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Food Packaging: Microwave packaging comes of age

September 9, 2003
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Packaging innovations that serve the microwave dominated this year’s DuPont awards, including Diamond Award winner Fall River Wild Rice. Other gold award winners included ASAP microwave popcorn, Simple Steps heat-and-serve trays for Smithfield pre-cooked entrees, an environ- mentally friendly printing process from Japan’s Fuji Tokushu Shigyo Co., and Tetra Pak’s first aseptic bottle for Raging Cow dairy drink.
PACKAGING FIT FOR A microwave characterized the winners of the 16th DuPont Awards for food packaging. Three of the five Gold Award honorees, including the Diamond Award winner, involved plastic packaging innovations that make microwave heating and cooking easier.

The top Diamond Award went to Fall River Wild Rice, packaged in America’s first microwavable retort pouch. The pouch is manufactured by CLP Industries Ltd., an Israeli supplier with offices in Fairfield, N.J. The shelf-stable rice uses a four-ply structure (plus adhesive layers) that substitutes glass-coated PET for foil to create a gusseted pouch that can withstand retort pressure of up to 21.3 psi. Other layers are BONYL, CPP and PET. The standup pouch is reverse printed in eight colors on a gravure press and is laser scored only on the nylon layer for easy opening.

ASAP microwave popcorn.
Other winners of Gold awards in the food category include:

• ASAP Inc., developers of a gumball machine-shaped microwavable popcorn pouch, by LM Packaging Inc.

• Cryovac Simple Steps heat-and-serve, self-venting package for Smithfield Packing Co.’s Premium Entr?line (Food Engineering, April 2003)

• Aseptic plastic bottles from Tetra Pak Inc., applied by DrPepper/Seven-Up’s Raging Cow (Food Engineering, March 2003)

• Gravure printed film using aqueous ink and solventless laminating, by Japan’s Fuji Tokushu Shigyou Co. Ltd.

Fall River Wild Rice is a product of the California Wild Rice Growers Association. The group rolled out a foil laminate pillow pack of cooked wild rice last year at Trader Joe’s stores, but “We were moving into the next generation while we were launching that,” recalls Hiram Oilar, general manager. “We had to get something that screamed convenience to the consumer, and if you have to open the package and put the contents into a bowl before you can microwave it, you’re still one step away from convenience.”

The advent of commercial harvesting of wild rice in man-made paddies has greatly expanded yields and availability, but it has remained a gourmet item with a reputation for difficult preparation. “It’s an expensive product, and people aren’t willing to take a trial on something that is expensive and takes a long time to prepare,” Oilar explains. With retail prices topping $4 for 10.5 oz., the product remains pricey, but microwave preparation takes less than two minutes.

Simple Steps heat-and-serve trays for Smithfield pre-cooked entrees.
Select Marketing Group in Sandusky, Ohio, designed the package’s graphics and sourced the pouch manufacturer. “The technology comes out of the MRE program, and we considered packing the product in a tray,” Select’s David Metzger says. “But it’s used as an ingredient, so there was no need for a tray, and we liked the flexibility of the pouch better.” The pouch’s structure and curing process drive costs above the pillow pack it replaces, but the package’s ability to stand up on the shelf without the cardboard overwrapping that accompanied the pillow pack results in a net savings, according to Oilar.

Developers of ASAP Food Products’ microwave popcorn also believe a pouch has to stand up to stand out on today’s grocery shelves, and six-color gravure printing on the zippered pouch adds to the eye appeal. “We have more colors on our bag than any other microwavable popcorn,” boasts Jennifer Deautsch, marketing director of the Solon, Ohio, firm.

An environmentally-friendly printing process from Japan's Fuji Tokushu Shigyo Co.
Innovation continues inside the pouch, where three-layer gusseted bags emblazoned with Scooby Doo and other licensed characters pop the corn. The bags use oil-resistant paper laminated to a metallized, sealable PET and an over-varnish. LM Packaging Inc. produces the package, which features a susceptor pattern that vents steam and accelerates popping speed, with fewer unpopped kernels, says Deutsch.

The all-natural popcorn also uses sunflower oil, enabling ASAP to stake a healthy-eating claim. “The General Mills and ConAgras can’t fit sunflower oil into their P&Ls,” she says. “People try our product because of the packaging; they come back because of the taste.”

Tetra Pak's first aseptic bottle for Raging Cow dairy drink.
Aqueous ink and solventless laminating from Fuji Tokushu Shigyou Co. address environmental concerns in the Japanese market. A polarized resin helps the ink bond to the film’s surface. The company also developed overprinting technology that uses a unique plate-making method.

Silver award honorees in this year’s DuPont competition include Foster Farms Fresh & Easy chicken in individual pouches (Food Engineering, June 2003), H.J. Heinz Co.’s Easy Squeeze inverted ketchup bottle, Alcoa Flexible Packaging’s Sure-Peel cohesive peel lidding and ConAgra Grocery Products’ aseptic stick snacks, a refinement of the refrigerated Hershey’s chocolate pudding tubes (Food Engineering, July/August 2002).

For more information:

Jennifer Deautsch, ASAP Food Products, 440-505-2727

John Pahl, CLP Packaging Solutions Inc., 763-550-9905

Kimio Sugiyama, Fuji Tokushu Shigyo Co. Ltd., 81-561-86-8511

kimio.sugiyama@nifty.com

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