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Special Feature: Packaging equipment

Innovations keep seafood fresh inside and outside the box

By Melissa Wood
January 01, 2013

Packaging matters, and not just because it can help keep seafood fresh longer. It is the first line of contact between a product and its prospective buyer.

With seafood there are special challenges in marketing, particularly in America. Consumers are often intimidated by seafood and don’t feel confident about their abilities in cooking it. The right package design is key to making it more accessible, says Catherine Oller, designer and president of Faine Oller Productions in Seattle.  

“The hurdle with seafood is that often within the American market it is seen as kind of a mystery,” explains Oller. “Whatever it is you’re presenting must look very visually appealing as far as a plated presentation, it has to be something [consumers] can relate to and if possible it can’t look too overwhelming or difficult to prepare.”

Oller explained her process for designing the packaging for Ocean Beauty’s Sea Choice brand of steamer entrées, for which she won an award in the 2012 Graphic Design USA American Package Design Awards. The first step in creating a successful design is knowing your target buyer.

“That was targeted at consumers who don’t have a lot of time to do that kind of preparation but still want to get that kind of quality protein in their diets,” she explains. “For the packaging we decided to really put the plated product front and center because it presented so beautifully. The fillets, sauces inside were just gorgeous.”

The product shot takes up more than half the face of the package helping to draw the consumer in, she explains, but the back of the package is important too. This is where the company tells its marketing story for the product and gives the consumer confidence with very clear preparation information for successful use of the product.

Ocean Beauty featured Olympic snowboarder and Alaska native Callan Chythlook-Sifsof holding a Bristol Bay salmon on the back of the package, along with testimony of how salmon in her diet has helped her be strong and successful.

“You’ve started a conversation with the consumer and it pulls them in. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to read the brief copy but it communicates a lot,” says Oller. “[The overall design] stimulates the palate and underscores confidence.”

Of course consumer confidence is also boosted with a quality product. Recent innovations are helping to preserve the most key component of a package — what’s inside.

For shipping, ThermoPod has introduced its ThermoKeeper box liner as an eco-friendly alternative to foam coolers for use by fulfillment houses. The liners, which are made of recycled pre-consumer natural textile fibers, are stored flat then unfolded and inserted into boxes to provide cushioning and thermal protection.

To best suit the shipper’s choice of coolant the panels have different surfaces on each side. The un-perforated waterproof side works with dry ice while the perforated surface is designed for gel packs as it allows moisture to wick away from the product.

Staying fresh in store is also key, and two new kinds of packaging options are claiming to extend seafood’s time on the shelf. 

Linde North America’s new MAPAX® modified atmosphere packaging uses a combination of food-grade nitrogen, carbon dioxide and/or oxygen. Compared to packaging in air, the company says gases can keep product fresh longer. For raw fish, shelf life is extended from two to three days to five to nine days, and a cooked product’s shelf life of two to four days jumps to three to four weeks. 

It can be used with a variety of packaging equipment, including deep draw machines, tray sealers, vertical-flow packs, bag-in-box bag sealing machines, horizontal flow packs and vacuum-chamber machines.

Cryovac’s Darfresh 10K packaging offers an extended shelf life and new options for self-service. Seafood counter employees, however, may not enjoy hearing how it could change their departments.

“This does have the potential to really replace in some instances the whole seafood department, much like chicken. It’s centrally packaged,” says Don Smith, the company’s director of marketing for poultry and seafood.

The Darfresh’s vacuum packaging completely seals the package, but allows oxygen to permeate to meet Food and Drug Administration food-safety requirements. This process helps provide a higher quality slacked out product. 

“Shrink is the biggest problem in fresh food or retail. A program like this, you basically keep it in the back room in a frozen state and refresh or slack it out as you need it. All that prepackaged product is kept very well,” explains Smith. 

The technology should allow retailers to expand product offerings. Jeff Womack, Cryovac’s new business development manager, pointed to halibut. Retailers may be hesitant to carry it because it can have a high per-pound cost, he says, which means it can be extra costly in shrink losses.

“This gives the retailer an ability to carry a consistent product line across regions,” he says. “It’s a high-cost fish, and they don’t want to lose the shrink. Now this gives them an opportunity to carry a SKU such as that.”

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com

Find other SeaFood Business articles on packaging equipment here.

January 2013 - SeaFood Business  

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