According to the Packaged Facts Web site, “With convenience one of the overriding trends in the packaged foods industry, new forms and sizes of packaging are revolutionizing what it means to be convenient and taking the notion of convenience to ever greater heights. Grab-and-go soups, seasoned tuna salad in pouches, vacuum-packed steaks and chicken breasts, ready-to-brew coffee in pods – all these and more are changing the way Americans eat and cook.”
Convenient, easier-handling, is one part of the equation driving the trend towards smaller portion sizes. The other is a response to the perceived ill-effects of “supersizing.” According to NERAC (New England Research Application Center) analyst Brenda Van Goethem, “Food packaging is on a diet. Many U.S. companies now offer single-serve or ‘convenience’ packaging for various categories, from Freschetta’s single-serve pizza to Welch’s 5.5-ounce cans of juice. In a society where bigger is better, the trend toward single-serve packaging indicates that consumers are willing to pay for less: less food, less calories and less health dangers.”
All of this is changing the way manufacturers “think outside of the box” about how to make packaging in a wider range of smaller portion sizes. At the same time, they need to “elbow” their way onto retail shelves in ways that will catch the eyes of consumers and say “something different” as well as be “highly convenient.”
The Packaging Business Unit of the Chemicals Division of the South Carolina-based Milliken & Company, the world’s largest privately-owned global textile and chemical manufacturer, now offers an easy and cost-effective way for packaged goods companies to respond to consumer preferences for smaller, easy-to-handle containers with recently launched packaging manufacturing equipment available for lease.
Previously focused primarily on refrigerated and frozen foods packaging products, Milliken’s latest turnkey packaging solutions are Nu-Twist™, M-Pak® Plus, and M-Pak XtremeTM. The FSC-certified paper and film technologies will allow almost any viscous product to be packaged in portion controlled tetrahedron shape.
The Nu-Twist package is paper-based with a pull-tab opening and straw insertion for easy consumption of four ounces of liquid. Designed for dispensing juice, Nu-Twist is a fun shaped and kid-friendly package evidence of the frozen juice bar success. “Kids associate the triangle pack with a treat. In addition to help drive juice consumption in schools, this juice package uses only about half the amount of material (as a percentage of weight) as the standard cup or carton,” says Scott Schwasnick, national accounts sales manager.
M-Pak® Plus, paper-based, and M-Pak® Xtreme, film-based, packages are designed to contain liquids and provide barrier properties for sauces and condiments, salad dressings and oil-based products. The package can also be used for non-food products such as lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products. Both packages are available in 1/3-ounce to four-ounce portions.
These package options provide a portion controlled serving of products that work well with today’s “on-the-go” lifestyles, according to Schwasnick. “In addition to sizing the product in the portions consumers want, the tetrahedral shape provides instant visual product differentiation. Package goods companies are fighting to stand out on crowded grocery shelves. Our packaging solution provides a distinctive shape that can achieve this. We can also work with manufacturers to help design and implement eye-catching graphics and package branding.”
In addition, he points out that “Nu-TwistTM, M-Pak® Plus, and M-Pak® Xtreme minimize end-user waste because the package shape is the most efficient use of material per unit of volume and allows for complete dispensing of the product.” Milliken’s patent pending packaging improves the manufacturer’s bottom-line through waste reduction and high machine efficiency. “Our certified paper option combined with our specialized equipment and package shape, enables us to deliver one of the most environmentally friendly packages commercially available. In fact, we are not aware of any portion control package which has a better sustainability story in these small sizes,” Schwasnick notes. “Sure, today’s consumers want convenience and portion size that better accommodate their lifestyles, but they are also demanding environmentally friendly products.
A recent recipient of distinctions that include a ranking at #93 on the 10th annual “100 Best Companies to Work for” list in Fortune Magazine, as well as a ranking of 36 on the Best Medium Sized Company listing, in addition to being named one of the world’s most ethical companies, Milliken’s business model consists of leasing its patent protected equipment and providing both the packaging substrates and service to customers.
Schwasnick explains, “We are a one stop shop. Many of our customers have been with us for over 20 years which is a real testament to our service. There are distinct advantages to leasing the equipment instead of purchasing it outright, beyond just reducing your upfront capital investment. “It’s particularly good for product line extensions and new product launches. We have worked diligently to minimize risk for our customers and make it easy to explore new markets.”
The packaging equipment is single-lane equipment that provides continuous form, fill, and seal packaging. Typical machine efficiencies exceed 90 percent. Of particular interest is the small footprint, which allows one operator for every three machines. “The vertical design yields high efficiency per unit of floor space with minimal operator attention needed.” Schwasnick points out. “This is a hot button for a lot of manufacturers today who are very concerned about making the most use of limited floor space. It allows them to add capacity without undue strain on the limitations of physical plant.”
The new machines are available in three sizes: MP-450 (2.2 – 4.0 ounces/package); MP-310 (0.8 – 2.0 ounces/package); and MP-220 (0.3 – 0.6 ounces/package). All feature touch-screen control panels, polycarbonate doors and covers, output conveyors, PLC’s, variable speed drives, OSHA-approved operator safety devices, removable stainless steel product fill tube for easy cleaning,and the capability to remotely access the control system. The equipment is constructed from stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant materials.
The equipment is made by the Milliken Chemicals Division at its Spartanburg, S.C. facilities. Schwasnick notes that Milliken has adopted the manufacturing standards of the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance with methodologies to maximize equip-ment effectiveness and reduce machine downtime. Packaging solutions are sold through Milliken’s direct sales force to manufacturers throughout North America.
This is a case where less means more: the demand for smaller packaging results in more product-ivity and flexibility for package goods
manufacturers thanks to two more turnkey packaging solutions developed by Milliken, an industry-leading innovator in improving consumer product performance, durability and appearance.