Last fall, the Smithfield, Va., company completed an overhaul of the eight-item heat-and-serve line featuring SimpleSteps vacuum packaging. Unlike the bag it replaces, the package film does not have to be slit before being placed in a microwave. As heat builds up, the vacuum-skin film puffs up like a balloon, then self-vents along the sides and away from the tray’s handles. The large seal area on the polypropylene tray helps reduce the number of leakers.
“It’s clearly given us a point of differentiation by adding to consumer convenience,” says Mark Willes, vice president of prepared foods for Smithfield Packing.
Sealed Air Corp.’s Cryovac division developed the packaging system. Because it can withstand processing temperatures of 185Þ F for up to 12 hours, manufacturers can sell finished goods in the same package used to process meats, notes Jay Wilson, marketing director-smoked and processed meats at Duncan, S.C.-based Cryovac. Several other processors of ready-to-eat meats are converting to the system, he adds, including Butterball’s HomeStyle entrees.
“Across the board, ready-to-eat entrees are a double-digit growth category,” Wilson adds. A survey coupled with a $2 rebate was inserted in Smithfield entrees during test marketing. It found that older adults account for a major share of the purchases, and 70 percent prefer SimpleSteps over boil-in-bag packaging.
“Empty nesters are driving a lot of the purchases in the convenience category,” agrees Willes, thanks to their high disposable income and desire for easy-to-prepare meals. SimpleSteps required new equipment in Smithfield’s plants, but eliminating final packaging made it a popular and economical change.