A package that’s also a premium is being used by Sara Lee Corp. to introduce a new line of Hillshire Farm brand luncheon meats designed to compete with fast-growing supermarket deli sales.

Sara Lee Corp. is cobranding its Hillshire Farm Ultra-Thin Deli Select lunchmeats with Clorox Co.’s Glad-Ware to deliver a product that can compete with deli meats.

Packaged luncheon meats are the odd-man-out as deli-counter sales chalk up 6 percent-plus sales gains. Part of the problem is packaging which tends to compress packaged meats, according to Randy Newbold, senior brand manager. Another issue is the product itself, which doesn’t deliver as much flavor as thin-sliced deli meats. Hillshire Farm is addressing those limitations with process changes in its plants and reusable Glad-Ware containers.

Slicing operations were reengineered to deliver four turkey and ham products that are 0.5 mm thick, half the thickness of Hillshire Farm’s vacuum-packed luncheon meats. New packaging equipment was installed to gas-flush the stacked and folded slices in a film that wouldn’t compress the meat. The resulting package lacks the oxygen-barrier properties of a vac-pack, so an oxygen absorber is affixed to the interior wall of the Glad-Ware container to deliver 65-day shelf life.

“Right now it’s a semi-automated process at our Cincinnati plant, but we have some new equipment coming in that will hopefully reduce some of the manual processes,” says Newbold. “The way the meat falls off the slicer, stacks up and is conveyed is critical in duplicating the fluffed look of deli meats.”

The 10-oz. packages carry a $3.99 suggested retail price in four test markets, about a dollar more than conventionally packaged luncheon meats. But Newbold believes retailers will be able to stick to that price point when the product goes national early next year because of the container, a popular stand-alone consumer product, and the extra-thin slices, which deliver more flavor and can compete head to head with fresh-sliced deli meats.