As supermarket perimeters continue to increase the number of prepared foods choices available to their customers, the commissaries that supply them must look closer at the packaging used for what can be a wide range of temperatures.
“Supermarkets choose products that will drive impulse sales and look store-prepared,” says Marilyn Stapleton, director of marketing for Ballwin, Missouri-based Anchor Packaging. “The commissaries must choose packages that protect and highlight food contents while running efficiently in their operation.”
Recent trends in consumer shopping on the supermarket perimeter have also increased the importance of finding the right packaging for each food.
“Healthier options in general, like salads with protein and toppings, yogurt parfaits and fresh fruit for snacking and grab-and-go,” have made a big impact, says Scott Rhea, director of tooling and product development for Wood Dale, Illinois-based D&W Fine Pack. “And you also have environmental trends for recyclable packaging and packaging made from recycled content and compostable packaging.”
Rhea also pointed out the prominence of meal kits available instore for easy home meal preparation, as well as those that are delivery to the home of the consumer.
That means choosing packaging that can handle hot and cold foods and can also be heated once it’s ready for display at the store. For products that are served hot, packaging should be microwavable in order for it be reheated and served, or displayed in a refrigerated case for the grab-and-go consumer to reheat.
Stapleton says Anchor’s MicroRaves polypropylene containers allow retailers to choose from a variety of sizes for entrees and sides to fill in the store, at their commissary or both.
“They’re leak-resistant with flat and dome lids in PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) for cold displays and polypropylene for hot displays. They’re available to fit assorted sizes in three footprints,” she says.
For D&W Fine Pack, there are a few ways to offer customers solutions for the widest temperature ranges — a polypropylene material solution or an aluminum solution for packaging, for starters.
“Compartmentalizing packaging to keep foods intended to be hot separate from goods intended to be cold also works,” says Rhea. “For example, breading down a hamburger to keep each component separate — the bun, the burger and the toppings.”
D&W’s line of Grab ‘N Go packaging is billed as a solution for retailers targeting today’s busy consumers. Multiple sizes, clear and easy-open lids, and the right specs to handle a wide array of cold and hot foods are selling points.
Hot and cold items carry a few of the same challenges when it comes to packaging. Regardless of which end of the heat spectrum the food falls on, one of the most important roles of the packaging is to maintain food integrity and food temperature and freshness at the same time, Rhea says.
Maintaining a clear base and lid also presents itself as a nagging challenge on both ends of the spectrum. Hot foods cause steam and condensation as the packaging works to keep its contents warm. Colder foods see condensation build up from the internal to external temperature differences.
But packaging must also be able to handle different challenges. “When dealing with hot foods, the integrity of crisp food, and not letting it get soggy, is important,” Rhea says. “You also have to consider the package handling temperature and the package structure integrity.”
On the other hand, shelf life must be taken into consideration with cold foods. Oxygen transfer is key, whether it’s venting that allow gasses to escape or a tight-fitting lid that prevents oxygen from entering.
For these condensation problems, D&W says it utilizes its two innovation centers, complete with cutting-edge technology, to support product innovation and development.
“Anti-fog, optical enhancers, appropriate product venting, compartment solutions, portion control, temperature requirements, material additives, barrier technology and custom packaging development can all work to meet specific menu items,” Rhea says.
Anchor Packaging’s MicroRaves line features FDA-approved, post-consumer PETE lids, which offer high clarity and food visibility, Stapleton says.
“And the polypropylene lids vent to allow steam to escape, keeping the food visible with the integral anti-fog material,” Stapleton says. “Packages can be sued to store leftovers in reclosable lids, they’re dishwasher safe for reuse, and they’re eligible for recycling curbside.”
In addition to its line of MicroRaves packaging, Stapleton pointed out Anchor’s line of microwavable Icredi-Bowls, which are available in 15 sizes, from 5 oz to 48 oz with five interchangeable lids.
At the end of the day, both Stapleton and Rhea say, while proper heating and cooling techniques are important, it all comes down to protecting the integrity of food. In part, that means protecting the integrity of the packaging.
Packaging must carry adequate structural strength and resist cracking when the internal temperatures vary.
“Material selections and product design criteria are key factors in the development process in order to best meet specific temperature applications,” Rhea says. “Flash freezing and ovenable or microwavable are the ends of the spectrum for temperature applications and the packaging must respond accordingly.”
“Presentation and performance are the basis for all Anchor designs,” she says. “The product must protect the food during handling and transport, allow temperatures of various food to 230 degrees, and provide a table-ready presentation in a sturdy and cut-resistant design.”