Purge from meat products has been accepted as a necessary evil for years, but retailer pressure on suppliers is building to do something about it.

Almost half of consumer complaints about supermarket chickens involve leaking blood and other fluid, and the resulting mess on checkout scanners and inside display cases mean more cleanup work for store employees. A drier poultry case could alleviate this and, argues Cryovac Corp.'s Don Smith, pave the way to higher pricing.

"Consumers associate a skin-tight package with freshness," explains Smith, Cryovac's director of poultry and seafood marketing. A fresher product can fetch a higher price and is less susceptible to promotional pricing, he reasons. Cryovac's FC805 bag for whole chickens and the related end seal tray pack for case-ready parts could lift poultry out of the commodity category while solving cross-contamination and other issues associated with leakers.

But better merchandising comes at a cost, and leading processors have been slow to embrace the two-year-old program. "We make it clear to retailers there is a cost to their suppliers for going to the FC805," Smith says, and wholesale payments should reflect higher anticipated retail prices.

The bags use a multilayered stretch/shrink film that is heat-sealed at three points to prevent leaks. The film costs about twice as much as the PVC bags they replace, but there is no metal clip or absorption pad needed, which helps mitigate some of the added cost. Smith estimates 35 to 40 percent of polybagged chickens leak, necessitating repackaging by the retailer.

The FC805 also requires a packaging system that incorporates an 8600 rotary vacuum chamber and bag-loading component. The cost of the system, which handles up to 50 birds a minute, is north of $200,000.

Cryovac's end seal tray pack also requires new equipment at that price altitude, but the system uses 36 to 41 percent less film than standard overwrap machines. Cryovac worked with a Rocky Mount, N.C., equipment manufacturer to engineer the Ossid 500E to use SES 340 film, a 60 gauge multilayered film with the strength, sealability, memory and machinability characteristics desired. Film savings should provide a payback within two years.