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Shrink film scores a home run for pizza

It all started when the winning run from a neighborhood baseball game shattered the front window of a tavern newly purchased by Mary and Vincent Grittani back in 1923. From then until the late 1940s, the Grittanis' Home Run Inn remained a neighborhood spot where Vincent served the drinks and Mary prepared the noon meals. In 1947, Mary Grittani partnered with her son-in-law, Nick Perrino, and named what became their restaurant Home Run Inn. Today, the name Home Run Inn is a Chicago icon, with seven Chicago-area pizza-restaurant locations and a frozen-pizza business that markets pizza in 15 states. Still family owned and operated, Home Run Inn continues to make pizza according to the original Grittani family recipe they created in 1947.

Since the 1950s, the Grittanis' frozen-pizza business has seen decades of growth, popularity and expansion, which continued as the family opened new Home Run Inn restaurants and carry-out locations. In the mid-1980s, Home Run Inn hit a grand slam, with the construction of its first manufacturing facility in Chicago, to keep score with the ever-increasing demand for its legendary pizza. The Home Run Inn company has been growing steadily ever since.

Recently, the company batted another hit when it began using a new clear film overwrap—Alcoa Flexible's (www.alcoapack.com) Reynolonw 2044 polyvinyl chloride shrink film, approved for direct-food contact, to protect its frozen pizzas. Home Run Inn uses the film to wrap its frozen pizzas in 21 varieties before the pizzas are inserted into SBS paperboard folding cartons. The film is used for seven types of 6-in. pizzas, five 10-in. varieties, six 12-in. versions and three kinds of deep-dish products. Mike Kelly, who manages plants in both Chicago and Woodridge, IL, says the company was becoming increasingly frustrated with the appearance and performance of an imported film. Kelly gave Joe Bures, Home Run Inn's maintenance manager, the task of resolving the issues related with running the material.

"We had used that film for almost two years, mainly due to its attractive price," Bures explains. "But it created unsightly dog ears on the four "corners" of the wrapped pizza, which would interfere with cartoning. We had to re-open and discard multiple cartons, as the dog ears would interfere with the carton seals. If these packaging-quality issues weren't caught on the production floor, they could possibly make their way into retail outlets and result in costly returns."

Home Run Inn worked to overcome these issues, as daily business operations began to include a buildup of pizza cartons that had to be reworked. This caused line downtime and extra costs that would add up per hour. What's more, seals on some of the wraps could break. But with the pizzas becoming so popular that the Woodridge facility runs at close to 100-percent capacity, carton rework is considered a very foul ball.

"We make a premium product at Home Run Inn," states Joe Perrino, president, chief executive and son of one of the original owners. "We require premium packaging."

In his search for a solution, Bures surfed the Internet for a food-approved shrink film and discovered Reynolon, designed for optical clarity and exceptional shrink and puncture-resistance. A low-temperature shrink film that machines well, the biaxial Reynolon 2044 specifically targets high-speed automatic wrapping equipment that requires a fairly rigid structure with high slip. The film slips easily around products prior to being heat-shrunk around them for a snug fit. The 2004 grade was selected because it is approved for direct-food contact and has enough rigidity to hold up to high production speeds. It also offers good shrink for a round product, according to Alcoa.

As discussions about the film issues continued, Home Run Inn decided to test the film with the small, 6-in.-round, frozen pizzas and asked Alcoa's technical service representative, Ed Connor, to bring the film to the 44,000-sq-ft facility in Woodridge.

A few modifications were made to the plant's Doboy (www.doboy.com) Microtronic horizontal flowrapper with a CTC Parker Automation (www.ctcusa.com) human/machine interface and a Sargeant® AH-II shrink tunnel from PAC Machinery Group's Audion Automation (www.pacmachinery.com), and the 6-in. pizzas were successfully wrapped. The company then began trials with the remaining product sizes. Reynolon's lower sealing temperature requirements allowed Home Run Inn to lower the temperature on both the flowrapper's sealing bars and on the shrink tunnel.

Pleased with the initial results, Home Run Inn ordered rolls of film for a production startup. To enhance the machining of the film, Alcoa actually helped to rebuild the wrapper's film drive and tracking assembly to run in top shape and added new crimp-seal bars. Alcoa also recommended that the film be pre-perforated in product-specific perforation patterns, which would allow oxygen to escape and reduce the chance of broken seals. "The system evacuates enough air [in the package] during the shrinking process to eliminate stress from the seals," explains Connor.

"The film has the best shrink characteristics for a round product in a square bag such as these pizzas," he says.

The film also ended Home Run Inn's dog-ear headaches during production runs. Depending on machine speed and the specific pizza size being wrapped, the operating sealing parameters range from 245 to 290 deg F in different areas of the machine's sealing section.

"The Reynolon film has been very good for us," notes Bures. "We're happy with it. We no longer have to rewrap the pizzas, and there are no wasted cartons or additional labor charges. The lower [wrapping] temperatures will also increase the life of our machinery."

In production, the frozen pizzas single-file into the Doboy system and are wrapped in 75-ga, single-wound PVC film that unwinds from a roll mounted directly above the incoming pizzas. As the products emerge neatly wrapped, they drop onto a conveyor leading into the heat tunnel, which shrinks the film to conform to the pizza's shape. The "corners" of square-cut film are minimized around the round, frozen pizza. Next, the pizzas are cartoned on an indexing machine from PMI Cartoning (www.pmicartoning.com) that erects the brightly printed, glossy paperboard cartons from blanks stacked in a magazine. Both General Converting, Inc. [GCI] (www.generalconverting.com) and Knight Paper Box supply the SBS cartons. While warm, the Reynolon film's softness allows the entire pizza to be cartoned without issue. Line operators pack the cartons into 12-count corrugated cases that are taped closed on a 3M-Matic machine from 3M Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Div. (www.3M.com/packaging). The cases are palletized and wrapped for shipment.

Reynolon 2044 allows the frozen pizzas to run at greater efficiencies, concludes Bures. "That's good news for us as we begin to expand our facility again and double production capacity. The film was the right choice."


More information is available:
Alcoa Flexible Packaging , 804/281-2262. www.alcoapack.com.
CTC Parker Automation, 513/831-2340. www.ctcusa.com.
Doboy, Inc., a Bosch Packaging Technology co., 715/246-6511. www.doboy.com.
General Converting, Inc., 630/378-9800. www.generalconverting.com.
Knight Paper Box Co., 773/585-2035.
Audion Automation, PAC Machinery Group, 888/418-8470. www.pacmachinery.com.
PMI Cartoning, Inc., 847/437-1427. www.pmicartoning.com.
3M Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Div., 800/567-1639. www.3M.com/packaging.
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