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Vendors stir the pot with shelf-stable portion packs

March 1, 2008
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More options and new applications pique interest.



Value-added coffee creams have stirred interest in aseptic single-serve cups (top picture), and the introduction of flexible pouches could draw more manufacturers into low-acid aseptic. Sources: Bosch Packaging Technology and Food Engineering.

Aseptic single-serve cups for dairy cream are small packages with a big economic punch and a huge upside potential. And although the filling and sealing technology has been around for four decades, recent developments point to new opportunities for food companies.

About 20% of the 24 billion coffee-creamer cups consumed each year in North America are aseptically filled and packaged half-and-half, with condensed milk, nondairy creamer and other formulations accounting for the rest of the business, according to John Lockwood, national sales manager at Bosch Packaging Technology, Brooklyn Park, MN. Only three food companies supply those 0.375- to 0.5-oz. shelf-stable creamers in thermoformed cups, and they typically fill them on Bosch TFA 4940 form/fill/seal (f/f/s) machines. “Traditionally, it was a giveaway product,” says Lockwood, “but when Dean Foods came up with flavored creamers, it became a lot more interesting.” Fast-food chains and convenience stores are driving growth, and their sales volumes demand a machine like the TFA 4940, which fills 1,800 cups a minute.

The business has become quite profitable, though the multi-million dollar cost of setting up and commissioning an aseptic portion-pack line has limited the manufacturer base. That could change, however, with the entry of a new f/f/s competitor and Bosch’s first licensing deal with another equipment vendor.

Fres-co Systems USA Inc., a Telford, PA packaging materials and equipment supplier, is introducing a machine that produces 0.375-oz. flexible pouches for cream and other low-acid foods. A dual-head, multi-lane machine fills 10 pouches at a time and up to 1,000 units a minute. While slower than Bosch machines, Fres-co’s system costs significantly less, a feature the company hopes will entice small to mid-sized manufacturers to take the shelf-stable plunge.

Steve Ferraro, business unit director of Fres-co’s liquid packaging division, showcased creamer packets in clear laminated film with an EVOH oxygen barrier at last fall’s PACK EXPO Las Vegas. The machine that produced it also can produce a foil laminate structure, giving manufacturers the option of more intricate pouch graphics. The compact package reduces distribution costs, Fres-co says, because the pouch can be layered in a box that is half the size of one needed to ship a comparable number of portion-pack cups.

Fres-co hopes to appeal to a wider audience than dairies. Portion packs of low-acid salad dressings without heavy doses of preservatives are one possibility. And Bosch’s licensing agreement with Osgood Industries could stir additional interest in a wider manufacturing audience. Oldsmar, FL-based Osgood specializes in fillers for solids such as beans and candy and for viscous products such as ice cream.

The Bosch f/f/s system requires pumpable foods with lower viscosity than ice cream, but Osgood’s penetration in the small to mid-sized manufacturing market, along with Fres-co’s new system, should raise awareness beyond the few manufacturers who already generate billions of dollars from value-added aseptic portion packs each year.

For more information:

Steve Ferraro, Fres-co Systems USA Inc., 267-640-1247, sferraro@fresco.com

John Lockwood, Bosch Packaging Technology Inc., 941-373-9130, John.Lockwood@boschpackaging.com

Downsized packaging was an early change in a comprehensive business sustainability initiative launched last year by Blue Pacific Flavors.

Carbon neutral campaign gets a kick-start

Form-fitting reusable boxes for sample shipments and back-hauling techniques to reduce energy consumption were among the first changes made by City of Industry, CA-based Blue Pacific Flavors in its drive to become carbon neutral by 2013. They scarcely will be the last.

With almost a quarter of US adults deeply concerned about environmental and social responsibility and most likely to buy products from companies that reflect those values, Blue Pacific Founder and CEO Donald Wilkes decided fundamental changes were essential for his firm’s long-term viability.

“In California, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in mainstream attitudes toward the environment,” explains Wilkes. “We want to make a difference in every aspect of our business. People will change their lifestyles if you’re passionate about changing the company’s culture, and it makes good business sense.”

Credibility is a growing issue with corporate sustainability programs, with critics accusing some organizations of “greenwashing,” making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about products and practices.

Blue Pacific became the first food company to participate in the EPA WasteWise program that focuses on waste prevention and recycling to save energy and reduce pollution. The company also is retrofitting its California plant to obtain LEED certification as a high-performance green building.

Replacing conventional sample-bottle packaging with foam-molded, reusable boxes reduced that type of packaging more than 60%. But a proposal to use recycled Styrofoam peanuts as packing material “sounds like it’s environmentally better, but it’s not,” Wilkes notes. The project manager determined the change would have quadrupled shipping weights and generated more greenhouse gases.

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