Packaging innovation is a top demand in the snacks race with format, size and design changes expected faster than ever as lead times shorten under retail pressure.
With this, suppliers have scrambled to deliver quick turnarounds by standardizing portfolios, sitting in on retail meetings and designing simple, integrated equipment.
The global sweet and savory snacks sector was pegged at $123.3bn for 2013 and is forecast to surge to $129.8bn by year's end, according to Euromonitor International.
Last year saw a flurry of innovation from snack makers across the globe with new product launches up 12%, according to Mintel.
Jeff Almond, industry manager for snack food packaging at Heat and Control Incorporated, said snack makers were fighting for shelf space and when it came to production, it was packaging where manufacturers wanted the most flexibility.
“Packaging isn’t an overwhelming percentage of the production, it’s just a way to drive a product into different areas; to sell it in a different part of the store or a new channel,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
New styles like stand-up, pouch bags that enabled snacks to be sold in new areas of a store such as the deli section were of huge interest to manufacturers, he said. “Snack makers are trying to get creative so they can get more real estate.”
Limiting what you’re good at to 'outsmart' lead times
Rick Woods, sales and marketing manager for US Consumer Group at Hood Packaging, said that lead times on new snack products were now shorter than ever.
“Retailers are serving the most fickle buyer in the country; the US consumer. So the retailers put a lot of pressure on the chip manufacturer to come out with new things quick. Sometimes they’ll even run a promotional ad in a Sunday flyer and not tell the manufacturers,” he said.
'The more we can standardize, we can stock similar raw materials and position ourselves to be responsive. We can outsmart the shorter lead times in other words,' Rick Woods, Hood Packaging
Hood Packaging was committed to meeting these tighter demands, he said, and had started to standardize its portfolio to ensure faster lead times. The company aimed mostly to turn around a packaging order in four weeks, but has managed 10 days for key customers.
“We like to focus on standardization – a standard structure for our packaging films and then it’s just the print that changes. The more we can standardize, we can stock similar raw materials and position ourselves to be responsive. We can outsmart the shorter lead times in other words,” Woods said.
David Lindberg, vice president of sales at Bryce Corporation, agreed that limiting the scope of a portfolio could help.
“Where you can get in trouble is when you try to be everything to everybody,” he said.
“If you diversify that initially sounds wonderful and it is good, but if you’re trying to be everything for everyone you spread yourself so thin and then you don’t have a specialty.”
Labeling needs to stay simple
With the increasing amount of format changes in snacks and demands for a variety of shapes and sizes, labeling machines had to remain simple, said Jim Immel, sales at EPI Labels.
“You need to have adjustments that can be quick and you don’t want to have a lot of adjustments because the more you have, the more people are going to make adjustments and this interrupts production. The ultimate goal is to have as little adjusting capabilities as possible and still have a very functional machine,” he said.
He said that sometimes changes required manual hand adjustments but other times the labeler could be integrated into a parent packaging machine and controlled electronically by a centralized touch screen system.
Closer working and better communication
Immel said EPI worked hand-in-hand with bag makers to optimize its labeling machines and ensure smooth integration.
Woods said Hood Packaging worked closely with retailers; sitting in on brainstorming sessions between the snack firm and retailer to get involved in innovation ideas as early as possible.
“We get involved earlier in the process. We have product development meetings with our customer’s customer [the retailer]. We often do that to understand the target so we understand what they’re going into earlier in the process, that way we can position ourselves ready.”