Vlasic pickles are the first food product pasteurized in PET jars.
Convenience is the top decision-maker in determining which foods and beverages go into the shopping cart. Although consumers may be quenching thirsts and eating several meals per week on-the-run, they haven't entirely given up eating at home. When they do eat at home, they seek products that simplify putting a balanced meal on the table and protect the quality of bulk ingredients.

At the same time, food processors are looking for ways to differentiate their products from the competition. Our six Packages of the Year grant both wishes: convenience for the consumer and a point of difference on the shelf.

Fun Food

Long a highlight of holiday meals and family get-togethers, Cool Whip just got easier for decorating dessert with Cool Whip Squeeze, a new packaging format for the frozen topping from Kraft Foods, Glenview, Ill. The 6-oz., laminated polyester/polyethylene pinch-waist film pouch, pre-formed by Riley & Geehr Inc., Evanston, Ill., incorporates a custom-designed, white polyethylene dispensing tip. It works the same way as a cake decorator's tube. As the pouch is squeezed, the tip provides directional control and dispenses a fine bead of topping.

The Cool Whip Squeeze is an addition to the brand's traditional tub packaging and shares the same graphics for easy shelf recognition. A blue polypropylene overcap covers the dispensing tip and provides tamper evidence. Shipping containers hold 16 of the pouches packed flat and stacked four high.

Focus group participants felt packages with Slide-Rite closures achieve a secure seal, making it less likely that the contents would dry out and be wasted.

Resealable Cheese

After research indicated consumers like the easy opening and positive reclosure of the Hefty Slide-Rite Advanced Closure System, Sargento Foods, Plymouth, Wis., decided to transition to it. "Innovation is a key driver in category growth," explains Louis Gentine, chairman of the family-owned food company, which was the first firm to put a perishable item in a press-to-close zipper package.

The decision to convert to the Slide-Rite system resulted in an 18-month effort with Pactiv Corp., Lake Forest, Ill., to develop an on-line system to apply the zipper. The retrofit, which is compatible with any horizontal form-fill-seal machine, made it possible to launch Sargento shredded cheeses in 12- and 16-oz. Slide-Rite pouches early this year. An 8-oz. size is expected to convert this spring.

To help draw consumer attention to the new closing device, the pouches feature an enlarged photo of the slider closure, and directions instruct users to tear off the tamper-evident header strip and move the slider to the "open" position to access the cheese. Film, which is supplied by Curwood, Oshkosh, Wis., features a linear score, so the header tears cleanly.

Flour Power

When people think of five pounds of flour, the inevitable image is a blocky paper bag, which is awkward to open, easy to spill and doesn't reclose, leaving the contents prey to air, moisture and anything that might want to crawl inside.

General Mills, Minneapolis, has remedied these problems for its Gold Medal flour with a roughly foot-square clear polyethylene film bag with a tear-strip opening and a Zip-Pak zipper closure from Minigrip/Zip-Pak, Manteno, Ill. The approximately 12" opening provides easy access for mess-free measuring, while the press-to-close zipper provides secure closure and safeguards the remaining contents.

Bags, which are believed to be filled on form-fill-seal equipment from Pacmac Inc., Fayetteville, Ark., with zipper application in-line, hold 4.25 lbs. of flour. Pouches are printed front and back in five colors. Red arrows near the top and bottom of the primary panel alert consumers to the "new resealable" feature.

Pasteurized Pickles

Vlasic Foods International, Cherry Hills, N.J., recorded several firsts with its introduction of in-jar pasteurized pickles in a 24-oz. polyethylene terephthalate (PET) jar. The Kosher Dill, Zesty Dill and Bread & Butter varieties are the first food to be pasteurized in a PET container and the first commercial use of True Heat Set technology from Schmalbach-Lubeca Plastic Containers USA (S-L), Manchester, Mich.

To accommodate temperatures up to 215°F and the vacuum created during post-pasteurization cooling, the injection stretch blowmolded, 64 g PET jar features vacuum-paneled side walls, reinforcing rings at the shoulder and heel, a champagne base, and an 82 mm crystallized neck finish. Crystallizing the neck provides thermal and mechanical stability to help ensure seal integrity. Completing the package is a white, vacuum-holding polypropylene closure from S-L sister company, White Cap Inc., Downers Grove, Ill.

No Fuss Tuna

Advertised with the phrase, "so easy, so delicious, it's un-CAN-ny!," H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., puts StarKist tuna in a Flavor Fresh Pouch. The 7-oz., vacuum-sealed, foil retort pouch provides an 18-month shelf life and requires less liquid than cans, eliminating the effort and time required to drain excess oil or water before use in salads, sandwich spread or other dishes.

Less liquid and a larger package profile means shorter retort cooking time and results in tuna with a firmer texture. StarKist offers three tuna varieties in the pouch package: Chuck Light in Water, Chunk Light in Sunflower Oil and Albacore in Water, and recently added a 3-oz. trial size.

The pouch package launched new graphics for the StarKist tuna brand and apparently started a trend, since both ConAgra's Bumble Bee Seafoods, San Diego, and Chicken of the Sea International, also of San Diego, introduced tuna products in retort pouches during the first quarter of 2001.

Easy-open Soup

Canned soup from Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., has been a staple on pantry shelves for generations. To encourage consumers to open more cans, Campbell is eliminating the need for a can opener and mixing with water. Campbell's Ready-to-Serve Classics, the company's top nine condensed soup varieties in ready-to-serve formulations, launched in September in 19-oz. steel cans with easy-open, ring-pull ends.

"Consumers are hungry for convenience," says Lisa Zakrajsek, vice president-U.S. Soup. Other ready-to-serve lines, such as Chunky and Select, reportedly are converting to the new end. PF