As you are already aware, the packaging field is ever-changing. Packaging World magazine indicates that the reason the industry is constantly evolving is due to the fact that companies are more in tune with their consumers. For example, here’s a fun fact from the May 2016 issue: “Increasing attention has been placed on the development of food packaging material with antimicrobial and antifungal properties, in order to improve food safety, extend shelf-life and to minimize the use of chemical preservatives. Consumers are also demanding that packaging materials be formulated from natural materials that are environmentally friendly and biodegradable while improving food preservation.”
For this mission, the students were asked to focus on food packaging and safety.
For this month’s mission, we were asked to take a look at food packaging and how it is being impacted by changing technologies, consumer demands, and other influencing factors. Food packaging and pharmaceutical packaging both have more rigorous and robust regulations and laws as the products the two industries deal with are consumed by humans or animals versus CPGs (consumer packaged goods), which are more for use by an individual. For example, ConAgra, the producer of Reddi-Whip, Slim Jims, PAM cooking sprays, and Orville products, has a different set and more stringent guidelines for their packaging compared to Toyota, Hasbro, and Proctor & Gamble.
ConAgra was founded in 1919 as Nebraska Consolidated Mills when it merged 4 different flour mills under one name. The company was renamed in 1971 as ConAgra Foods and has continued to grow with several acquisitions. How has packaging changed over the years for ConAgra? For starters, food used to come primarily packaged in steel cans. While we still have cans today, they have evolved from a simplistic steel can to aluminum and combination metal cans with several unique attributes such as a pull tab and other re-closeable features. The food industry has been forced to evolve its packaging because of consumer demands for ease of use, longer shelf life, minimized shelf space, on-the-go convenience, and lately, environmentally friendly packaging.
Remember the days when we had to go buy, cut and prepare ingredients to make breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Society has changed tremendously – oftentimes, there simply isn’t enough time to do all the prep work. So in comes fast food for its convenience and with that comes its own implications, like health issues. Consumers began to push for healthy food, but in a more convenient and time-efficient matter. ConAgra has strong representation in stores with Healthy Choice, Delicious Veggies, and Crock-Pot Classics, along with several other brands because they were able to create products that were both healthier and quicker to prepare.
With this change also came a push for more re-closeable and convenience packaging as most of the time the food is not all used in one meal preparation, is single serve, microwaveable, or is on-the-go ready. Some of the designs that we see in the marketplace are vacuum seal bags, barrier bags, microwaveable single serve containers, stand up pouches, and probably the most popular bag we know….the zipper bag.
Now, with new and innovative packaging comes a price, literally. When a company makes the decision to invest in a new and not commonly used packaging material or style, they take a risk in appearance and monetarily. Simply put – they cannot be 100 percent guaranteed that consumers will take to the new package or that they will see a profit. It takes a lot for a company to take the risk of being the trendsetter. Sometimes it pays off and other times it does not- it’s all a part of the business world.
For any type of consumer demand, whether it is environmentally, health, or convenience based, I can almost guarantee there is a package out there that will do what they are asking; however, it comes with a price. For example, environmentally friendly packaging was a hot topic, and still is today – Frito Lay was one brand to join the trend. In 2009, Frito Lay released a new, biodegradable and environmentally friendly chip bag for Sun Chips, but it performed poorly in the market. It didn’t perform poorly because it wasn’t truly environmentally friendly, but rather because it was too noisy. So much so that Frito Lay went back to its “non environmentally friendly” bags 18 months after the initial release.
This is one of the reasons why I chose to make the transition into the packaging field. For those challenges that will never go away, but will continue to change and evolve as our society continues to develop. I am excited to see what new packaging comes out as a result of consumer demands…perhaps I will be one of the trendsetters!
Garrett: Morey’s Fine Fish and Seafood
For this mission, I interviewed Ron Denning, general manager of Morey’s Fine Fish and Seafood in Minnesota. We spoke about what Morey’s does to set the company apart from the others. Ron said they provide restaurant quality, center of the plate seafood options that are easy to cook and they taste great! They are also very active in the seafood industry on the regulatory side and hold many food safety certifications. They even research the viability and sustainability of a fish species when developing new products.
Further into our talk, I asked Ron about how customer demands impact their company. For them, the customer is the focus. He suggested Morey’s is successful when a customer purchases their product, enjoys it and purchases it again. Geographics, demographics, where the customer shops and how they shop all impact the sale. And how they develop and sustain marketshare. Purchasing decisions differ greatly between Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millenials, so finding the right balance to reach as many markets their product is intended for is one of the keys. Expanding current and new product lines based on this same understanding is also critical.
We continued to talk about Morey’s and I asked Ron about the various aspects of their processing and packaging operations. He said the company has been looking at many initiatives to enhance operations and continually looks for ways to improve yields, efficiencies, food safety, safety and innovation; as well as having a minimum impact on the environment. There are a wide variety of package types available. Some would be very little change to the current production, others would be more involved with additional equipment in order to produce and package making it challenging. These changes are often times driven by the customer and the sales outlet that will be displaying the product. Continuing to refine their processes is a constant part of manufacturing and a regular topic of conversation. As a company, they conduct reviews, assessments and testing to provide factual data to assist in the direction and decision making in order to provide consumers with the best product possible.
Frito-Lay sends noisy, ‘green’ SunChips bag to the dump – USATODAY.com. (2010, October 5). Retrieved August 15, 2016, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2010-10-05-sunchips05_ST_N.htm