Seafood packagers appealing to the senses in 2019
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
It’s an idiom that seafood packagers around the world can get behind – and even in front of – with innovations in the sector transporting product presentations to new dimensions and heights.
Vacuum skin packaging (VSP) and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) have not only improved the shelf life of perishable proteins like seafood, but brought these products out of hiding. Today’s consumers are able to reach out and actually feel some of the fillets or lox they’re contemplating buying at the chilled seafood case, thanks to these developments.
In the frozen aisle, shoppers are being greeted with more seafood products that come complete with all the fixings and hardware to season and cook their dinner, courtesy of emerging tray and film techniques. The allure and aroma of a home-cooked meal is now available without the typical hassles of clean-up and prep-work.
This combination of convenience and sensory appeal has proven to be a powerful elixir for the modern consumer, and food packagers are taking notice, according to consumer food packaging veteran Charlie Ahern. “Consumers want something that they can buy that looks and feels like it’s homemade, that smells good, that looks good. [They] want the rewards of cooking without the intense time-consuming labor and mess involved,” said Ahern, who currently serves as the general manager for Advanta Packaging Inc., a global packaging solutions company.
Buying seafood is evolving from a simple monetary transaction into an immersive, sensory experience, Ahern said.
“Consumer-friendly packaging that improves consumer experience, no touch/no mess, the scent of food cooking, and the use of the most recyclable products in the world (aluminum)” are sure to dominate this year, he said. He pointed to Portland, Oregon-based seafood supplier Fishpeople’s award-winning product “Seafood Meyer Lemon & Herb Panko Wild Alaska Salmon Kit” as exemplifying many of these traits. The kit – which took home the Seafood Excellence Award for “Best New Retail” product at Seafood Expo North America in 2017 – includes an aluminum pan innovated by Advanta Packaging.
“In my opinion, that’ll be the way this whole thing goes,” Ahern said of pre-packaged seafood kits.
Board base innovations and VSP solutions also continue to show promise for seafood packagers this year, according to representatives from packaging solution and machinery developer Harpak-ULMA.
“We are seeing more fresh fish vacuum skin packed (VSP), in the past two years, on fiber-based boards with graphics, to thin plastic sheets,” noted Dave Favret, product manager for Harpak-ULMA’s TFS series, and Blair Vance, product manager for the firm’s Mondini line. “With VSP, we can almost see the entire fish or the beautiful fillets layered out on the sheets. Smoked salmon can now be presented on a hanger in the store with detailed billboard graphics. Today, consumers can scan QR codes to immediately view recipes for that evening’s preparation,” Favret said. At this year’s Seafood Expo North America event, Harpak-ULMA will feature its new TFS 200 MSV (MAP, Skin, Vacuum) machine, “an entry level model that demonstrates versatility and has the capability to produce MAP and VSP packages,” the Harpak-ULMA representatives said.
VSP’s persistent relevance in the seafood packaging sector hardly comes as a surprise for Scott Corey, the director of marketing for Charlotte, North Carolina-based plastic packaging developer Sealed Air.
“Vacuum skin packaging has had a major impact on seafood packaging formats in recent years. VSP has enabled suppliers to improve the quality life of seafood by improving moisture levels and color, which improves the consumer’s eating experience. VSP has also been instrumental in reducing leaky packages, increasing retail merchandising flexibility, dramatically reducing waste, and improving the look and feel of the product,” Corey said.
VSP techniques have paved the way for Sealed Air’s new board program, which the company is currently rolling out, Corey confirmed. “We are introducing a new board program that is designed to lower costs with a more sustainable package while also increasing and improving branding and communication,” he said. “This approach has gained momentum in Europe and is similar to the popular packaging style used today with smoked salmon here in the U.S.”
“We think this is the next evolution in seafood packaging,” Corey said.
Prioritizing the planet
Although the protein itself stars in the seafood purchasing experience, with packaging acting as more of a stage, the values that comprise both content and casing have evolved to be quite similar. Take, for instance, the fact that both seafood suppliers and packagers alike have been abridging their missions to accommodate the same growing global movement: sustainability.
The concept of sustainable seafood doesn’t begin and end with the edible items. This is known by a growing number of seafood consumers and suppliers, who have been placing premiums on packagers committed to sustainable measures, said Sealed Air’s Corey.
“There’s pressure being put on suppliers to provide packaging that’s more sustainable. With all the news in the media about plastics in the ocean and various places around the world that are starting to ban plastics in one form or another, everybody is looking for something that has less impact on the planet,” Corey said.
For Sealed Air, the growing universal demand for more sustainable packaging has prompted it to reevaluate certain commitments and get creative. The global packaging enterprise recently made a pledge to render all of its packaging solutions 100 percent recyclable or reusable by 2025. The firm also entered into an agreement in June 2018 with Kuraray America, Inc., a Japanese chemical company, to begin offering food packaging materials derived from Plantic plant-based resins.
“This agreement with Sealed Air expands the options for sustainable [plant-based] barrier packaging that will benefit consumers, retailers, and processors equally,” said Robert Armstrong, the general manager of EVAL and Plantic for Kuraray America, Inc., when the partnership was announced last year.
Plans to introduce the seafood industry’s first plant-based renewable packing material, which “dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of the package,” are in the works for Sealed Air for 2019, noted Corey. He anticipates that plantbased packaging materials for seafood will be attractive to sustainability-minded suppliers and consumers.
“We see that consumers are looking for these materials, they’re demanding them,” he said, adding that, “there’s going to need to be better technology brought to the recycling processes here in North America in the very near future,” to accommodate this shift.
Regardless of when such technology arrives, “the steadily increasing consumer interest in convenience and sustainability will drive packaging trends in 2019 and beyond,” Corey said.