The top winner in this year’s AmeriStar Awards competition — a split-cup package for Blue Buffalo Tastefuls Spoonless Singles wet cat food — is a masterwork of package engineering that streamlines feeding.
The Tastefuls twin-pack won not only Best in Show but also a Design Excellence award in the 2022 AmeriStar Awards competition from the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP). Brand owner General Mills collaborated with Product Ventures to research, design, and test the Tastefuls package.
With most wet cat food packages, consumers must use a spoon or other utensil to remove food from the packaging and to chop up the product after it’s placed in a dish.
But with the Tastefuls package, consumers simply snap the two cups apart, peel off the foil lidding, and pop out the food by pushing the bottom of the cup or squeezing it. Little to no food remains in the cup, thus reducing waste.
In addition, no spoon is required to scoop out the food or to chop (see video). The chopping edge that’s formed into each recyclable polypropylene cup makes it easy and mess-free to break up the cat food.
Storage is easier, as well, because each half of the twin-pack contains a single portion of food. Thus, there’s no half-full container of cat food to store in the refrigerator after feeding. The unused cup of food remains sealed after it’s snapped apart from its twin.
Consumer research showed that consumers dislike direct interactions with wet cat food, so the packaging designers made easy, mess-free evacuation of the package a key goal. A product reformulation partly solved this problem.
In addition, the new package was designed with dimples at the bottom of the cup. The dimples reduce sharp angles where food could get caught and create air pockets that make it easy to push the food cleanly out of the cup. Grips on the cup’s exterior make it easy to squeeze.
Assuring proper peel force for the lidding was another essential part of the project. The objective was lidding that could stand up to the extreme conditions of retort processing and provide an easy-peel experience. The team conducted a great deal of testing to learn how time, temperature, and pressure could be combined to develop a lidding solution with these characteristics.
The Tastefuls packaging plant was already conducting burst testing; peel-strength quality checks were added to ensure consistency and enable real-time equipment adjustments. Additional testing was conducted to find the correlation between post-retort and pre-retort peel strength.
General Mills was able to identify the target peel strength for Tastefuls using knowledge gained from testing on its Oui yogurt glass pots, which also have die-cut lidding.
With consumer safety in mind, General Mills addressed an issue competitive brands face — sharp edges when the cups have been separated from each other. The Tastefuls pack design and lidding perforation assure a clean break between cups to avoid packaging-related injuries.
The final cup and lidding design for Tastefuls accommodates nine product formulations with a common fill weight of 2.6 ounces per twin-pack. Products include pate and cuts in gravy.
Arriving at a standard package for all the flavors, whose product density varies, required iterative packaging design to make sure the packaging would perform well in the retort regardless of product formulation.
During this process, the designers noticed that packaging for some of the flavors paneled during retorting because of the product’s fill level. Overcoming this problem required a redistribution of the cup’s material from the bottom to the middle of the cup, for extra support.
Because the Tastefuls package design is so different from other cat food packaging, General Mills uses on-shelf package orientation to broadcast the differential advantage: The twin-packs are stocked with their exposed, package-topping chopper facing the consumer.
In the brand owner’s words, the package enables consumers to simply Peel It, Pop It, and Chop It.