Food Packaging: A switch tree huggers and CFOs can love

Not only do Stonyfield Farm’s die-cut foil seals amplify the firm’s earth-friendly product positioning, they are more economical than the plastic lids and inner seals they replace.
Ballyhooing the environmental advantages of a packaging change is a rarity in the U.S. market, so Stonyfield Farm’s switch to a foil-film structure for lids of its organic and natural yogurt cups is a point of distinction for the Londonderry, N.H., firm. It’s also a material cost-saver that is paying off with lower product damage rates.

The fact that France’s Group Danone bought a 40 percent stake in Stonyfield 18 months ago had nothing to do with the switch from a polypropylene cup and three-layer inner seal, insists Tim Kenny, vice president of marketing. There was no pressure from the Europeans, who face strict source-reduction requirement in their own markets, he says. “If anything, Stonyfield is even more focused on environmental issues than Danone.”

Filling stations had to be modified, with a pick-and-place system that positions die-cut foil lids from Winpak replacing the roll stock that previously was used. Higher pressure and slightly lower temperatures seal the new lids, according to John Daigle, vice president-manufacturing & operations, and there is considerably less material waste. He expects the revamped line to run faster.

The new lids, consisting of extrusion coated foil and blended polyethylene, cost less than the lids and caps they replace. The quarter-inch lip on the old plastic caps also tended to dent adjacent cups during transit, catching those cups below their caps if they tilted. Since the foil was introduced in December, the damage problem has been eliminated.

In February, Stonyfield acquired California’s Brown Cow West Corp., another organic dairy. The combined companies anticipate 2003 sales of $130 million. Brown Cow uses plastic lids and seals on its yogurt, and that could change.

Stonyfield also overhauled its Planet Protectors and Yo Squeeze packaging, though the changes are mostly cosmetic. Gone are kiddy graphics that older children found unhip. Sports themes replace a flying cow on Planet Protectors, and that name has been scrubbed in favor of the Stonyfield brand. Yo Squeeze, the organic answer to General Mills’ Go-Gurt, now is simply Squeezers.

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