As if metal cans and flexible pouches weren’t options enough, now food processors can use cartons in retort processing. European food manufacturers already are using Tetra Pak Inc.’s Recart packaging, and the packaging system is about to debut in America.

Last May, Nestle introduced this paperboard alternative to the can. Chicken chunks in jelly under the Friskies dog food brand debuted in the Italian market, and the product has since spread to several other European countries, including England and France. Tetra Pak’s Denton, Texas-based roll-fed packaging systems division expects to win FDA and USDA approval for the packaging this summer.

“For the consumer, it’s a more convenient, modern alternative to the metal can,” says Stephen P. Hellenschmidt, Tetra Pak division’s general manager of prepared foods. “People look at a carton and think ‘fresh,’ and that’s the positioning Friskies has taken.”

A four-color photo process using heat-stable inks was developed for the cartons, with a lacquer coating protecting the graphics during steam-air retorting at up to 262 F degrees. Six layers of moisture-resistant materials underlay the printing, including foil, adhesives and a propylene polymer.

“A form-and-seal machine is the only new equipment we’ve had to develop for the system,” Hellenschmidt says. The unit opens 400 blanks a minute and seals the bottom. The 400-gram (14 oz.) capacity cartons are filled volumetrically and then return to the machine for top sealing. Cartons then are fed to modified retorts for cooking.

A laser perforation makes it easy and safe for consumers to open the carton, and its rectangular shape creates a dramatic presentation on retail shelves, he adds. “Retailer acceptance in Europe is very high, and consumers are reacting favorably.” A foodservice cartoning system is not yet available.

Stephen P. Hellenschmidt, Tetra Pak Inc., 940-565-8881