Don’t Write Off Traditional Tray Overwrapping Just Yet…
Leakproof Packaging Extends the Shelf Life of Fresh Protein
By Brian Guillaume, Regional Sales Manager at Ossid
While new designs and materials are constantly being evaluated in hopes of finding the next big thing in fresh protein packaging, the traditional foam tray overwrap style remains an extremely popular choice for food manufacturers and retailers alike.
That’s because tray overwrap is a style deemed by many as a reliable, proven, and cost-effective option for chicken and other fresh protein. For further proof, walk through the meat department of any grocery store – the dominant packaging style likely on display is tray overwrap.
Miller Poultry is a long-time believer in this style as well. Their story dates back to 1974, when Galen Miller and his father transitioned the family business from raising turkeys to chickens. Since then, Galen and the rest of the Miller family have overseen the company’s impressive growth of poultry production with today’s operations shipping out 3.2 million finished pounds weekly. Its chickens are locally grown and fed a corn and soy-based diet with no antibiotics, no artificial ingredients or coloring, and no hormones. But the key to its nearly 50-year success starts with its people.
The company has worked hard to cultivate a family-first atmosphere in everything that it does. Family leadership is still involved in its day-to-day operations; many of its employees have been with the company for decades. People come to Miller Poultry because they enjoy the culture established by the Miller family.
Manufacturing premier chicken products would fall short of expectations if the packaging wasn’t up to par. That is why Miller Poultry uses 12 leak resistant, end-seal overwrappers to securely package chicken for sale throughout the Upper Midwest. The overwrappers at Miller Poultry each run about 45-50 foam trays per minute. Fresh chicken is hand placed in No. 3, 8, 11 or 15 tray sizes before going through the overwrappers that have been engineered to handle different tray dimensions.
A common concern with wrapping chicken is package integrity. Poorly sealed trays can develop leaks that turn away customers and potentially ruin product. The company previously operated machines that ran PVC film which was just wrapped and folded around the tray, before sending it through a heat tunnel. This design left trays that were not fully welded, leading some to leak.
The 12 overwrap machines now in operation produce tightly wrapped, end-sealed, case-ready packages for chicken; these solutions also work well for fish and other protein products. Reason being is that the heat shrink film welds the seams together, creating a tight thin seal along the bottom and end sides of the tray, sealing it shut for leakproof packaging. The purge of moisture is held within the package instead of leaking through the flange of the tuck and fold.
Measures are also in place in the heat-shrinking process to preserve the preprinted image on the film. Heat-shrinking film can lead to distortion of the image, making it difficult to read print. To avoid this scenario, the overwrappers heats the film to more effectively hold the seals around the sides of the tray flange. This provides a clean look on the top of the package, while also keeping the print legible as it runs through the machine. A hot water bath after the heat tunnel irons out fine wrinkles in the packaging for a polished look on the final product.
The overwrapping machines are helping Miller Poultry be successful by producing a seal on packages that do not leak, which extends shelf life – a win/win for both retailers and consumers.
Success starts with collaboration
One of the reasons why the company has found success with its overwrapping packaging solution is the collaboration with its OEM partner. This is really the starting point for any successful partnership, i.e., listening to their goals and objectives, what are they trying to accomplish on their packaging line, and what kind of speeds are they looking to achieve.
Knowing this information upfront helps define the overall scope of the project and drive the discussion forward. Also, having answers to these questions in the early stages is critical because each one influences the other; if one of the answers to a question is unknown, it can sometimes dramatically change the scope of the project, and it is important to discuss before the project begins.
The future of sustainable packaging
As you can see from this application, foam and plastic tray overwrapping is a tried-and-true style that performs very well in fresh protein packaging. But the industry is not solely resting on its laurels. There is a growing trend toward offering new sustainable packaging materials that can run on existing equipment.
Some of the more reputable packaging OEMs work diligently with their material suppliers to ensure that their equipment has the capability to run these types of new greener materials, so that their customers can be first to market with them. These types of newer packaging options are on the radar of Miller Poultry and other poultry processors.
Being able to respond to market needs with practical solutions is a hallmark of a forward-thinking company. Although the next big thing in fresh protein packaging may not be all that far away, traditional tray overwrapping is definitely here to stay.
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