By Lynn Petrak,
special projects editor
special projects editor
Corrugated boxes and bins may look basic, but tried-and-true packages have modern appeal.
Appearances can be deceiving. Take, for instance, the seemingly simple corrugated box commonly used in food-processing facilities like meat and poultry plants.
At first glance, it may not seem that the basic corrugated box, whether used as an in-house bin or for bulk shipping or product packaging, is a modern material. Take another look or spend some time researching the latest advancements in the field, however, and learn how some of the brightest minds in paper-based technology have come up with corrugated boxes engineered to withstand all sorts of today’s challenges.
Improvements in corrugated boxes span both material and design. Increasingly, changes in corrugated bins and boxes also have been made to accommodate industry-specific needs, including features that directly address issues related to meat and poultry products.
Today’s meatpackers have more choices when it comes to corrugated, whether boxes and bins are used to lug around products and scraps within a facility or for shipping bulk and case-ready items to customers. These days, processors don’t have to be boxed in by outmoded options.
As one might expect, durability and strength are important considerations in corrugated materials used for meat and poultry products, which can be quite heavy and which can cause problems with moisture, grease, or blood. To that end, corrugated suppliers have continually upgraded materials and designs to allow for the most reliable and effective use of their products when paired with such perishables.
One example is the latest boxes and bins used for in-plant handling and transport. For instance, International Paper Corporation, headquartered in Purchase, NY, offers a heavy-duty, double-walled container designed specifically to accommodate the multiple demands of moving and storing most bulk products found within meat- and poultry-processing plants. The octagonal bulk container features water-resistant waxes and is reinforced with multiple strands of tape. It also features a self-locking bottom.
International Paper also has focused on strength for its corrugated shipping containers which can hold up to 1,500 pounds apiece. Such containers are often subject to climate and humidity changes during shipping and can be affected by moisture and water that can damage or weaken the material. To address such issues, International Paper has engineered a special barrier board, placed between the two outer linerboard layers of the company’s Moisture Vapor Protection (MVP) bulk boxes, to reduce moisture-related problems like bulge. The barrier also can be used with linerboard in the bulk boxes to improve appearance and stacking strength.
Chicago-based Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, meanwhile, also has made integrity improvements a priority for its corrugated bins and boxes for in-plant and shipping purposes. Raymond A. Pozen, national product manager, agrees that protection and containment are key attributes of materials used for transport and packaging of meat and poultry.
“Packaging must keep the product fresh and keep its contents from shipping damages, water vapor from frozen products, grease, infestation, and odors, while adhering to legal protection requirements,” he points out.
As a manufacturer of paper-based packaging, Smurfit-Stone offers a broad range of corrugated protective packages for meat and poultry products. For shipping (as the company points out on its Web site, more than 95 percent of all products are shipped in a corrugated container) the company offers multi-walled boxes, built with multiple sheets of linerboard and medium, and extra-rigid, triple-walled boxes, constructed with four sheets of linerboard and three sheets of corrugating medium. Double-walled boxes are also available, made with three sheets of linerboard and two sheets of corrugating medium.
Customers’ ever-increasing demand for strength is what led another company to develop a new type of corrugated box. Aquasol Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of UK-based Stanelco PLC, has devised the FrogPack, a rugged, impact-resistant corrugated product that can be used for shipping of food products. According to inventor, David Edwards, durability is a major benefit of the FrogPack.
“It is unbelievably unique in its strength,” Edwards says. “It has curves that are part of the patented design. If you make that out of corrugated, with fluting going up, you have strong construction.”
He explains that the ergonomic design and sacrificial “crumple zones” distinguish it from other products. In addition, the FrogPack corrugated container can be lined with biodegradable barrier material to protect against moisture, grease or blood.
Other corrugated considerations
Beyond integrity, there are other issues driving development of corrugated containers used by those in the meat and poultry industry.
Ease of handling, for one thing, remains important to users of corrugated boxes and bins. International Paper’s improved ClassicPak® 7 containers, for instance, feature modified diagonal corners, positive S-hook self-lock assembly and an integrated bag cuff. Company information relays that the S-hook is designed to set up quickly and easily, stays assembled during packaging and distribution and breaks down easily for disposal, while the bag cuff improves bag seals and helps in customer unpacking.
Edwards, for his part, emphasizes the simple-to-use aspects of the FrogPack.
“It has a great speed of assembly. It starts simply blank and can be hand-assembled or machine-assembled very quickly. It requires no tape, no glue, no staples and has a tamper evident lock on it,” he notes, adding that the FrogPack comes in an array of sizes and can be equipped with a handle for easier toting.
Another important concern for manufacturers like meat and poultry companies is aesthetic appearance. Indeed, consumers will judge packages — and potentially products — by the look, whether they are looking at final products in a supermarket, browsing stacked boxes in a club store or even catching a glance of boxes being wheeled into a meat department from a delivery truck or back room.
Pozen underscores the significance of box appearance, which extends to container design and graphics.
“Packaging, many times, is a brand’s one differential advantage and is the last chance to communicate at the point of sale the compelling reason to select the brand over a competitor’s brand. A package that retains its integrity during the channels of distribution will be more appealing to the ultimate customer than a package that is battered,” he says.
According to Pozen, Smurfit-Stone has developed a family of packaging under the company’s VPS System that can resist the abuse of transporting and stacking while maintaining its structure.
“This is especially useful in warehouse-club stacking applications and in hostile environments of cold temperatures,” he says.
In addition to helping ensure protection of products, Smurfit-Stone provides customers the services of its designers to maintain the established look of a package or provide a total makeover.
“Smurfit-Stone also offers a unique package design under its META System brand that provides impactful merchandising for the customer on all eight sides of the box while achieving high levels of output with a structurally strong package. This unique design has been successfully marketed by WillowBrook Farms and Boars Head Meats,” Pozen relays, adding that the META System allows the customer to change packaging size on the equipment within minutes rather than hours.
Edwards says that the FrogPack has a distinctive, appealing look that is important in making a first and lasting impression.
“One of the first features I would say from a marketing point of view is the aesthetics. It looks nice, which differentiates it from other packaging,” he says.
Finally, as corrugated materials and designs have improved, suppliers have noted increasing concern over environmental issues. According to Edwards, the corrugated FrogPack includes biodegradable material and uses less energy in the actual production process.
Demand for wax-free corrugated has increased over the years, too. Among other eco-based improvements, International Paper offers the ClassicPak® 7 WF for poultry processors, a box that offers water- and vapor-barrier protection in wet processing environments yet is 100-percent recyclable and fully repulpable.
Smurfit-Stone has fielded requests for environmentally-friendly boxes, according to Pozen.
“Green marketing is an important issue for many companies and consumers as we live in an age of environmental awareness,” he reports.
In response, Smurfit-Stone has researched and developed fully recyclable wax replacement packaging, introduced in 2005 under the brand RecyclaCorr.
“We expect waxed packaging to eventually be replaced with new innovations like RecyclaCorr which can provide revenue to those who recycle it versus waxed packaging that incurs a cost to dispose of,” says Pozen. NP