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'Green' meal packs are top pick

The votes are in. Chosen from the largest field of entrants since the contest's inception in 2006, this year's winner of the PACK EXPO Selects packaging competition is the Kids Organic line of tasty childrens' frozen microwavable meal kits.



Designed to keep kids happy and well fed, the nutritional meals are sold by Popkoff's Frozen Foods, San Francisco. Their packaging was cited by PACK EXPO show attendees for the top range of innovations.

Thus, the packaging is anything but kid stuff. It consists of a rigid PP tray made by Coextruded Plastic Technologies, Inc. [CPT (www.cptplastics.com)], as part of its Go-Green™ line. CPT uses a proprietary thermoforming process based on “green” principles to produce the tray. It says that the Go-Green package for Kids Organic is the result of a joint effort between Popkoff's and CPT, from concept through production.

Go-Green packages were created to enhance energy and materials efficiency and allow for steam cooking via a patented technology that helps keep each of the meals fresh and delicious.

Popkoff's, a gourmet food company founded in 1965, takes great pride in preparing high-quality, specialty food products using the finest ingredients in unique, proprietary recipes delivered to consumers inCalifornia.

The company noticed that while the organic food business has been booming, the frozen-food and snack aisles in grocery stores and natural food markets have little to offer kids. So Popkoff's decided to bring tasty meals using locally grown organic ingredients from throughout California to children, packed in the unique, eco-friendly, Go Green trays.

“Kids Organic came from my desire to create healthy, complete, organic meals for children that are easy to prepare for on-the-go parents who care about what their children eat,” explains Gary Verkholaz, president of Popkoff's Frozen Foods. “Finding an alternative to unhealthy options that are full of fat, sugar and additives became my mission. There are very few complete meals that can guarantee good nutrition, low-fat content and provide tasty menus kids desire. With childhood obesity on the rise, the idea of a complete meal, healthy, nutritious and tasty seemed way overdue.”

For the PACK EXPO Selects program, voted on during the PACK EXPO International show in November, a group of the top 13 finalists was narrowed down by the show's organizer the Packaging Machinery Mfrs. Institute [PMMI (www.pmmi.org)], which also orchestrates the PACK EXPO Selects program. With 69 qualified entries, from market segments including food, cosmetics and beverages, there was more competition in the PACK EXPO Selects program than ever before,” notes Francesco C. Leboffe, vp of marketing for PMMI.

The paring-down process was even more difficult than in year's past, explains Tom Egan, vp of industry services at PMMI. “The voting to determine the finalists literally went until the eleventh hour, as the judges had a tough time leaving some truly innovative packages out of the final 13. This year's PACK EXPO attendees had quite a challenge selecting just one winner.”

The award allows packaging professionals attending the show to acknowledge innovative packaging designs, structures and processes, and PMMI says it's the only program of its kind. All finalists in the program were developed, produced or executed by PACK EXPO exhibitors.

Energy saver

Part of the reason show attendees ranked Kids Organic tops on the winner's list is the care the packager took with respect to the environment. CPT's president Linda Bracha says the proprietary Go-Green tray thermoforming technology reduces impact on the environment by creating 30-percent less scrap and reducing energy usage. The foamed, high-barrier PP tray is lighter in weight than most conventional PP trays and is printed in-register.

“Due to energy savings, this results in reduced carbon emissions of 21 percent, as calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency's WARM model of carbon emissions, compared to conventional thermoforming processes,” she says. “Foamed polypropylene has a 15-percent-lower specific gravity than standard polypropylene, resulting in 23-percent less carbon emissions, calculated by the same model.”

Secret's in the steam

The foamed tray is said to use less petroleum-based products. It's heat-sealed with Wave Quick Freshwave film, a multilayer combination of polyester and PP, imported from Taiwan through Global Source Packaging, Inc. (www.globalsourcepackaging.com). Reverse-flexo-printed in up to 10 colors, the lidding film is made with patented self-venting/steaming technology and regulates the steaming process to promote even cooking and superior flavor, texture and nutritional profiles. The PP/PET laminate film also helps eliminate over-packaging and extraneous cartons or sleeves.

Able to withstand the pressures of microwave heating, the film incorporates what Bracha, describes as proprietary “micro-pore” technology that allows steam to circulate during the microwave cooking process.

The technology results in more evenly cooked foods without hot or cold spots and in a typically short cooking time that releases pressure during the cooking cycle through tiny pore-sized openings. Bracha says this creates optimal cooking environments with continuous heat and moisture for best texture and taste.

Several factors are key to arriving at the “ideal cooking times” for steam cooking applications, Bracha says. Some of these variables, in no particular order, include food type, net weight of food, state of food (raw versus precooked, fresh versus frozen), recipe components, package headspace, microwave wattage and desired “doneness” of food.

Popkoff's concept of steam pressure cooking technology means that, when the food is still cold, the microwave energy penetrates deeply into the food and is converted to heat instantly. Moisture in the food is transformed into hot steam, which cooks the food from the inside out. Popkoff's says the hot steam stays inside the packaging and cooks the food from the outside as well, heating the food twice as fast as normal microwave cooking.

The six 8-oz product varieties in the line are available for $5.30 to $5.60 a package, at stores including Target, Whole Foods, Raley's, Rainbow Grocery, Mollie Stone's and through Amazon.com.





More information is available:
Coextruded Plastic Technologies, 608/884-2244. www.cptplastics.com.
Packaging Machinery Mfrs.' Institute, 703/243-8555. www.pmmi.org.
Global Source Packaging, Inc., 913/485-0717. www.globalsourcepackaging.com.



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