Firm Or Flexible?
By Sam Gazdziak,
Senior Editor
Several options are available for packaging rotisserie chickens, each with its own advantages.
Rotisserie chickens are a popular option among consumers who go to the supermarket looking for supper. With one purchase, a family has one good meal, and maybe even enough for leftovers the next day. As with anything else in the supermarket though, bad packaging or a bad experience with packaging can lead to lost sales. Packaging manufacturers are working on new ideas and designs that result in a satisfactory rotisserie purchase every time.
Trends have shown that consumers will pay more for better and more convenient packaging. For example, they want packaging not only for tonight’s meal, but for leftovers tomorrow, so that product needs to be resealable or microwaveable.
“Rotisserie packaging needs to promote food safety, convey nutrition and other information, and be portable and easy to use,” says Penny Sweeney, communications manager for Robbie Mfg., Lenexa, KS. “Consumers are demanding convenience features from their packaging, like easy-open, resealable packaging that is safe to use in the microwave.”
Visibility is another key issue in packaging, notes Rich Garber, vice president/general manager of Green Bay Packaging, Green Bay, WI.
“Consumers like to see the product, and so do retailers, since it does sell itself,” he says.
While chicken is the mainstay of rotisserie products, Sweeney says that an emerging industry trend is the range of prepared foods being offered at the deli.
“Supermarkets are catching on to the idea that if they offer a larger variety of prepared foods within their deli, that they will enhance sales of their current rotisserie programs,” she explains. Some supermarkets are offering interesting items like turkey breasts, slabs of ribs and pork tenderloins.
Rigid packaging
There are two main types of packaging, both with their advantages and disadvantages. One of the most common rotisserie packages is the clear polypropylene tray with a domed lid. Garber notes that the domed lid provides the most visibility of the chicken.
Nancy Wingfield, foodservice director of Ukrop’s Super Markets, says that the domed lid and tray packaging has tested better than other forms of packaging that the chain has tried in the past.
“It displays the product nicely,” she notes. “You can see the actual bird and tell the size of it. In the past, there were a lot of issues with leakage, but that seems to have been corrected.”
One addition to that package has been a printed, folding-carton handle.
“The folding-carton sleeve has allowed the retailer to offer such things as flavor choices, serving suggestions, coupons, and more, plus the carrying feature,” Garber  says. “A new idea is on the market too, that allows the consumer to purchase chicken portions instead of the whole chicken, and that is being packaged in a printed folding carry-out carton with a see-through window and a handle.”
Garber notes that reliability of the package is an important feature for consumers.
“Liquid, heat, and carrying/spill ability are the areas of stress to be solved, and it appears as though the polypropylene tray/lid/folding-carton sleeve is the solution.”
Green Bay Packaging offers a “Fresh/Pack” program, which allows them to get specific sleeve counts from the company in a poly bag, so it can go directly in with the fresh chicken in the shipment to the retailer.
“This then does not make the retailer buy bulk sleeves or more than they need for a chicken shipment, since our ‘Fresh/Pack’ has the count to match the shipment,” he says. The sleeve also can have coupons, serving ideas, and other information printed on them.
For stability, Garber says that the polypropylene tray and clear lid with the folding-carton handle, as well as the folding-carton window tray pack made of polyboard give the reliability the consumer needs for carrying and spilling protection.
Flexible packaging
Robbie’s Sweeney says that flexible packaging has emerged as an alternative to the rigid dome and tray packaging, as it provides a leak-resistant, microwaveable, easy-to-carry product. Film characteristics of flexible packaging allow for custom sizing and venting that is important for different-sized rotisserie chickens.
“The number-one complaint from deli staff and consumers with rotisserie chicken packaging is leaky messes from the checkout counter all the way to the car,” she says.
Dan Emery, director of marketing for Pilgrim’s Pride, Pittsburg, TX, says that the company’s customers are using both the plastic dome and the flexible bags.
“Good product visibility and ease of merchandising are the key features of the dome style. Flexible bags are the convenient leak-proof alternative,” he says. “These bags also provide more printable space for consumer communication.”
He notes that the introduction of flexible packaging has provided consumers with a convenient alternative to other means of rotisserie packaging.
“Consumers’ preference for this type of leak-proof package has made it a standard offering in the self-serve deli,” he says.
Sweeney says that processors should look for innovative, solution-oriented packaging that give consumers what they are asking for, such as a convenient handle to carry hot products, a resealable package that stays closed to prevent leakage and spills, and the ability to microwave and reheat chicken safely in the same package.
Packaging must also convey needed information to the consumer, such as nutritional information and reheating instructions.
“Larger print, particularly for preparation and food-safety issues, will become more important as baby boomers’ eyesight diminishes with age,” Sweeney adds.
Robbie’s Hot N Handy® pouch is available in two sizes and two different stock designs. The Standard Rotisserie Chicken size pouch holds up to a 2.75-pound cooked-weight bird, and the Large pouch holds up to a 3.4-pound cooked-weight bird. It is a stand-up pouch with a built-in handle. Features of the pouch include anti-fog technology and the ability to microwave.
“A high-end zipper is used to ensure the pouch stays closed in warming cases, through the checkout and into the consumer’s car without leaking,” Sweeney says. NP
Packaging suppliers participating in this story include:
• Green Bay Packaging, phone (920) 433-5111, fax (920) 433-5471, or visit
• Robbie Mfg. Inc., phone (913) 4992-3400, fax (913) 492-1543, or visit