It’s Not Delivery, It’s a Properly Packaged Frozen Pizza

Dependable Shrink-Wrapping Machines Are the Secret Sauce

By Brian Dennis, Southeast Regional Sales Manager for Texwrap

A specially designed fall-through conveyor allows loose toppings to fall to the floor or collection bin. Image courtesy of Texwrap.

Since its invention in 1950, the frozen pizza has become a staple on many Americans’ grocery lists. With its compact size for convenient freezer storage, ease of preparation and near universal appeal, the longstanding popularity of frozen pizzas is hardly a surprise.

While getting a frozen pizza ready for dinner is as simple as popping it in the oven, shrink wrapping them requires a bit more effort and attention to detail. Just like a good delivery driver for a pizza chain, the shrink wrap on a frozen pizza should keep all the toppings in place, protect the product and provide retail-ready aesthetic to keep the customers excited and hungry.

How the sausage gets made

Frozen pizza assembly, particularly for larger companies, has become a very automated process. Raw dough is sectioned off, flattened and piled with sauce and toppings. After that, pizzas are sent through the freezer then shrink wrapped, labeled and sent off for storage in preparation for sale. This process is often done at remarkably high speeds, with some lines producing 120 or more pizzas per minute.

Minimizing downtime in a shrink wrapper with dependable packaging machines and rapid customer service is always key to maximizing profit, but this is especially true with the time-sensitive nature of a pizza production line. Most high-speed customers that rely on blast freezers to rapidly cool and freeze their product cannot afford to shut the line down.

Stopping the freezer conveyor, even for a moment or two, can cause components to ice-over and result in hours of downtime. Most of these manufacturers have systems in place to handle a couple minutes of downtime by either stacking off product or diverting to an alternate line. However, this has limits as well because if the product sits too long at room temperature, it will need to be tossed out for food safety concerns.

Dependable shrink-wrapping machines are critical, not just to preserve speed, but to preserve the entire line.

Protecting the pie

Another element of the operation that shrink wrappers need to safeguard is the pizza itself. The rapid cooling that pizzas experience as they go down the line makes the toppings more stable, but some are still relatively loose on top of the crust. Wrapping the pizza in shrink film ensures the toppings stay on the pizzas and do not fall into the machine. This reduces loss of product, as well as minimizing downtime and cleanup.

Product handling while the pizzas are traveling through the wrapping system is also critical. Maintaining a minimum amount of space between pizzas gives the shrink wrapper enough time to close the package and helps prevent the crusts from touching, which can cause loss of toppings or damage crusts.  However, if the spacing is too large, shrinking the film adequately to make the perfect looking package can be difficult. The shrink wrapper and tunnel must be able to keep up with the speeds of the upstream equipment without forcing the operator to reduce overall line speed.

A shrink wrapper’s role in protecting the pizza and the business’s profitability does not stop once the product leaves the packaging line. In fact, it only gets more important. The goal of these machines is to preserve the item in film, and strong reliable seals are critical to ensuring package integrity. Holes in the wrapping open up the pizza to any number of contaminants, making it unsafe and unsellable. To sustain their business, frozen pizza manufacturers need to be confident that their shrink wrapper will properly shield the products throughout the distribution process.

Even pizzas that will be placed in a box before going to the shelf benefit from a secure wrapping job. An unwrapped pizza in a chipboard box allows toppings to fall off the pizza during transit, storage and display. Shrink film secures those toppings to the pizza and preserves that important customer impression.

Out for delivery

In addition to quality, a good seal and shrink can have an impact on the product’s appeal to a customer. The best wrapping job is one that the customers don’t even think about. They see the label and the delicious-looking item, take a look to make sure the price is reasonable and put it in their cart.

A bad wrap hijacks that entire decision-making process. Instead of seeing the pizza, all a shopper will be looking at are the ugly seals on top of the package, loose film and sloppy toppings. This bad impression will almost always drive them to choose another option and likely tarnish their overall opinion of the brand.

There’s more to a well wrapped pizza than meets the eye. For example, ideally film should cover the pizza without wrinkles. Pizzas have a low profile, usually less than an inch in height, as they travel the packaging conveyors. When shrink film shrinks in the tunnel, it first balloons up and pulls excess film to the top of the package. This makes it very difficult to consistently shrink the film and put the seals on the sides or bottom of the package, so they are not visible from the top face.  A shrink-wrapping machine with a seals-down option for the tunnel helps eliminate this quality concern. Though there are no functional issues with bunching and film seals on top of the product, it distorts the look of the package in a negative way and can turn away customers.

Visual appeal is also an area where the function of shrink wrapping cannot be replaced by a box. Many of those cardboard boxes have windows to give customers a peek at the product, so the same visual issues that apply to pizzas that are just shrink wrapped are true of pizzas that are also boxed. Even if the box completely covers the film, the purchaser will still see it eventually. Hiding an ugly wrapping job or toppings that have fallen off until after the pizza is out of the box may net the business a purchase, but the customer’s opinion will most likely still be negatively impacted.

No matter how the frozen pizza is ultimately processed and presented to the customer, a secure shrink-wrapping job is paramount to getting it there.

About the Author

Brian Dennis is the Southeast Regional Sales Manager for Texwrap (www.texwrap.com). He can be reached at brian.dennis@promachbuilt.com.

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