Packaging is important for each and every category of food product. It must protect and keep the food fresh while also differentiating it from competitors.
Packaging for the artisan breads category may be doubly important in this sense. It needs to clearly define that the bread is different from traditional sliced bread, show off its more artisan, hearty crust, and provide the proper breathability to keep it in prime condition.
“Packaging as a whole has to differentiate the product,” says Jon Wood, national account sales manager for Novolex and its De Luxe EcoCraft line of artisan bread bags. “The consumer has to look at it and know what it is. Once they see it, they have to recognize that it’s different.”
That leads to the biggest difference between packaging for artisan and commercial breads: the look. Artisan breads have a more upscale, premium look and the packaging needs to reflect that.
The most important way to do that, Wood says, is to provide visibility to the product with a packaging combination of paper and film.
“They want to see that crustiness and texture of the bread, whether they’re just looking at it on the shelf or picking it up,” he says. “It’s a visible thing for the consumer to see and know that it’s a different product than traditional bread.”
Tracy Clark, packaging specialist for McNairn Packaging, agrees. “From the consumer perspective, the biggest thing is that they want to see the bread,” she says. “The window in the packaging accomplishes that.”
How big that window is, of course, is up to the supermarket or producer. Many bags from McNairn and Novolex feature a center film panel that provides visibility of the entire loaf.
“A lot of our customers are wanting more visibility of the product,” Wood says. “With some new technology and equipment out there, you’re able to make a new style of bread bag that will provide more visibility, greater graphics enhancement if you need it and want it, and it lends itself well to differentiating the bread.”
The new technologies have allowed for printing on the film portion of the bag instead of just on the paper portion.
That paper portion of the bag is responsible for allowing the bread to breathe. “The breathability of the bag is very important,” Clark says. “The bag has to keep the bread crusty. Nobody wants to buy a nice loaf of artisan bread and then have it get soggy.”
Paper, by nature, is breathable. It lacks a real barrier and lends itself well to an artisan bread. But there are times when you may need more, or less, breathability. Perforated packaging can allow more airflow to ensure the maintenance of a hard, hearty crust.
There may be times when a retailer wants to extend the shelf life of an artisan product. That requires less airflow, which can be accomplished with coatings on the paper. Also, breads with a high oil content — an olive loaf or a focaccia, for example —need a coating of some sort.
“If you start to coat the paper, it changes its makeup and functionality,” Wood says. “Depending on what the requirements are, if a customer needs more of a grease barrier because the product has oil in it, then you may need to use a coated or treated paper. That can extend shelf life a little longer or minimize and mitigate any grease migration.”
Clark also points out that some papers need a coating and the ability to be heated at home, after the consumer purchases it.
“If you’re getting into a high-end bread, more of an olive bread with a high oil content, you’d need the grease-resistant paper,” she says. “In other cases, you might want a foil bag that you can bake so you can put it in the oven when you get home. It really does depend on the bread.”
As Wood points out, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to breathability. It all depends on the retailer and the end consumer.
“It’s purely customer-driven based on their product, their application and how they want to merchandise and sell it off the shelf to the consumer,” he says.
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As with every other aspect of artisan bread production, packaging must respond to the need to increase demand as producers are trying to reach more consumers while maintaining the quality and feel of their product.
“It has to be turn-key for the manufacturer of the bread and into their customer, which is the supermarket, and then into the end consumer,” Wood says. “it has to be turn-key in the sense that it has to be simple and easy to execute on.”
He notes that labor shortages in supermarkets and the need for consistency amplifies the need for an easy process. One way Novolex has addressed this is shifting the way the bags are shipped.
“Historically, bread bags were produced from a converter like us and sold through distribution that went into the supermarket and they’d get X amount of bags in a case,” he says. “The bread company would make the bread and it would run through their distribution and ultimately get into the same supermarket under a different SKU. You’ve got two different boxes and two different packs all within the retailer.”
Since supermarkets don’t usually have warehousing space for additional product, the ability to marry the packaging with the bread makes the entire program easier to execute. “So now you’ve got 12 loaves in the case and 12 bags in a bundle in the same case,” Wood says. “It’s a streamlined process that makes it easier for everyone.”
All packages need to be closed before they’re put on the shelf. Innoseal Systems boasts its system is an ideal solution for artisan breads.
“Commercial bread systems typically use automated applications,” says Jeff Rebh, president and CEO of Innoseal. “Most artisanal bread manufacturers are more small-batch and use more affordable, semi-automatic sealing solutions like Innoseal.”
Artisan producers demand a flexible sealing system that can close all sizes and shape of plastic and paper bags. The bread, like all fresh foods, also needs to be protected. Innoseal is a tamper-evident sealing solution that affixes a non-metal, virtually airtight closure to the bag.
“The entire system is lightweight and with our seven-day color system, it offers a clear shelf rotation program,” Rebh says.
On the horizon
Wood says the biggest change he sees possible coming to artisan bread packaging involves companies like Novolex providing wholesale bakers with their packaging in roll form.
“We’re seeing some interest from the wholesale bakery in the ability to provide some kind of visibility for the product, but to actually provide the packaging in roll form,” he says. “It’s providing a paper film structure in roll form that they can run on their equipment to package the bread that then goes into the supermarket. It can be a fully baked product or a majority baked bread.”
This could help both ends of the transaction. For supermarkets and their previously mentioned labor shortages, the need to remove multiple handlings of the bread could be key. If they can get prepackaged artisan breads from the wholesale baker that can simply be taken out of the box and put on the shelf, it’s a huge labor savings.
On the other hand, it opens a new production area for the wholesale bakery. They wouldn’t just be baking the bread, but also packaging it in an artisan bread bag. But those new dynamics would be highly desired by many potential supermarket customers.
“It’s simple, consistent execution,” Wood says. “It requires no additional work on their end to be able to take it from where it’s been manufactured, take it out of the box and put it on the shelf. It’s something we’re starting to see requests for. We’ve answered questions about capabilities, test materials and how they could convert their equipment.”