Proteins are being merchandised in newer designs that are intended to enhance freshness, safety and convenience.
As supermarket delis seek to become more formidable challengers to foodservice locations for shopper take-out business, product packaging will play an increasingly vital role.
While many consumers are seeking restaurant-grade meals from the deli, they also want to insure that the food is delivered in visually appealing containers that also maintain safety and freshness. Being able to transport food without concerns about seepage also is a major shopper requirement, analysts note.
Indeed, Mona Doyle, president of The Consumer Network, a Philadelphia-based consumer research firm, says that providing leak-proof packaging should be a key objective of supermarket delis.
“Today’s younger shoppers won’t buy something that leaks,” she notes. “It’s passé, so the majority of complaints about such packaging come from the older customers.”
And many such consumers — particularly parents seeking a quick and easy family meal — complain about their stores’ rotisserie chicken packaging, Doyle says. She describes most rotisserie packages as “marginal,” noting that some designs do not adequately retain moisture.
Doyle adds that delis also need to follow the lead of some foodservice establishments and upgrade from the clamshell-type containers that often are used for take-away meals. Such items are cumbersome and prone to leaks, she says.
“Many consumers say the only good prepared food packaging comes from Chinese restaurants,” she notes. “Chinese take-out is a huge business and the restaurants use leak-proof and snap-and-seal containers to help secure customer loyalty. They have come a long way from the boxes with little wire handles.”
When many shoppers will buy prepared foods and other deli selections regardless of the packaging, Doyle notes that retailers still are losing potential sales by not offering sophisticated containers.
“The older customer will trade off packaging for price, while the younger shopper has a higher entitlement for convenience,” she adds. “There is a lot of room for taking steps and doing more for the consumer.”
Some suppliers, meanwhile, are developing designs that are intended to better protect both fresh and prepackaged deli items. Kansas City, Mo.-based Robbie Manufacturing Inc., for instance, last year rolled out its Hot N Handy® Crispy Pouch — an extension of the Hot N Handy Pouch packaging line — that is targeted at fried foods. Hot N Handy is a one-piece package with a built-in handle and new zipper technology for preventing leaks.
The Crispy Pouch, which is available in two sizes to hold four and eight pieces of fried chicken, contains venting that was created to maximize the crispness of chicken while maintaining moistness.
Robbie’s latest version of the Hot N Handy is its Grab N’ Go design, which is small enough to fit in a car cup holder; contains a gusseted bottom to remain upright to prevent spills; and is resistant to moisture and tearing.
Tara Downing, Robbie product manager, says it is important for deli packaging to be both functional and attractive in order to meet consumer demands for safety, convenience and shelf appeal.
The most efficient food packaging, she notes, is tamper proof, leak resistant, displays cooking or reheating instructions and features attention-getting designs to help shoppers in their decision making.
“More consumers are looking for quick meal solutions in supermarket deli departments, but unreliable packaging has limited many retailers from capitalizing on this trend,” Dowling says.
She predicts that an aging baby boomer population over the next few years will drive the development of packaging that contains health information, larger print and is resealable to hold leftovers for smaller family units.
Developing packaging that emphasizes food safety and has an attractive appearance also is the focus of Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv Corp. The supplier already is adding tamper-evident bands to the outside of containers, which are particularly effective in safeguarding such “wet” deli foods as salads, pasta, soups and dips, says Mark Spencer, Pactiv manager of new product development.
He notes that deli packaging will become increasingly upscale and feature vibrant colors and graphics that are melted into the sides of containers or lids during the manufacturing process to eliminate the smearing of print and the need for external labels.
“Branded images need pop to stand out for impulse buyers,” Spencer says. “Delis are moving away from clear plastic lids to designs that are more visually appealing to customers.”
One of the biggest challenges for suppliers is offering higher-quality containers that still are affordable for retailers and consumers, he adds. Indeed, Spencer says it costs manufacturers “millions” to produce injection-molded plastics that enable print to become part of the containers.
Yet, while enhanced packaging can result in higher product costs for consumers, Dowling says containers with greater functionality still would be attractive to shoppers. Indeed, she notes that 97 percent of consumers questioned by Robbie Manufacturing said that they are willing to pay more for convenient or versatile packaging.
“Packaging has evolved into multiple options and there will be continued advancements in printing, film structure and zipper closures,” Dowling adds.
Mike Rosinski, marketing manager, smoked and processed meats, for the Duncan, S.C.-based Cryovac Food Packaging Division of Sealed Air Corp., agrees that wider varieties of packaging will become common. He says new products are being developed to merchandise both prepared foods and prepackaged items, including luncheon meats that are sold on peg boards and logs of meats that are sliced at the full-service case.
More proteins, for instance, will be delivered in packages containing oxygen-scavenging films to better maintain freshness, he notes, adding that Cryovac also is looking at coating the insides of casings with flavorings — such as Cajun or Smoked —which will make it more attractive for producers to cook deli meats in the casings. By not directly handling meats during preparation, producers are able to reduce the risk of contamination, he says.
Packaging also will play a crucial role in helping food suppliers to differentiate their offerings in the deli, Rosinki states. He predicts, for instance, that there will be a move away from the use of plastic tubs that contain bags of pre-sliced luncheon meats, and more emphasis on peg-board packages that will deliver meats in a variety of sizes to better service different shopper segments, such as one-person households or larger families.
“Processors will be offering the same deli product in two or three packaging formats, and there will be more experimentation with single-serve packages so that users won’t have to worry about recloseablility,” Rosinski adds. NP
Richard Mitchell is the editor of Stagnito’s Meat & Deli Retailer.