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Snack packaging helps cheese brands differentiate and meet consumer needs

By Trina La Susa


Photo courtesy of Amcor Flexibles North America

AMPLIFY — Amcor Flexibles North America’s AmPlify finishing technologies help differentiate
products on the retail shelf, says John Kearny, director of marketing, dairy segment, Amcor. Using a matte overlaquer can signal a more natural and premium product and capture shoppers’ attention, he says.
 Photo courtesy of Harpak-ULMA
SNACK PACKS— For cheese manufacturers looking to innovate with cheese snack packaging, Harpak-ULMA Packaging LLC offers several packaging methods best suited for forming convenient, appealing and effective snack packs.

MADISON, Wis. — As consumers return to their active, pre-pandemic lifestyles, they will continue to look for more high-protein, filling cheese snacks that can serve as replacements for meals, according to David Walsh, vice president, membership and communications, SNAC International, the international trade association of the snack food industry. Cheese brands can act on this trend by designing snack packaging to differentiate themselves from the competition and incorporate convenience features.

“Pre-pandemic, snacking popularity was already at an all-time high due to the steep rise in on-the-go eating occasions. This trend slowed during COVID-19, which saw more consumers snacking at home, but we expect that with a return to consumers being more active and mobile, many of the behaviors we saw pre-pandemic will return,” Walsh says. “These include snacking as meal replacement and a reliance on the snack category to provide functional nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein and more.”

Whether it is on-shelf or on-screen, cheese packaging serves as a way that brands can differentiate themselves from the competition and grab consumers’ attention. Walsh notes that some brands use their packaging to signal that a snack is more premium through the use of elevated styles, thicker or glossier films and other packaging design features. He notes that much of today’s general snack packaging is fun, engaging and utilizes vibrant colors.

Additionally, he says that prime real estate on a product’s package is used to communicate transparency, simplicity and that the product is clean label.

Specifically, convenience and portability continue to drive snacking expansion within both new and existing snacking platforms, according to John Kearny, director of marketing, dairy segment, Amcor Flexibles North America, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

“After a year of being socially distanced, people are eager to get back to their busy, on-the-go lifestyles and will demand fresh and fulfilling snacks that can serve as a replacement for a meal,” Kearny says. “Brands can take advantage of this by designing and positioning their snack products as wholesome and fresh, and incorporating convenience features to promote ease of use and repeat purchases.”

Additionally, for those consumers who have a more heightened awareness of hygiene in a post-pandemic world, Kearny says individually wrapped snack packages can provide them with more sanitary snacking options that also are convenient.

• Innovating in the marketplace

“In terms of product innovation, a trend that is two years old now or so but has shown that it is here to stay is cheese crisps. For example, a few brands like Whisps, ParmCrisps and Sonoma Creamery have exploded onto the marketplace,” Walsh says. “These products appeal to today’s consumer because they deliver a snack made with minimal ingredients that is high in protein and low in carbs. They are also positioned as more premium through the use of artisanal cheeses, and there is a lot of room for flavor innovation here as well.”

For cheese manufacturers looking to innovate further with cheese snack packs, Harpak-ULMA Packaging LLC, Taunton, Massachusetts, offers several packaging methods best suited for forming convenient, appealing and effective snack packs. Tray sealing, thermoforming and sometimes flow wrapping are typical methods the company uses in cheese snack pack applications that combine cheese with crackers, meats and/or nuts.

“Creating a fresh snack offering from cheese does not necessarily require producers to alter the product manufacturing process itself — it can be achieved primarily as a packaging exercise. Often, this involves simply changing portion configurations or combining it with other foods, which can dramatically increase perceived consumer value,” says Carlo Bergonzi, product manager for tray seal, Harpak-ULMA.

Bergonzi notes that packaging cheese and crackers together adds nominal costs but results in premium pricing in the retail case. He says that snack packaging is a huge and growing market opportunity, one that can generate a better price per ounce than traditional product packaging.

“The marketing opportunity that accompanies repackaging cheese as snacks can’t be overstated — unique tray designs, graphics and films can really help brands differentiate themselves in a crowded market,” Bergonzi says.

David Favret, product manager for thermoforming at Harpak-ULMA, adds that one of the company’s top thermoforming applications for on-the-go snack packaging in the U.S. market is String cheese.

“String cheese is a great snack for both children and adults, so cheese companies are feeding a wide market of customers,” Favret says. “These types of snack products will always be popular. They are delicious, nutritious and easy to pack when you are on the go.”

As thermoformed String cheese snacks can be packaged by Harpak-ULMA in both individual portions and multi-pack portions, Favret says cheese brands have more choices for product formats — whether they want consumers to grab a quick cheese snack at a convenience store or purchase a multi-pack size of cheese snacks from the grocery store to eat at home.

The individual portion cheese sticks are sometimes paired with a meat snack to offer a variety, Favret says.

With the multi-pack size, he notes that typically 12-24 sticks are individually packaged in the pack but are in groups of 3-6 that are perforated in between, so that consumers can grab what they need and leave the rest for another time

“In both cases, individual portion size and multi-pack size, the package includes a hanger hole to allow the packages to be displayed facing the consumer,” Favret says.

Winona Foods, Green Bay, Wisconsin, has been a provider of services to the snacking industry for years, according to the company’s vice president of business development, Bob Starkey. Cheese snack packaging and snack portion control are among some of the services offered.

“From a co-manufacturing point of view, we have provided diced, sliced and cubed dairy and plant-based cheeses for on-the-go protein kits, grab-and-go sandwiches, meat and cheese kits or other vehicles that carry cheese for snacking,” Starkey says. “We also have provided extruded and non-extruded portions of dairy and non-dairy cheeses in stick or rectangle/square forms for individual servings of snacks using a thermoform package, easy tear seals. We also provide packaging where you can fit 6-8 pieces of these products in a standup pouch for retail and club stores as well.”

The other category Winona Foods has seen the most growth in is related to portion control cheese sauce.

Starkey says since COVID-19 has hit and the need for less touch points is relevant, many operators in foodservice/carryout, theme parks, movie theaters, schools and other establishments all have abandoned the multi-touch cheese sauce dispenser machines. Winona Foods now provides a complete solution in portion-control cups, with flavors like Cheddar, Jalapeno, Ghost Pepper, Beer Cheese, White/Yellow Queso and more, as the industry opens up and consumers demand single-touch or grab-and-go solutions.

• Standing out on shelves

Meanwhile, in a retail setting, consumer research shows appearance on the store shelf has a tremendous impact on consumer purchasing behavior.

“One way to differentiate on the shelf is through the use of Amcor’s AmPlify finishing technologies. Using a matte overlaquer can signal a more natural and premium product and capture shoppers’ attention,” Kearny says. “Once the consumer has purchased the product, making the product easily accessible with opening features like EZ Peel or IntegraScore can assist in creating a seamless experience for the consumer and encourage a repeat purchase.”

Amcor offers a full suite of packaging solutions to support the continued growth and expansion of snacking and on-the-go occasions. The company’s portfolio includes an array of flow wrap films and pouches, flexible forming and non-forming films, as well as premade rigid trays and rigid rollstock for form-fill-seal applications.

Kearny says these formats can help brands to achieve their snacking goals using current equipment.

In addition, Amcor’s EZ Peel and SmartTack EZPeel Reseal films can provide consumers with convenient ways to interact with cheese snack packaging while delivering consistent operational performance to drive efficiencies during the packing process, Kearny notes.

“Amcor’s breadth and depth of offering provide our customers with a convenient one-stop shop for snack packaging innovation,” Kearny says. “In combination with our Cataylst collaborative innovation and our marketing insights teams, we are able to drive packaging innovation and design with our customers to meet the challenging demands of retailers and improve speed to market.

“While we have been talking about snacking today, many of the trends span multiple categories within the dairy case,” he adds. “Consumers continue to look for fresh and healthy options when buying more conventional cheese, and the functionality of the package matters just as much at home. Print technologies and convenience features can facilitate a better experience and help brands gain share in nearly all categories.”

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