their across-the-pond counterparts.
“It’s a very real trend,” he says. “It’s not an exploding trend, but it’s definitely a significant one.”
In addition to providing portion control, smaller bags provide a perception of freshness, especially among younger consumers. The days when teens dug into a previously opened family-sized bag that had been rolled up at the top and clipped shut are disappearing. Rather, they prefer to grab a single-sized package and literally eat their snacks fresh out of the bag.
As a result, Steward notes, sales of multi-packs are increasing as consumers transform their pantries into in-house convenience stores. Sales of 24- and 30-count bags are steadily increasing, especially at wholesale clubs.
For snack producers, the small bag phenomenon brings some challenges and has a price to it. Instead of needing eight or nine scalers/baggers to fill 1-lb. packages from their 5,000-lb. fryer, they may need 12 or 18 high-speed systems cranking out 150 units a minute of potato chips, Steward says. Integrated systems, he adds, can help streamline operations even more.
For instance, TNA’s ROBAG 3 in the Snyder’s of Hanover plant packs pretzels at 170 bags a minute. TNA’s systems can produce upward of 210 to 220 single-serve bags of candy and other products per minute, Steward says.
Likewise, Heat and Control’s new family of Ishida form-fill-seal bagmakers also can crank out bags of snacks at rates ranging from 150 to 200 items per minute. For maximum weighing and bagmaking efficiency, the Ishida ITPS systems combine the ATLAS bagmaker and Ishida’s R-series multi-head weigher into a single snack food packaging system that produces large and small bags with high-speed accuracy.
In addition, its ATLAS universal bagmaker delivers consistently uniform bags, ranging in sizes from 4- to 13-in. wide and 28-in. long, eliminating the need for dedicated lines for each bag size. Simple film loading and threading, automatic film centering and tensioning, and a vacuum-assisted film-splicing table facilitate fast changeovers, the company says.
In the bread aisle, bakers are looking for labor-saving systems that gently package products with consumer-friendly closing features, explains Kurt Miller, sales director-technical service for Burford Corp. In Europe, where consumers are more food-security conscious, tamper-evident features are more prevalent. It’s only a matter of time before American consumers demand the same.
“We’ll be pretty well positioned when that happens,” Miller explains.
Additionally, European consumers prefer to reseal their bags with durable sticky tape instead of the twist tie that’s common in the states. Burford plans to feature its new tape system at the iba 2006 show in Munich later this year.
In the United States, the company is featuring its vertical bagger with a twist tie closure that can handle granular or preformed products. The bagger can work with vertical fill machines and robotic fillers, or as a hand-fed operation. Additionally, Burford’s tortilla bagger automatically bags and twists up to 1,200 tortillas per minute.
In the foodservice channel, freshness also is driving sales, notes Ray Anater, Jr., director of automation, sales and development at LeMatic Inc. Quick-service restaurants are looking for bulk packages with multiple heat seals that allow operators to open just 10 buns at a time, instead of 30 at once. That’s especially true for 24-hour chains, which may experience lulls in their business during the late-night hours.
LeMatic also has been retooling some of its lines in response to bakers’ requests systems with fewer electronics and more servo-driven motors. Additionally, with many prepared sandwiches and other meals being made in U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspection facilities, food producers are asking for equipment that can be easily cleaned by washing it down.
At iba 2006, LeMatic will feature a new labor-saving packaging system with vision and robotics operation that aligns buns into the slicing equipment. It’s all part of a larger trend by packaging companies to develop equipment that make snack and bakery facilities more efficient.