Active microwave packaging containers enhance the cooking process.

A dual-ovenable bowl for Heinz South Africa’s Mama’s brand pot pies sports dual susceptors laminated to the bowl and overlay for microwave cooking. Source: AIMCAL.

For technical innovation, few package companies can match the parade of improvements Graphic Packaging International (GPI) continues to roll out for its microwave container line. But while packaging professionals are shouting, “Bravo!” US food companies keep shrugging, “So what?”

For the second time in three years, GPI received the top technical award from AIMCAL (Association of Industrial Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators). Marietta, GA-based GPI was honored for a dual-susceptor pot pie package fabricated for Heinz South Africa. The patterned susceptors, made by Rol-Vac LP, Dayville, CT, are adhered to extremely thin, temperature-resistant PET film and then laminated to solid bleached sulfate paper. Susceptors are positioned on the bottom of the bowl and on the over-pack to ensure browning of the crust’s top and bottom in a microwave oven.

The dual-use bowl and container is the latest in a microwave series that began in 1983, when GPI developed the original package for Hot Pockets frozen sandwiches from Chef America, later acquired by Nestle USA. But adapters of GPI’s latest microwave innovations have tended to be non-US food companies.

In 2005, AIMCAL recognized GPI’s quilted-cell technology that flattens against the food when microwave energy causes it to expand. Moisture is channeled away, allowing bakery dough to crisp and brown. Marketed as Quilt Wave, the package was “ideal for convenience foods, which are a staple of our ‘on the go’ society,” GPI marketing manager John McDonnell said. The innovation also won a DuPont award.

The package was first produced for a Canadian company, Sepp’s Gourmet Foods of Surrey, BC, for a frozen grilled-cheese sandwich. More recently, it was applied to coated fish from the French firm Gimbert Surgeles. The South African application is a bold move in a country where microwave penetration is less than one third of all households, notes McConnell.

The dual-susceptor container is part of an evolution in what he calls “active microwave packaging”: containers that enhance the microwave cooking process. The use of susceptors, which serve as heat sinks to absorb and dissipate radiant heat, much like a conventional oven, dates to the 1970s, he says, though control and functionality have improved considerably.

For more information:
John McDonnell,
Graphic Packaging International

Developing a package for an off-beat frozen treat sold on unrefrigerated shelves was a design challenge for Del Monte Foods’ packaging consultants. Source: CBX Packaging Design.

Design says a mouthful

When he wasn’t fiddling, Emperor Nero was inventing sorbet, the frozen dessert made from iced fruit puree. Legend has it that runners passed buckets of snow from the Appenine Mountains to Nero’s Roman banquet hall, where it was mixed with honey and wine to create sorbet.

Sorbet got a lot easier to make with the rollout of Del Monte Fruit Chillers. The package didn’t have to retell the Nero story, but it did have to communicate what, exactly, sorbet is and why it was tucked in with the canned fruits in grocery aisles.

“We had to reinforce the self-freezing concept with the package because many consumers aren’t familiar with that,” says Christine Arakelian, account director for the project at CBX Packaging Design, New York. “Communicating that it was shelf-stable was a huge challenge.” The package also had to relay the message that adults as well as kids were the snack’s target.

Five design concepts were shown to focus groups, with a second round of qualitative tests conducted with the top two. The final design incorporated elements of both, with metallic silver and blue used to convey cold and add shelf pop, playing off the greens and yellows that dominate the canned fruit aisle.

The four 4.5-oz. plastic cups in a paperboard sleeve are essentially the same package Del Monte uses for single-serve fruit cups, except a special polymer that can withstand freezing had to be used. The polypropylene, seven-layer, retortable cups are sealed with a multilayer plastic-membrane lid that reinforces the freeze-and-eat message. 

For more information: Christine Arakelian, CBX Packaging Design, 212-404-7970