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FMI serves up innovations

Friazos™, the latest BLUE BUNNY® innovation from Wells' Dairy, are low-labor, high-margin, dazzling, layered desserts that practically prepare themselves. A perfectly proportioned dessert in a specially designed paperboard cup, Friazos are upscale center-of-the-plate ice cream desserts that don't require center-of-the-kitchen preparation. Waitstaff can plate Friazos in seconds–at their stations–saving time and labor. Luscious layers of BLUE BUNNY ice cream, rich mousses, decadent sauces and crunch candy or cookie toppings appeal to sight and taste. And flavors like Cookie Craze™, Caramel Pecan Passion™, Key Lime Melt Down™, Peanut Butter panic™ and Double Fudge Frenzy™ are irresistible. Friazos are packed 12 eight-oz cups in each case. To serve the product, the server peels off the foil membrane that is heat-sealed across the top of the paperboard container and inverts the Friazo cup onto a plate. Pressing the paperboard center panel inside the bottom of the cup pushes the Friazo out of the container. The server then removes the bottom of the product.

Crustless sandwiches just need heating
Uncrustables® are a new line of microwaveable, crustless grilled cheese sandwiches from The J.M. Smucker Co. that taste like homemade. Smucker takes creamy cheese and seals it inside perfectly toasted white bread. Then, in Uncrustables fashion, the crust is removed to create a signature crustless sandwich. The sandwiches, which are packaged individually in plastic, are frozen to lock in the fresh homemade taste, and can be prepared in the microwave in less than a minute or placed in a conventional or toaster oven.

"While grilled cheese has long been one of America's favorite sandwiches, it can be time-consuming and downright messy to make," says communications director Brenda Dempsey. "Smucker's Grilled Cheese Uncrustables are 'grilled cheese with ease!' All you have to do is place it in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, and you have a grilled cheese sandwich that tastes like homemade."

In addition to foodservice, Uncrustables are also available in four-pack cartons for the retail market.

 

Packaging is prominent at Interphex show

This year's pharmaceutical industry show brings the latest technologies from 800 exhibitors, guidance from the industry's most knowledgeable people at the conference program and a chance to network with peers. Interphex 2006 comprises four major segments: facilities, outsourcing & contract services, information technology and manufacturing/processing. Key pavilions include Packaging (sponsored by Packaging Digest and the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council), Process Automation & Controls (sponsored by Control Engineering), RFID (new this year), R&D, Contamination Control, the International Pavilion and the Rockwell Automation Partner Pavilion.

Each morning begins with a keynote presentation from 8:45 to 10 a.m. The conference program begins at 10:15 a.m. each day, and several sessions involve packaging-related topics. A preconference workshop on RFID for Life Sciences is scheduled for the Monday before the show. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday. Registration for exhibits-only is $75. For the conferences, a one-day pass is $495, and the full program is $1,095. For information on the conference program and the show, visit www.interphex.com or call 888/334-8704.

The following exhibitors have a marketing messsage in this issue:

  • Bosch Packaging Technology —419

  • Cozzoli Machine —619

  • Eriez Magnetics —A2129

  • Hitachi America —569

  • Imaje USA —2224

  • Klockner-Pentaplast —1611

  • Lowry Computer Products —E2660

  • Polypack —P2373

  • Rockwell Automation —A2037

  • Tagsys —E2756

Info Showcase

Chicago based Raani Corporation is a ISO-9001 certified private label/contract packager serving the health/personal care, OTC pharmaceutical, ethnic, household and professional salon product markets worldwide. A 275,000 sq. ft. facility incorporates blending, filling, packaging and storage systems utilizing the most up-to-date equipment and technology.

To receive a free copy of the Raani brochure or for more information
contact: Dr. Eugene Frank, 708-496-8025 ext. 21.
Raani Corporatio
Email: genef@raanicorp.com, www.raani.com


Closed End Clear Plastic Tubes

Caplugs has developed a full line of Closed End Tubing in standard and heavy wall variations. With over 40 different diameters and your choice of length, the possibilities are endless. The clear bottom allows for full viewing of the tubes contents. For more information and to view our entire product line, go to our website.

To speak with a customer service representative, call
1-888-CAPLUGS (227-5747).
Caplugs
www.caplugs.com


The Freedom Series(tm) Wrap Around Case Packer

The Freedom Seriese wrap around case packer is our most versatile machine as it can pack cases or trays without modification; a terrific solution if you sell to club stores and traditional retail sellers. Its flexible design allows you to modify the machine to a new package/pack pattern at little cost.

T.A.D. Packaging Machinery, Inc.
Ph: 909-476-0503, Fax: 909-476-0573
www.tadpackaging.com


Air Blast Systems Blow Water Off!

Air Blast Inc. air knife systems are designed to blow water off of packages prior to labeling, cans, and bottles, prior to labeling, ink jet coding, and packaging. We also blow off produce prior to waxing, and packaging. Air Blast systems are also designed to control the depth of coatings and toppings.

Air Blast Inc.
626-576-0144, www.airblastinc.com
E-mail: sales@airblastinc.com


rosecase Ideal Packaging for Healthcare Applications, Technical Products

The rose plastic case is protective plastic packaging for products requiring professional presentation, protected transport and secure storage. rosecase is available in two styles, various color combinations, with a secure locking mechanism, strong hinges and folding handle. Can be silk-screened. Interior options include machine or die-cut foam or thermo-formed trays.

rose plastic USA
P.O. Box 698, California PA 15419,
724-938-8530
www.rose-plastic.com,
info.us@rose-plastic.com


Paxton High Performance Drying Systems

Let the experienced team at Paxton Products solve your drying and blowoff cleaning problems with an efficient, high performance Paxton Air Knife System. Precision-built Paxton centrifugal blowers are at the heart of custom-designed systems for your processing and packaging requirements. 100% Performance Guarantee; 3-Year Warranty Program on blowers. Get an online Quick Quote at PaxtonProducts.com

Paxton Products
800-959-8884, 513-891-7474
sales@paxtonproducts.com


21 Years. 21 Awards.

FloStor develops implements and supports award-winning integrated material handling solutions for the management of inventory, distribution, logistics, and process manufacturing systems. A variety of product resources from the world's best manufacturers provides the best solution to suit your unique requirements.

FloStor
800/500-8256
www.flostor.com
Hayward, CA & Nashville, TN


DE-STA-CO's Modular End Effector Tooling (MET) Suitable For All Material Handling Applications

DE-STA-CO's MET line of lightweight end effector tooling can be configured to meet a variety of material handling applications including packaging, injection molding, metal stamping, palletizing, and glass handling. All MET components can be easily reconfigured, re-used or interchanged, providing a highly flexible solution for modular automation.

DE-STA-CO
248-397-6700,
www.destaco.com


WF2-T New

Wexxar Model WF2 easily converts from hot glue to tape closure.Versatile, fast (up to 30 cpm) and reliable. Interlocked sliding guard doors operating independently offer good access during set-up and maintenance. New compression platen design makes quick case size changeovers safe and easy. Patented pin & dome technology reliably opens all qualities of corrugated cases for maximum uptime efficiency.

WEXXAR Packaging Machinery Ltd.
604-930-9300;
www.wexxar.com


PVC/PETG/OPS Shrink Film by Ameri-Seal Inc.

Ameri-Seal Clear Heat Shrinkable Roll Stock is available, in stock, in a variety of lay flat sizes. Colored, and/or Custom Printed (to nine colors) Shrink Films for high-speed machinery applications also available. Ameri-Seal Seamless Tubing meets industry tolerance and performance standards. Custom formulations can be designed to match machinery requirements.

Ameri-Seal Inc.
Tel. 818-700-9036, Fax: 818-700-9062
www.ameri-seal.com, mail@ameri-seal.com


Compak(TM) Jr. Flyer

The Compak Jr. is simple to carry and operate yet powerful enough to handle virtually all of your induction cap sealing jobs from the smallest closures to 110 mm wide-mouth containers. The Compak Jr. is ideal for lab use, test marketing new products and small production runs. Complete with multiple heads, this self contained unit plugs into a standard wall power and can be traded in for up to 100% of your purchase price.

Enercon Industries Corp.
www.enerconind.com; Ph: 262-255-6070
Fax: 262-255-7784; E-mail: info@enerconind.com


Belcor's Random Taper - Now with 2" or 3" Tape Heads

Belcor's BEL 185 Semi-automatic Random Taper automatically adjusts to each individual case size, eliminating the need for manual machine adjustments. Built-in safety provisions and high-quality components offer operator comfort and improved ergonomics. The BEL 185 is ideal for packagers looking to lower labor costs, increase productivity and improve ergonomics. Now available with 2" and 3" tapehead options.

Belcor Industries Inc.;
Take a virtual test-drive with our video CD-ROM;
www.belcor.com


Flex Lifte Vertical Conveyor

New, at PACK EXPO-Las Vegas is the Flex Lifte Vertical Conveyor, manufactured by Nercon Eng. & Mfg., Inc. The geometric blocks provide a rigid product platform in the vertical conveying mode and a collapsible product platform in the return path. This easy to maintain, quick ship design has one of the smallest footprints in the industry. Booth #3322.

Nercon Eng. & Mfg., Inc.
Oshkosh, WI
920-233-3268
www.nercon.com


Robotic Palletizing Systems and Laser Guided Vehicles

Leading company in the manufacture of Robotic Palletizing Systems and Laser Guided Vehicles.

Our products:
-- Palletizing Robots: Skilled 504 and Skilled 101
-- Laser Guided Vehicles: Skilled LGV

Skilled Robots Automation LLC
21430 Timberlake Rd, PMB. 203
Lynchburg, VA 24502 USA
Email: info.usa@skilledrobots.comwww.skilledrobots.com

Introducing a New Line of CASE ERECTORS

A.B. Sealer Maximum Series Case Erectors are RUGGED, COMPACT and have no tools required changeover. The Maximum Series will give you the widest case range in the industry. View demonstrations of the MAXIMUM SERIES CASE ERECTORS on our website at www.absealer.com. A.B. Sealer, Inc. introduces a new line of CASE SEALERS starting at $2,900. From Semi-Automatic to Fully Automatic Random there will be a sealer to fit any budget. Sealers are available in stainless steel. A.B. Sealer also offers for the first time a Stainless Steel Tape Head.

A.B. Sealer, Inc.
sales@absealer.com,
877-885-9299





Info Showcase

VBS offers a complete line of patented LCI liquid nitrogen injection systems that will pressurize and/or inert containers at line speeds up to 2000 cpm. Ideal for hot fill applications, PET containers, glass bottles and cans, the LCI promotes cost-saving measures including light-weighting bottles and reducing cardboard packaging materials. See us at East Pack Booth # 4524

VBS International, Inc. 408-371-3303; Fax: 408-371-3320 E-mail: salesinquiry@vbsflex.comwww.vbsinternational.com


Flexible Packaging - Langen Robotic Top Loader LRC-400i

Flexibility, Reliability & Speed - Demanded by packagers, these key elements are now finally available in one machine, the LRC-400i. Uniquely modular and a truly redeployable asset, the LRC-400i offers cost savings while performing even complex pack patterns such as multi-count and variety pack patterns.

Langen Packaging Inc.www.langeninc.comsales@langeninc.com Tel: 905.670.7200 Toll Free: 1.866.338.7775


Air Blast Systems Blow Water Off!

Air Blast Inc. air knife systems are designed to blow water off of packages prior to labeling, cans, and bottles, prior to labeling, ink jet coding, and packaging. We also blow off produce prior to waxing, and packaging. Air Blast systems are also designed to control the depth of coatings and toppings.

Air Blast Inc. 626/576-0144; www.airblastinc.com E-mail: sales@airblastinc.com


Technipes Transfert Automated Valve Bag Placer

Technipes Transfer(R) automated valve bag placer satisfies industry demand for an uncomplicated and economical method of valve bag filler automation. Rugged construction combined with seamless pneumatic operation delivers superior reliability, virtually maintenance free operation with speeds up to 8bag/min. Transfer® is compatible with paper, polyethylene, or polypropylene valve bags.

Cordano Packaging Engineers, LLC Tel: 678-947-0314, Fax: 678-947-0313 www.cordanopackaging.com


Natural Selections(tm) for YourPackaging Needs

Unbleached kraft pulp - Lightweight linerboard Corrugating medium - Unbleached converting grades With more than 75 years of experience, Port Townsend Paper Corporation understands your needs, and delivers solutions and high-quality products with superior service.

Port Townsend Paper Corp. 360.385.3170 www.ptpc.com, sales@ptpc.com


GATE-LESS ROFLO(tm) Distribution Systems

The unique "GATE-LESS" product discharge system - eliminates product breakage, maintenance, breakdown and cleaning using servo driven, simple mechanics! ROFLO(tm) uses programmable servo drives to generate only the required pan movement. Its linear motion and the low force generated ensure that the product being conveyed moves as a single entity.

TNA North America Inc.www.tnarobag.com 972-462-6500 x512, Fax: 972-462-6599


21 Years. 21 Awards

FloStor develops implements and supports award- winning integrated material handling solutions for the management of inventory, distribution, logistics, and process manufacturing systems. A variety of product resources from the world's best manufacturers provides the best solution to suit your unique requirements.

FloStor, Hytrol Hayward, CA Nashville, TN 800/500-8256 www.flostor.com


PVC/PETG/OPS Printed Shrink Sleeves by Ameri-Seal Inc

Front, Back, Sides...Ameri-Seals have you covered. These Shrink Labels can be printed up to nine colors rotogravure, and are available as clear, colored and custom printed PVC, PETG and OPS heat shrinkable films. High-Speed machinery formulations available. Give your products an edge over the competition with beautiful custom printed sleeves.

Ameri-Seal Inc. Tel. (818) 700-9036, Fax: (818) 700-9062 www.ameri-seal.com, Email@ameri-Seal.com


Compak(tm) Jr. Flyer

The Compak Jr. is simple to carry and operate yet powerful enough to handle virtually all of your induction cap sealing jobs from the smallest closures to 110 mm wide-mouth containers. The Compak Jr. is i deal for lab use, test marketing new products and small production runs. Complete with multiple heads, this self contained unit plugs into a standard wall power and can be traded in for up to 100% of your purchase price. Enercon Industries Corp.www.enerconind.com; Ph: 262-255-6070 Fax: 262-255-7784; E-mail: info@enerconind.com


New Alpha Checkweigher Ideal for Flexible Packaging

Powered weigh table offers high accuracy for tough-to-handle pouches. Alpha Checkweighers is adding a newly redesigned model to its product line ? the Alpha PW-12. The table is designed specifically for flexible packages that are unsupported, irregularly shaped, or otherwise difficult to handle. For more information, contact:

ALPHA Checkweighers; 1/877-GO-ALPHA www.alphacheckweighers.com E-mail: info@alphacheckweighers.com


P.E. Labellers MODULAR Labeling System

The P.E. MODULAR Labeler delivers the maximum labeling system flexibility that is available on the market today. The labeling stations are Modular for interchangeable labeling depending upon the application. The labeling stations are Modular for application that require Pressure Sensitive, Cold Glue, Hot Melt or Roll Fed. The Modular system is available for speeds ranging from 100 to 800 B/M. P.E. Labellers also manufactures a wide range of other labeling systems.

P.E. USA, Inc. P: 513-771-7374, Fax: 513-771-3820 info@pe-us.com, www.pe-us.com


Validatable Medical Tray Sealer

Offering superior process repeatability, the SP1428M meets the needs of virtually all medical tray sealing applications. SP1428M offers ergonomic design, centralized controls, welded construction, process controls. With the free standing shuttle, packagers are offered a choice of seal sizes: 12 x 16 or 14 x 28 in., with package depths up to 3 in.

Algus Packaging, Inc. www.algus.com salesinfo@algus.com


CDI Specializes in Innovative Designs

Computer Designs, an ISO 9001:2000 thermoform packaging company with over 17 years experience in the Medical, Electronic and Consumer industries. CDI specializes in innovative designs, advanced tooling and in-line high-speed production. CDI cuts lead- times by utilizing advanced CAD/CAM technology for prototype and production tooling.

Computer Designs www.computer-designs.com


New RF Sealing Machine

Our KS Series two station floor model shuttle type RF sealing machines are ideal for low to medium volume or JIT production of clamshell packaging. These units can achieve speeds of up to 8 cycles per minute using one or two operators. These high-quality, budget friendly RF sealing machines are ideal for start-up operations, cellular manufacturing or back-up equipment.

Visual Packaging Group Inc. 800-950-7225 www.visualpackaging.com E-mail: info@visualpackaging.com


GenNext Technologye

As a result of Bosch Rexroth's GenNext Technology(tm), the latest generation in packaging equipment will have improved uptime, productivity, ease of use, and connectivity, as well as reduced cost. Other benefits include Intelligent Predictive Maintenance, longer equipment life, corrosion resistance, and tremendous flexibility in choosing the best-of-class in components.

Rexroth Bosch Group Phone: 717.393.3831 Fax: 717-393-1403 www.godfrey.com

Introducing a New Line of CASE ERECTORS

A.B. Sealer Maximum Series Case Erectors are RUGGED, COMPACT and have no tools required changeover. The Maximum Series will give you the widest case range in the industry. View demonstrations of the MAXIMUM SERIES CASE ERECTORS on our website at www.absealer.com. A.B. Sealer, Inc. introduces a new line of CASE SEALERS starting at $2,900. From Semi-Automatic to Fully Automatic Random there will be a sealer to fit any budget. Sealers are available in stainless steel. A.B. Sealer also offers for the first time a Stainless Steel Tape Head.

A.B. Sealer, Inc.
sales@absealer.com,
877-885-9299





An 'edutaining' quiz

Play our Packaging Automation Challenge! An animated, interactive quiz game at www.packagingdigest.com, sponsored by Rockwell Automation ( www.rockwellautomation.com), poses 14 questions about machine automation and vision systems. Answer the multiple-choice questions correctly—and quickly, because the game is timed—and you have a chance to win an iPod. Test your knowledge against that of your colleagues and peers; high scorers will be posted on the Leaderboard.

Games and fun activities have long been recognized as great methods for teaching children. But it is only more recently that the term "edutainment" was coined to reflect the many interactive web-based games that can teach math, reading skills and even concepts.

Our quiz will be new every month and will include multiple resources for learning more about the topics in the questions. As you answer each question, the game tells you immediately if you are right or wrong, and offers a brief explanation of the answer. You are also offered the option of clicking through to a more detailed explanation of the topic. At the end of the quiz, our game emcee, Bob, will reveal your score—a weighted compilation of question difficulty and answer speed—and ask you if you would like to register to win the iPod.

So what are you waiting for? Bob is ready for players. To get to the game directly, go to www.packagingdigest.com/quizgame. And then let me know what you think at mfalkman@reedbusiness.com. Take the challenge!

Comment

Several themes in new packaging, none of them surprising, turned up in our coverage last issue from the Food Marketing Institute show. Consumer goods companies are catering to customers' demands for food that is convenient to use, cook and eat. In our time-starved society, this is understandable. But consumers also want some food to be portable, in single-serving, single-handed portions that can be eaten on-the-go.

"Consumers are looking for convenient ways to eat and live healthier, without giving up great taste," says Bauke Rouwers, Unilever vp/general manager for Lipton Tea North America, as he was describing Iced Tea To Go in individual drink stick-packs, covered in the FMI roundup (www.packagingdigest.com/info/fmi05). Adding to that theme is Pam Becker, a public relations spokesperson at General Mills: "This [Betty Crocker Warm Delights] dessert mix was developed in response to consumers' need for convenience and good taste."

In Design Trends this month (see p. 6) is a portable, retortable bowl with an easy-open lid for meat salads from France's ready-meal producer, William Saurin. The package took the top Diamond Award in the DuPont Awards for its functionality and convenience. "Our customers demand the convenience of easy-open ends," says Laurence Masce, product manager. "The package is lightweight and durable, and can be carried in a handbag, a briefcase or a lunch box without spilling. Consumers can enjoy the salad straight from the [package] bowl."

The convenience and portability factors are not surprising, coming from marketing experts. However, that same theme popped up unexpectedly in a new study from BuzzBack Market Research, Teens Eating Healthy: Oxymoron or Trend? In the survey, 35 percent of teens said the reason for trying a new food product was that the packaging caught their attention, and 60 percent cited "convenient to prepare or eat" as important. A third of the teens reported that they tried the new product because it was healthy.

According to BuzzBack's founder and CEO, Carol Fitzgerald, many food companies and some pharmaceutical firms look at convenience as a strategic platform. "They look at this across multiple brands," she says. Portion size is important—can I eat this with one hand?—and healthy are pluses. "The desire and aspiration may be for healthy options, but the emphasis on convenience is over-riding the health factor," Fitzgerald believes. The differences in package design, she says, are in the dimensions, such as bottle shape and size.

Speaking of great design, Packaging Digest has been honored with a first-place award for best annual directory cover by the American Society of Business Publication Editors. The 2004 Buyers Guide features standout gold foil embossing provided by KURZ Transfer Products (www.kurzusa.com). The cover was designed by our art director, Lora Lee Gelles. Also, Packaging Digest received a second-place award for best redesign, launched with the September 2004 issue (first place went to sister publication and Oak Brook neighbor, Restaurants & Institutions). The redesign is the culmination of six months of reader and advertiser research and resulted in both content and graphic updates. Gelles and creative director Glen Luensman spearheaded the effort.

All indicators are finally pointing up

As the images of unfathomable tragedy and human misery that gripped this country through the final days of August and into September begin to recede into horrible memories instead of living horror, it's still hard to believe that there has been good news, too.

As this issue goes to press, our editors and thousands of packaging professionals are just returning to their jobs after attending PACK EXPO Las Vegas. By any measure, it was a solidly successful show, drawing a total of 33,154 visitors and exhibitors, up from 28,423 in 2003. By noon on the first day of the show, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute was reporting that visitor attendance had broken its record set two years prior. But it wasn't just in the numbers that we could measure success. The prevailing mood was upbeat, positive and proud.

In terms of product introductions, vendors are clearly listening to their customers' needs for improved machine flexibility, easy changeovers and minimal downtime. Some suppliers are focusing on engineering services, custom orders and guaranteed delivery schedules. Any way you look at it, however, this is definitely The Year of the Customer As King.

Buoying this enthusiasm may be the fact that machinery sales have finally started clicking heartily. According to the PMMI Shipments and Outlook Study, released in late September, packaging machinery sales increased 9.3 percent in 2004, to a value to $5.344 billion (see www.packagingdigest.com/info/shipments04). While 2002 and 2003 saw modest sales growth, the industry is only now following through with accelerated strength in recovering from the sharp downturn of 2001.

"Though steadily rising prices of steel and other raw materials no doubt played somewhat of a role in helping to propel the dollar value higher in 2004, their inflationary impact was not of sufficient magnitude to downplay the significance of the final result: that the industry's solid growth was indeed genuine," PMMI's report states. The forecast looks ahead through 2007 and predicts that manufacturers will continue to increase spending for new machinery and equipment primarily for productivity improvements and, to a lesser extent, for selective expansionary purposes.

Looking ahead to PACK EXPO International in 2006, Charles D. Yuska, president of PMMI, announced that the show will be co-locating with the Converting & Package Printing Expo (CPP Expo), which held its inaugural run during PACK EXPO Las Vegas, but at a separate venue. "By adding this emerging converting show, along with the existing Food Processing Machinery Expo co-location, PMMI is trying to bring the entire supply chain together," says Yuska.

And when Chicago's McCormick Place opens its new West Hall in 2008, just think what additional possibilities that may offer.

Recalls, and plans for them, are key crisis tools

Stop & Shop offers a "shopping buddy," which is a touchscreen PC tablet with built-in bar code scanner. Attached to the handlebars of the shopping cart, the shopping buddy can download grocery lists, scan products as they are put into the cart, even order deli items without waiting in line. The PC is very similar to the Personal Shopping Assistant used at the Metro Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany (see page 40). At Indianapolis-based Marsh Supermarkets, the store layout is quite different from traditional supermarkets, with multiple boutique-style shops comprising stores within the store. Safeway has launched a $100 million marketing campaign called "Ingredients for Life" to identify itself as more upscale, redesigning many of its stores around a "lifestyle" theme and selling high-margin products like organics and natural foods. What's going on here? Why this flurry of innovations?

No segment of the retail environment is as cut-throat competitive as grocery. Today, more than a dozen types of retailers are vying for the consumer's food dollar, including traditional supermarkets, supercenters, club membership stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations and natural foods stores. Add to that the chunk of the total food dollar that restaurants now take—a whopping half—and it's easy to see why margins in supermarkets today are razor-thin. Traditional supermarkets make about one cent on every dollar spent, compared with ten cents at Wal-Mart. But supermarkets are getting smart and pushing back at the retail behemoth. Unable to compete on price alone, supermarkets are finding that a happy store shopper often lingers longer, and guess what that translates into? For years, the supermarket mantra has been "get 'em out as fast as possible." Now, that tactic is being questioned.

It's true that today's consumer is extremely price savvy, which is largely why the Wal-Mart model has been so phenomenally successful. If the truism in retail is, "The consumer is king," for supermarkets, in particular, that should be amended to, "The consumer is dictator." Consumers' marketing power is stronger than ever in history, and it's becoming ingrained, thanks largely to the stores' ability to track buying trends through loyalty cards. Sales are watched by product category, by price sensitivity, by store location—right down to the individual shopper. Consumers are notoriously fickle, and the meteoric rise of a product's market success can literally turn on a dime. Stores have to be poised to react with the hair-trigger response and speed of a jaguar.

At the Metro Future Store, inventory is being traced via radio frequency identification from receipt at the distribution center, through transportation to the store, stocking in the store's back room, and placement on the retail floor. Smart shelves equipped with RFID readers can sense when stock has been nearly depleted and alert employees to replenish before a stockout occurs. Metro Group claims that preventing stockouts can measurable boost sales. Tracking product so attentively allows Metro to restock exactly what the store needs, exactly when it's needed. Overstocks and expired products are greatly reduced, saving the store even more.

The supercenters of the world are not likely to go away anytime soon. But that doesn't mean there isn't room in this fiercely competitive environment for other stores to survive, and even thrive. The promise of new technologies and, yes, a few whiz-bang gadgets are altering the supermarket landscape.