The U.S. market for long-life food packaging is in a state of flux. Traditionally, the food metal can is the conventional and most widely-used packaging solution for ready-to-serve soups, broths and tomato products. But today's consumers have all kinds of criteria by which they judge the quality of a packaging type. And aseptic carton packs are among the top performers—for a whole host of reasons. Food manufacturers can quickly and easily enter an area of business producing long-life foods packed in alternative, modern packaging solutions such as the carton pack, via co-packing offers in which some manufacturers, such as Wright Foods and Hirzel, have specialized.
Tim Kirchen, head of marketing and business development at SIG Combibloc North America says, "These days, U.S. consumers look at food packaging differently from the way they did five years ago. More and more consumers are beginning to understand that packaging not only has a protective function, but it should also be a sound and workable choice in commercial and environmental respects. In the U.S., food waste is a major issue and consumers want packaging units that match their own needs. It's in the nature of things that a single-person household or one with elderly people needs smaller portion sizes than a family. And environmental awareness is also playing a more important role in the U.S. Eco-friendly packaging made from renewable raw materials is increasingly sought-after. This is where aseptic carton packs for foods and beverages come into play."
Along with the fact that carton packs are lightweight and easy to stack, another point in their favour is their product-protecting character—a combination of the material properties, as well as processing and filling methods that are gentle on the product. A further key advantage over other packaging solutions is that on average, carton packs are made up to 75 percent from wood fibres, a renewable raw material that comes from controlled sources and responsibly-managed forests. According to Kirchen, this means that with carton packs the environmental impacts and the consumption of fossil resources are verifiably much less than with other food packaging solutions. This has been scientifically confirmed by a number of life-cycle assessments. Another plus is the fact that carton packs are up to 100 percent recyclable via separation and collection systems.
Kirchen: "For food manufacturers, another crucial requirement is that a packaging system and the corresponding filling machines offer a high level of flexibility. With a wealth of different packaging solutions and the unrivalled flexibility of its system solution for long-life food products, SIG Combibloc is very well placed in this respect. Thanks to the flexibility that makes it possible to change volumes, formats and products in unmatched short time, manufacturers are able to keep production extremely flexible and profitable".
Potential in tomato products and premium soups
Previously, carton packs as packaging solutions for long-life foods were known in the US primarily in connection with children's juice drinks and ready-to use broths, says the market expert. He sees potential for change, and corresponding growth for carton packs, first and foremost in the tomato products and premium ready-to-eat soups segments. Consumer surveys have shown that in the consumer perception, carton packs are associated with high quality, organic products and gourmet brands.
To incorporate an alternative packaging solution into their portfolio, there is no need for food manufacturers to invest directly in their own filling and packaging lines. Co-packing is an ideal option for food manufacturers looking to add to their product range in a practical way. With copacking, packaging services outside the manufacturer's company are used, to allow the manufacturer to bring products to the market in innovative packaging solutions as trends require. This enables a food manufacturer to respond to trends quickly and flexibly without major investment.
Wright Foods: new possibilities
In the USA, Wright Foods from Troy in North Carolina is a food manufacturer that offers products under its own label, but is also established as a co-packer. Wright Foods (www.wrightfoods.com) is specialized in the production of premium foods such as sauces, salsas and desserts, and has already collaborated with numerous leading companies in the food and beverage industry that want to bring aseptic products onto the market quickly, safely and in superior quality. To process the products, the company uses state-of-the-art aseptic processing technologies from Aseptia. In Wright Foods' search for a suitable aseptic filling method, SIG Combibloc proved to be a strong strategic partner. J. Michael Drozd, president and CEO of Wright Foods: "The filling technology from SIG Combibloc is ideal, as it is equally suitable for complex, chunky and viscous foods. This means we can now manufacture and pack products that previously we were unable to process in this way." Wright Foods operates a SIG Combibloc filling machine for filling foods in combiblocStandard in 500, 750, 1,000 and 1,100 ml sizes. All volumes can be filled on the same machine. Food manufacturers that have their products packed by Wright Foods can also take advantage of this wide range of options.
Hirzel: tomatoes—straight from the field to the carton pack
Hirzel Canning Company & Farms is another company that relies on the filling technology of SIG Combibloc, and like Wright Foods, offers the option of co-packing. Founded in 1923, the company is among the leading manufacturers of tomato products in the USA. Thanks to its combination of traditional farming methods with state-of-the-art processing technologies, Hirzel is famous for its innovative ideas and products. The company currently operates three production plants and runs sizeable greenhouse facilities and farms in north-west Ohio. Together with SIG Combibloc, Hirzel Canning Company & Farms has developed the ‘Field to Carton' concept. The locally grown tomatoes are processed and packed immediately after harvesting, to retain the best of their flavour, nutrients and colour. This guarantees that only raw materials of the highest quality and utmost freshness are used, and the vitamins and nutrients in the tomatoes are not lost as a result of long haulage distances or storage. By working together with more than 30 local farms, Hirzel ensures the supply of fresh raw materials to manufacture products in its best-selling ‘Dei Fratelli' line (www.deifratelli.com), as well as the products sold under the labels of other companies. The company's portfolio includes more than 100 items.
Kirchen adds, "More and more consumers are finding out about the great strengths of carton packs—their convenience, their product protection qualities and their good environmental characteristics. In the future, this will outweigh the fact that in the United States carton packs as a packaging solution are not yet on all consumers' radars. We're very confident that, thanks to manufacturers such as Wright Foods and Hirzel, carton packs are becoming much more widely known and accepted, and in the U.S. and Canada too they will be more than just a packaging alternative for long-life foods—from 2012 to 2016, we're anticipating a growth rate of more than 10 percent for long-life food products in carton packs."
Source: SIG International Services GmbH