A bag to cluck about

May 1, 2009
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Like Frank Sinatra, Scott Sechler’s mantra is, “I did it my way.” So when a key customer asked him to come up with case-ready packaging for his antibiotic-free, organic chickens, Sechler took pains to find something distinctive and different.

Minimal human handling and a clean look for Bell & Evans’ first individually packaged whole chickens were achieved with a roll-stock machine and specialty film.  Source: Multivac Inc.<

Sechler owns Farmers Pride, the Fredericksburg, PA, firm that processes and packs 800,000 chickens a week, some under the Bell & Evans brand. Whole birds are shipped on ice in bulk in waxed cardboard, then either bagged or placed in a display case at retail. Whole Foods wanted prepackaged birds, but Sechler was reluctant to use conventional bags that are sealed in vacuum chambers in a circular array, such as the widely used Cryovac system.

“Scott didn’t want an octopus, a tray or any other conventional package,” explains Tom Stone, marketing director for Bell & Evans. A roll-stock system could reduce material use and minimize human handling while also limiting the potential for leakers when food materials contaminate a seal. Sourcing a film that could be heat formed in a roll-stock machine’s pockets and later shrunk in a heat tunnel was the challenge. Sechler’s quest for a solution took him 3,000 miles from home to visit 2 Sisters Food Group. A major supplier to Tesco food stores, 2 Sisters employs a system jointly developed by Multivac Inc. and Krehalon, a Dutch subsidiary of Japan’s Kureha chemical company. Though considerably thinner than a shrink bag, the Krehalon film is stronger, chlorine free and uses 33% to 40% less material, according to Ryan Till, product manager at Avon, OH-based CMS Flavorseal, Krehalon’s US distributor.

“It is a marriage of equipment and film,” adds Dan Mack, form-shrink manager at Multivac’s Kansas City, MO  division. “The marriage was almost by accident.” A European food company wanted to switch from bags to roll stock, but films that could be thermo-formed and then shrunk weren’t available. “It just so happened that Krehalon had a structure developed in the ‘90s that was just sitting on the shelf,” says Mack. “Right out of the gate, the system worked.”

Innovation is a hallmark at Farmers Pride, both in product and process: the Fredericksburg facility was Food Engineering’s Plant of the Year in 2005. The company is one of two North American poultry firms to use chilled air instead of water immersion to lower carcass temperatures below 40

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