Chicken packaging options provide freshness, portability and ease-of-use for time-crunched shoppers looking for delicious meal solutions.

Chicken of all varieties is in big demand. It’s enjoyed rotisserie style, breaded and fried in pieces, tenders and nuggets and enhanced with sriracha, barbecue, jerk, mandarin, chili lime and habanero pepper flavors. The preferred protein continues to drive growth for the category with $26.2 billion in annual sales in the U.S., according to Nielsen’s Chicken: Little Bird, Big Success report.

The supermarket deli is the beneficiary of the highest growth of chicken products for the 12 months ended July 2, 2018. During this period, the deli represented an increase of $305 million in dollar sales and 51 million-unit sales for chicken products. This is the highest increase of any department in the supermarket with rotisserie, tenders, nuggets, smoked chicken and thighs driving top growth in the category.

Transporting chicken from the deli to where it will be enjoyed next demands packaging designed to protect, maintain temperature, provide ease of carrying and ensure consumer safety while enhancing convenience and appeal. A range of rigid and flexible packaging options exist, including pouches, boxes and cartons for fried chicken, nuggets and tenders and pouches, cartons, domes and sleeves for rotisserie.

Anchor Packaging, Ballwin, Missouri, produces rigid packaging for chicken in a variety of sizes. Its Natures Best packaging for whole roasted chicken helps maintain product in the food-safe temperature range while its Crisp Food Technologies hinged and two-piece containers for fried chicken feature a patented convection cross-flow design to keep chicken crispy for up to four hours. Its two-piece MicroRaves microwaveable containers feature two sets of clear lids: one for hot-to-go and one for chilled, ready-to-reheat.

“Eyes can often taste before the mouth, so clear, no-fog lids that allow visibility of the food inside will drive impulse sales,” says Marilyn Stapleton, director of marketing, Anchor Packaging.


Leak-resistant, re-sealable, vented

TC Transcontinental Packaging, Montreal, Quebec, offers the Hot N’ Handy pouch for rotisserie and fried products. The easy-to-carry pouch features leak-resistant properties, a re-sealable zipper, proprietary venting pattern and flexographic printed graphics. Using innovative perforation and film technologies, the flexible packaging is suitable for the hot display case and microwave reheating.

By pairing the right packaging with the right circumstance, retailers can enhance purchase decisions. Good packaging can attract attention to drive sales instore and generate brand recognition when seen in secondary locations.

“In today’s world, consumers buy experiences, not just products,” says Rebecca Casey, vice president marketing and consumer market development, TC Transcontinental Packaging. “Packaging can provide an unboxing experience once the product gets home and can drive an emotional feeling. Consumers feel strongly that quality shouldn’t be compromised or altered because of the packaging.”

Indiana Carton, Bremen, Indiana, produces paperboard folding cartons for deli and chicken to-go and rotisserie sleeves. As a part of its Signature Process, Indiana Carton offers clients access to its full-service graphic design department where in-house designers create eye-catching designs and logos on the packaging using sustainable ink as part of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

“Sustainability is really important. It’s a growing trend that’s not going away,” says Alicia Petty MacDonald, vice president of marketing, Indiana Carton. “Since we produce paperboard folding cartons, we have a renewed resource, and we can offer that sustainability and earth friendly option that many Americans are concerned about.” 

At Indiana Carton, sustainability also includes helping retailers streamline the number of packaging SKUs kept in stock. The company offers unified solutions for multiple eating occasions such as chicken and deli to-go meal selections. Each of the company’s paperboard folding cartons abides by strict Safe Quality Food (SQF) standards, a certification program of the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.

“SQF is a certification that many, including Sam’s Club and Panera, are starting to do,” says Petty MacDonald. “Holding SQF certification is important, especially as more and more food manufacturers are being asked to abide by these guidelines. Level 3 certification is not a requirement but it’s a way the company is able to demonstrate our commitment to staying ahead of the curve.”


Eco-friendly options

Choosing the best package for the environment can be a challenging task and should consider end-of-life disposal along with performance and price. Anchor Packaging’s polypropylene products contain 40% less petroleum-based resin and a minimum of 10% FDA-approved post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (RPET). The packaging is dishwasher safe, reusable and recyclable at the curbside in many U.S. communities.

“Clean packaging is the next challenge for packaging manufacturers,” according to Evergreen Packaging, a manufacturer of fiber-based products. “Grocery shoppers have higher expectations than ever before, and packaging is an extension of the shopping list.”

Consumer requests for clean packaging and evolving municipal recycling and composting laws mean packaging manufacturers must remain nimble in their sustainability offerings. TC Transcontinental Packaging’s plants are certified SQF Level 2 and Level 3 and AIB Superior, suggesting sustainability is not only a trend but a priority for the entire industry.

“Consumers wish to contribute to a better environment starting with what they consume and reducing packaging waste,” Casey says. “However, they are also asking to understand how recycling works and how they can make a significant impact, and there are definitely opportunities to educate them on the topic.”

Evolving consumer expectations and widely differing sustainability mandates city-to-city mean packaging manufacturers often strive to meet the demands of the greatest common denominator. Manufacturers are also looking ahead when it comes to safety by providing tamper-evident packaging designed to enhance food safety.

“Extensive consumer interviews indicate that many consumers are not aware of packages designed to prevent tampering,” Stapleton says. “These features are most important for the retailer to identify and remove possibly tampered products from the shelves.”

While sustainability and safety may not yet be top of mind for all consumers, convenience is a trend everyone can support, most recently in the form of ready-to-go meal kits and food delivery. In-store delis are prime competitors, offering the same take-away convenience as restaurants and fast-casual with the added benefit of more healthy and indulgent choices.

By pairing the right packaging with the right products, food looks and tastes as good at the delivery destination as it did in the store. “Why not take advantage of grab-and-go and hot and chilled meals already perfected by supermarkets to meet the demands of delivery?” Stapleton concludes. “Preserving the eye appeal of the food in the store and during transport assures a table-ready presentation.”


What to Look for when Purchasing Packaging

·         Materials to maintain a food’s “just-made” appearance

·         High-temperature materials in hot cases to keep foods in the safe zone for up to four hours

·         Packaging that will protect the contents and maintain presentation

·         Ability to reuse packaging and/or recycle curbside