By Lynn Petrak, contributing editor
Refrigerated, frozen and ready-to-eat proteins designed for convenience and freshness.
If the fresh meat case is in the early adolescent stages of moving toward more sophisticated case-ready packaging, does that make the refrigerated meats sector a rebellious teenager or responsible young adult?
Probably somewhere in between.
Although packaged meats such as bacon, dinner sausage and lunchmeat have been around for decades, such items have taken on new forms in recent years, thanks to the advent of higher-tech packaging equipment and materials and product line diversification from consumer-oriented, forward-thinking processors.
Take bacon, for example. Bacon simply isn’t just bacon anymore. It’s seasoned bacon, sold in colorful cardboard outer boxes emblazoned with illustrations of peppers, spices or apples. It’s precooked bacon sold in recloseable trays or in bulk form in zip-to-close bags.
Recent months have seen another enhancement to bacon packaging. Oscar Mayer, the Madison, Wis.-based division of Kraft Foods, has launched fresh bacon sold in a recloseable tray, a development that mirrors some of Oscar Mayer’s deli meat packaging in resealable/recloseable formats.
“Today’s consumers seek refrigerated meat packaging that is easy to open and close, keeps products fresh and showcases meat in a visually appealing manner. Stay-Fresh Reclosable tubs or trays, and Fresh Slide zipper pouches that lock in freshness align with current consumer trends,” explains Beth Goeddel, senior brand manger.
The same evolution and expansion holds true for deli meats. Prepackaged deli meats, once synonymous with pegboard-style packages of ham and bologna, now run the gamut in terms of weights, closures and graphics.
For example, the broader use of recloseable tubs, such as Ziploc® containers from brands like ConAgra’s Healthy Choice and Butterball and Hillshire Farm’s Deli Select line merchandised in flexible recloseable tubs, has been a response to consumer clamor for convenience and freshness. That demand is sure to continue as the 21st century progresses.
“Processed meat has been doing some interesting things,” concurs packaging consultant Aaron Brody, citing an example of the containers and tubs that are similar to Tupperware.
Tubs and containers of deli meats, while still newer to the category, are not the only types of recloseable or resealable packages for such refrigerated meats. Over the past 10 to 15 years, perforated, press-to-close and zip-to-close pouches and bags have exemplified deli buyers’ desire for products that are easy to open, use and reuse.
According to industry consultant Ken Johnson, the market for packages of refrigerated meats will likely continue to expand and along with it, the application of more recloseable tubs, containers and bags, based on consumer behavior and preferences. “There is such a lengthy shelf life in processed meat, not to mention consumer demand for things like bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and processed meat that carry tremendous shelf as well as profit margins,” he notes.
The frozen-food aisle in the supermarket has also had a makeover of sorts in recent years, again as manufacturers have demonstrated a willingness to offer new products in new formats beyond traditional boxes. Today, standup, reclosable pouches and bags filled with frozen uncooked and cooked meat portions, from chicken breasts to hamburger patties to full meals, are adding both a splash of color to the freezer case and convenience to shoppers looking for a quick fix with a homestyle flavor. Such pouches are available from ubiquitous national brands like Tyson, Brakebush, and Advance Foods’ Fast Fixin’ line as well as smaller regional brands and natural meat and prepared foods companies.
Prepared foods, for that matter, have also spurred new types of packaging for take-home or immediate consumption of proteins and protein-based entrees. Lidded trays, a la rotisserie chicken, are popular carriers for hot foods like whole cooked birds, ribs, pork loins and meatloaf as well as salads made with proteins like chicken strips or cubes of cooked and processed meats.
There are examples of newer packaging materials, too, that may be a harbinger of things to come in the hot foods arena. Resealable pouches designed for the merchandising of hot foods have been introduced, while natural-food stores such as Whole Foods Market are using paper-based boxes for their popular hot foods bar.
What type of package works best with prepared foods varies by the store and the selection of offerings.
“You’re dealing with an item that is highly perishable, and the question is how do you actually manage it — everything is built around that,” shares Johnson. “If you went to the store and maybe purchased two or three of these items, you have to think how much refrigerator time do you need or want, or will it go into the freezer?”