Whether you’re trying to go green or just save some, packaging innovations for your commissary’s fresh and prepared foods are continually presenting themselves these days. As far as design, the biggest developments have been in stability and sustainability — not to mention presentation. And with packaging priorities starting to change just as fast as the trends that govern them, manufacturers are racing to save the day, much to the advantage of the commissaries that need them. So whether your goal is to capitalize on the transparency movement or if you’re simply just trying to get your food to its retailer in one piece, chances are that your solution is already here.

Reseal and recycle

One of the newest approaches to an old problem comes from Clear Lam Packaging: foamed APET and rPET rollstock. Made of triangle No. 1 foamed polyester packaging, in appearance and weight it’s seems to be a lot like recyclable Styrofoam, and it’s designed to reduce shipping weight and work with existing recycling programs.

“Triangle No. 1 packages are the polyester packages most recycled in America, and we’re making them lighter — and we’re doing so by foaming them,” says Roman Forowycz, chief marketing officer for Clear Lam Packaging. “Everybody sort of knows that Styrofoam is bad for the environment, but this is different — it’s polyester that’s foamed. It’s recyclable, and you save up to 50 percent of the shipping weight. And when you do that, you're also eliminating fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re just launching this, so by next year you’re going to be seeing a lot of people using it. And what does it mean? Lower cost, more efficiency, better for the environment, and still recyclable throughout the whole supply chain.”

Clear Lam has also developed SealChoice PET Lidding Films, designed to peel and reseal to its clear PET trays without the need for scissors or other tools to open the product initially. While Oreo cookies first came up with the concept of peel-and-resealable items in the 1990s, Forowycz notes, there have been great strides in making the lidding not only more functional but easier to use. 

“It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard that (a consumer won’t buy a product if the packaging is too hard to open) in my career — it’s a real issue,” Forowycz says. “A lot of food companies sometimes don’t recognize that the initial experience the consumer has with their product is the package, and not the food inside of it. So we work a lot to really improve that.”

A second advantage to this line is that it can withstand high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), the latest method of ensuring a Listeria-free product without using any chemical preservatives, additives or heat to extend its shelf life. “It’s a tricky thing to develop plastics for,” Forowycz says, “because under that high of an amount of pressure, these resealable packages typically rupture. Or if they’re permanently sealed, then you need a knife or scissors to get into it, and it’s not consumer-friendly.”

Clear Lam has also expanded its existing peel-and-reseal lidding film program, now producing films that seal from underneath the packaging instead of on top, which helps maintain moisture and prevent staling. But its main advantage over similar peel-and-reseal films, Forowycz says, is that it can maintain a full reseal even when done over small amounts of water and fat contamination. It’s a different technology employed that appears to have little wrinkles when applied, he says, but it’s designed to replace rigid lids and shrink bands, and can also reduce shipping weight by up to 30 percent.

“So with products like meats and cheeses,” Forowycz says, “if a consumer pulls it out and it smudges up over it, it can still seal over. That’s very unique compared to what others are doing, and it has to do with the chemistry of the adhesives that are used to reclose, so that’s pretty cool.”

Design and durability

While Sabert Packaging also has an entire line of compostable ‘green’ products, its latest packaging developments have focused on bakery and grab-and-go containers that spotlight presentation and shipping stability. “Our snack and bakery collections differ a little bit; it’s really packaging for on-the-go lifestyles, and is all about functionality as well as sustainability and versatility,” says Jason Horbac, assistant product manager at Sabert. “We have multiple material types, as well as multiple products in the line, whether it be sandwich containers, snack containers and boxes, compartmented containers — it’s all made to be used on the go.”

But the most striking quality to Sabert’s new line is its clarity. The majority of packaging used by commissaries is made of polystyrene, which can often appear cloudy, but the new bakery line is virtually transparent, and each item has been individually designed for its specific product. For example, the individual cupcake package holds the bottom of the cake tight enough to turn upside-down, but has a large, smooth dome lid that never threatens to disturb the frosting.

“The difference between the two collections in terms of ‘grab-and-go’ are that the bakery items are pretty much hinged in terms of a one-piece solution, and the grab-and-go and snack collections have a lot of two-piece solutions,” says Product Manager Kenton McDonald. “All of the items in our bakery collection are PET, which means they won’t crack when freezing or anything like that. We’ve talked with bakery manufacturers that say they only use our brand because we’re all PET, and about 70 percent of the market out there uses OPS, which does crack when freezing.  We’re also known for clean aesthetics across all of our collections; we have limited ribbing or visible lines, and it really helps to showcase the beauty of the food — they’re designed to display.”

The bakery line specifically will put commissaries at an advantage when courting potential retailers, Horbac says, and can also help up their game with existing clients to have their products stand out from the crowd within the department overall. By putting your product in a package that is designed to display, Horbac says, the food you produce is looking desirable from the moment it’s seen, as opposed to the moment it’s finally found underneath copious labels, sleeves or dividing paper.

“In a bakery, more than anywhere else, the food is really a work of art,” Horbac adds. “And with high-clarity PET and clean aesthetics, we’ve really innovated a high-performance design that guarantees that foods that have to travel will look the same at their final destination as they did when they came right off of the line at the commissary.”

And as both Clear Lam and Sabert will tell you, the impulse to reach out and grab that cupcake while cruising past the bakery department doesn’t start with taste or smell, but presentation — and packaging is the first interaction the end consumer will have with the food your commissary produces.

“It’s all about impulse sales,” McDonald says. “I know that when I go to a bakery I never plan on getting a cupcake or a doughnut, but it somehow magically gets into my basket all the same.”