By Lisa White
A number of innovative options are available for packaging rotisserie chicken in the deli.
As the U.S. population ages, an increasing number of consumers are seeking prepared foods for their meal solutions.
Consequently, rotisserie chicken has become one of the most popular, if not the most popular, prepared-food item in supermarket delis today. According to the most recent data available from the Grocery Manufacturers of America, grocers sold $1.4 billion worth of rotisserie foods in 2002.
Many of the changes in this segment are packaging related. There are two common types of packaging for these products — a clear, polypropylene tray with a domed top or flexible, leak-resistant bags that typically feature a viewing window for enhanced product visibility.
“One of the biggest changes we are seeing is that 97 percent of consumers have stated that they are willing to pay more for convenient/versatile packaging,” says Tara Downing, product manager at Robbie Manufacturing, a Lenexa, Kan.-based provider of printed shrink films, bags and pouches.
Downing says that, because today’s consumers are more health-conscious than they have been in years past, they are more likely to seek nutritional labeling stated on the packaging, along with reheating and preparation instructions.
“More consumers are looking for quick meal solutions within the supermarket deli departments, but packaging has limited many retailers from capitalizing on this trend,” she says.
Jack Lengsfield, sales manager of Green Bay, Wis.-based Green Bay Packaging’s folding carton division, says he is not noticing much of a change in the rotisserie packaging segment recently, with the exception of lines geared for take out.
“The segment has been so successful that retailers are trying to change the packaging to gear it for deli delivery,” he says. “The processors and retailers realize that people want to take out food that is already cooked. The more prepared food retailers offer, the more they can market and the bigger the segment will become.”
In the case of rotisserie packaging, new innovations, materials and graphics have given this category new life.
Trends of today
These changes have been spurred on by today’s more sophisticated consumers, who are looking for enhanced packaging that provides safety, convenience and appeal.
“Consumers want rotisserie packaging that is both tamper-proof and leak-resistant,” Downing says. “They also look for convenience features, such as a built-in handle for easy carrying, microwaveability for reheating and a leak-resistant, resealable zipper.”
In response to these demands, Richmond, Va.-based Reynolds Food Packaging LLC, an Alcoa business, and NOVA Chemicals Corp. announced last July the launch of Reynolds’ microwave-safe rotisserie packaging made with NOVA Chemicals’ foamable DYLARK FG resins. Designed for rotisserie chickens and other hot, prepared foods, the new line is leak-resistant, keeps food hot during transportation, maintains strength and rigidity during heating and re-heating, and remains cool to the touch when removed from the microwave or warming table. The foamable DYLARK FG resins are FDA-compliant, can be processed on existing foam extrusion equipment and feature lower costs per part compared to polypropylene.
Packaging graphics also are important, Downing adds. Consumers see benefits to packages that give them the ability to view the product inside, as well as the ability to read cooking and reheating instructions or nutrition information.
“Attention-getting designs help to grab the consumers’ eye,” she explains. In addition, flexible packaging provides innovative solutions to today’s fast-paced society.
“The prominent theme we are seeing at trade shows and throughout the packaging industry is flexible packaging with easy-open features, product differentiation through eye-catching graphics and unique shapes,” Downing says.
As the profile of supermarket delis continues to change, Flair Packaging International, located in Menasha, Wis., and creator of the first rotisserie chicken bag, has continued to develop packaging to suit this department’s needs. Cheryl Miller, marketing manager, sees an increase in the popularity of rotisserie bags.
“This line is most commonly used in standup displays and features a zipper and handle,” she says. “These bags present themselves well in the warmer, are easy to transport and have an easy-open zipper. Once deli people get used to loading them with product, they find it is faster than the domes.”
Benefits of Flair’s rotisserie packaging line include high-impact graphics, high-quality films and film structures and zipper seals that do not crunch on the ends. “Flexible film packaging takes up less space in the warehouse, so you can store more bags in a smaller space than compared with the domes. This packaging also is more economical, because you don’t need wraps [to label product] like you do with domes and tray packaging,” Miller says.
Flair’s microwaveable bags have a design called M Style that feature a handle and tin tie. The bags are leak-proof and take up less space in the trash than domes. They also are resealable.
A number of new packaging lines have recently debuted in response to consumers’ and retailers’ needs. Flair is releasing a new packaging line called Deli Solutions that includes bags for all types of deli products, including rotisserie products.
With today’s rotisserie ovens running hotter to accommodate the increasing demand for these products, West Chicago, Ill.-based TNI Packaging has developed a new material for its poultry trussing device called the Chicken Tucker. According to Jerry Marchese, CEO, because today’s rotisserie ovens run at higher temperatures for quicker cooking, the company beefed up the surrounding yarns of latex and added an extra strand or end to the bottom layer and a heavier gauge to the top.
“Years ago, we changed our material from cotton to polyester to withstand higher and longer heat,” he adds. “With the recent improvements made to warmers and rotisserie ovens, we’ve now increased the coverage of the natural latex to protect against this extra heat.”
Where ovens used to run at 375 F, some now reach as high as 525 F for the second phase of cooking. Marchese says the company’s loop line is approved by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.
“Our company has gone from just making these products for rotisserie chicken to designing them for a number of other products, like stuffed pork loin and turkey breast.”
Today’s rotisserie packaging also has increased in size, according to Mark Spencer, manager of new product development at Pactiv in Lake Forest, Ill.
“We offer six different sizes of chicken containers, and two are club store packages,” he says. Spencer attributes the popularity of bigger packaging sizes to the growing number of retailers who are putting out larger, value-priced birds.
Pactiv’s Plastic ClearView Mealmaster line is constructed of a polypropylene base and polystyrene dome. These products feature a clear dome with a Fog Gard coating.
“This packaging continues to be a strong seller for us from a merchandising standpoint,” Spencer says.
Because supermarket delis are expanding their rotisserie offerings to include turkey breast, pork tenderloin, ribs, ham and roasts, in addition to chicken, Robbie has created the Hot N Handy Pouch, a new leak-resistant line that features colorful graphics that help easily identify the packaging’s contents. According to Downing, large block letters naming the food product inside are printed close to the top for busy consumers looking to quickly grab the product and go.
“Specific packaging colors enhance the color of the cooked product. For instance, warm reds were used in the packaging to highlight the golden brown look of rotisserie foods. Different colors are used for quick identification, yet they compliment each other to create a cohesive look for the full line of pouches,” Downing says.
The line also features special venting techniques that were developed to keep rotisserie chicken and turkey breast moist and juicy. Also, a lower profile was created to cradle the wider profile of a slab of ribs.
“The characteristics of the proprietary film, provides a crystal clear, anti-fog package, which allows the consumer to easily view the product inside,” Downing says. The packaging’s built-in handle provides easy and safe transport, while the pouch’s material withstands the rigors of heated display cases and microwaves. Retailers can preprint branding, preparation instructions and nutritional information in their choice of 10 colors.
Other features include a built-in gusset that stores flat. This uses one seventh of the space required for the plastic dome, and expands for stability in the display case, refrigerator or the microwave.
As for changes in the industry, Lengsfield sees more of a conversion to dome sleeves in more unique patterns.
“We can do structural designs on the sleeves or duplicate something retailers have seen before. With sleeves, you can tell different stories and have innovative graphics. It keeps things fresh from a marketing standpoint,” Lengsfield says.
With the prepared-meal industry forecasted to grow by 16.5 percent over the next five years, Downing at Robbie Manufacturing predicts new innovations and technologies will continue to have an impact on rotisserie packaging in the future.