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Kellogg serves snacks with pizzazz

Cheez-It® baked snack crackers, with their satisfying cheddar taste and crunchy texture, have been an American favorite for decades. The popular cracker, which celebrates its 85th birthday this year, now has a new sibling, Cheez-It® Crisps™, a lighter, crisper version of the beloved square, orange-cheddar cracker. Two flavors launched in the first quarter of 2006, Cheez-It Cheddar Crunch and Four Cheese, are packaged in a glossy, bold, bright-red, square-bottomed, gusseted, two-ply standup pouch, the first of its kind for Kellogg. Early data show that the new snackfoods have hot sales out of the gate and strong repeat sales.

“The Cheez-It Crisps standup pouch is a 'rebel' package,” states Rich Felber, senior packaging engineer at Kellogg Snacks Packaging Technology, a division of the company that specializes in product launches. “We believed that it was possible to engineer something different, a new type of two-ply standup pouch rather than the traditional, three-ply bag, and we were successful.”

The Cheez-It Crisps debut pouch is a colorful, consumer-friendly, wide-mouthed, broad-bottomed structure designed to perform like a convenient, portable “serving dish.” It's made with Toray Plastics (America), Inc.'s (www.torayfilms.com) Lumirror® PA30 polyester and Torayfan® PWS2 polypropylene films. Coextruded Lumirror PA30 is a tack-sealable, symmetrical, transparent film that is modified on both sides for improved printing and laminating adhesion. Torayfan® PWS2 is a metallized PP that offers a good oxygen barrier and a superior moisture barrier. According to Toray, the film's ultra-high surface energy (UHSE) prevents cracking and crazing in laminations.

The lamination, converted by Alcan Packaging Corp. (www.alcanpackaging.com), Minneapolis, is a 92-ga PA30/ink/white polyethylene/60-ga PWS2 that is printed in eight colors in one pass on a flexo press.

Explains Greg Seeke, manager of food product development at Alcan Packaging, “Because of the film's optical clarity, it can be reverse-printed to protect better against smudging or scratching of the colorful graphics. The film is then put through a single-head laminator to add just short of one mil of clear and white polyethylene. The white polyethylene is added to increase the contrast of the printed colors. The entire procedure is accomplished in one, single-pass operation. Because over three-quarters of a mil of polyester is added to the 92-ga PA30 film, the overall construction is about 2.3 mils thick.”

The web is then slit and shipped to a proprietary contract packager that manufactures and fills the standup pouches on specially equipped Hayssen (www.hayssen.com) vertical form/fill/seal baggers. Millions of bags were produced during the first phase of the six-week launch, which began on Jan. 29.

Launching a new product is an adventure in risk taking,” says Cori Sices, senior brand manager of innovation at Kellogg. “However, from concept to commercialization, it's imperative that we engage everyone who is touched by the product,” she says.

In this case, the input of American consumers and the Kellogg sales force was critical to the success of the cracker-turned-crispy-snack. “Consumers told us exactly what they wanted from a new, light, baked, cheese-flavored snackfood,” Sices says. “They also clearly expressed the desire for a convenient, portable package that would protect and carry their food. The sales force clarified how the package needed to perform in the store.”

Felber explains that packaging for a new product must protect the product from moisture and the environment, provide physical protection to the product, and be compatible with all the equipment involved. “But packaging for the Cheez-It Crips also had to change the image of our standard cracker package into something new and exciting. It had to break new ground.”

Drilling down deeper into specific requirements for the Cheez-It Crisps, Kellogg determined that it wanted a package with a broad, square bottom and a high level of stiffness, which would ensure a sturdy, attractive, upright package that could provide product protection, excellent barrier properties and strong seals.

Cheez-It Crisps are an extra-light, crispy food,” says Sices. “When we decided to be adventuresome and forgo a familiar box design, which provides a lot of protection, we knew we needed a very sturdy bag that would maintain product integrity and minimize breakage.”

Furthermore, like a box, the pouch would have to stand up nicely on the shelf and be very visible. It also had to integrate well with the original Cheez-It cracker box for a harmonious display.

Consumers also required that it function like a serving dish, enabling them to carry the Cheez-It Crisps easily from the kitchen to the computer desk or outside the home, to a soccer game, for example, explains Sices. “Plus, the opening could not collapse, so it would be easy for people to reach their hand inside and share the snack with others, without the contents spilling out.”

Also weighing heavily in the development process for the Cheez-It Crisps launch were the opinions expressed by the sales force. “Previous experience with a standup pouch was not positive, and the sales force was skeptical,” says Sices. “This group was instrumental in ensuring that this new bag would 'stand up and deliver' on the shelf and in promotional displays.”

As with any new food-product launch, recipes are routinely tweaked. “Consumer test results come in about taste, texture and appearance, and changes can affect packaging development. We have to be flexible and move quickly from left to right,” states Felber. “Cheez-It Crisps packaging field tests came later in the game, even as the product was being released. But we had enough data and a lot of confidence in the films.”

Felber notes that the outside layer of the pouch, the PA30 polyester, is an unusual choice and thickness for this application, versus a softer, oriented PP. “But,” he says, “it provides a crisp, rigid stiffness without being bulky. It creates a very robust, aesthetically appealing standup pouch.”

He adds that the film's tack-sealing quality makes it possible to produce strong, attractive seals across the top of the bag. “PA30 film has a skin layer on the outside that is tack-sealable,” Felber says. “When we made the gusseted seals, the two outer surfaces tacked nicely to each other and prevented any spreading, or what we call 'ears,' which are unsightly. It gives the bag a nice, neat appearance.

“PA30 film is also very heat-resistant and maintains a stable appearance throughout manufacturing. When we hit the outside of the film with a hot seal jaw, there is no distortion.”

Reports from the field about sealing performance have been positive, as well, with no complaints on the opening of the bag. Confirms Sices, “The Crisps standup pouch is performing exceptionally well, maintaining a clean, fresh appearance.”

Barrier-metallized PWS2 PP film is used for the inner pouch layer to ensure product freshness. As Felber explains, “The closer you keep the product to the quality it had on the day it was produced, the better off you are. We looked at other barrier films, but Torayfan PWS2 is a very good film that is used widely.”

Downgauging the pouch film to a two-ply structure also proved to be a good budgetary choice for Kellogg. Says Felber, “Qualifying that combination of films definitely saved us money, compared with an investment in a three-ply bag.”

Producing the standup pouch for new Cheez-It Crisps was an interesting experience for Alcan's Seeke. “This was a first for us—learning to make an acceptable standup two-ply bottom-gusseted bag that featured an unusually large, square bottom,” he says.

But changing from a traditional, three-ply to a two-ply construction was not an issue for the converter. “We have been making two-ply constructions for other clients for many years,” says Seeke. “The only question it raised was one of seal integrity. A three-ply construction uses a sealant film that provides nearly 100 percent hermetic seals, and we chose not to use a sealant film in a two-ply construction to maintain stiffness. However, extensive testing by Kellogg showed that Toray films' caulkability met all requirements.”

Where Alcan faced a learning experience was in its attempt to get the gusseted bottom to seal properly, with the two sides far enough apart that the pouch would stand up without falling over. “We have had lots of experience making two-ply pouches with gusseted bottoms,” Seeke explains. “However, they have been smaller pouches that hang from a display rack, so they don't need to stand up on their own.

“One unexpected benefit we discovered was PA30's ability to seal to itself without sticking to the jaws of the packaging equipment. There are not many polyester products that can do this.”

Seeke notes that forming the gusseted bottom properly took a few trials because of the stiffness of the PA30, but the problem was quickly solved after the copacker modified the Hayssen vf/f/s bagger to enable it to handle the bag's configuration. He adds that the coefficient of friction (COF) on the bag's outer layer is sufficiently low and that Alcan did not need to add a slip or release agent. The copacker has since added another modified Hayssen vf/f/s system to keep up with production.

While Kellogg was satisfied with how the Crisps standup pouch would appear on the retail shelf, the aisle-display structure, which was of special concern to the sales force, posed a new challenge. “Obviously, bags cannot be stacked on top of themselves,” explains Sices. Kellogg's solution is an equally unique, stackable display case that incorporates a pop-out window for easy access to the product. “We received a high level of display as a result of 'thinking outside the box' on our display case,” says Sices. “The sales force is very happy with the performance of the bag and the display.”

Sices is pleased with the standup pouch's eye-catching aesthetics. “The Cheez-It Crisps bag is very noticeable. The colors are beautiful, and they shine. It delivers the brand message very effectively.”

Concludes Felber, “We really went out on a limb to create a standup pouch that was different. I'm really proud that we worked hard to do it right and on time. Kellogg has an exciting new food product in a great new package. It's a good fit.”


More information is available:
Toray Plastics (America), Inc., 401/294-4511. www.torayfilms.com.
Alcan Packaging Corp., 612/378-3300. www.alcanpackaging.com.
Hayssen Packaging Technologies, 864/486-4000. www.hayssen.com.
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