The snack major said the invention was “simple and inexpensive to manufacture” and was easy to use for the consumer.
The packaging, in pillow or pouch form, could be used to heat a number of snack products, it said, including tortilla chips, potato chips, corn chips, fruit and vegetable chips, crackers, extruded puffs and pretzels.
Frito-Lay filed a European patent application two weeks ago that relates to an earlier US version published in March, last year.
Frito-Lay said the packaging advance would enable consumers to enjoy the taste of freshly cooked chips – something they had come to know and enjoy in restaurants across the world.
“Some restaurants serve warm tortilla chips that have been fried in-house as an appetizer… Other restaurants offer the snack items warm to consumers by temporarily storing them under warming lamps or the like.”
“…One goal of the present invention is to provide consumers the ability to easily and efficiently replicate the restaurant experience of eating hot crispy foods using products purchased at grocery or convenience stores,” it wrote in its patent filing.
Frito-Lay said the taste of commercial chips when sampled straight off a production line was “highly desirable”.
Don’t burn the chip!
However, it said one major challenge was the tendency chips had to burn easily when cooked or heated.
For example, Frito-Lay explained that any sharp corners or chip edges, such as triangular shaped tortilla chips, would burn more readily under microwave heating.
Similarly, heating times could vary depending on the water content of the snack product, particularly when consumers were looking to heat in combination with an accompaniment like salsa.
“For example, in the context of the present invention, heating about two ounces of a crispy food product, such as tortilla chips, alone inside a microwave will badly burn the chips after about 30 seconds to about 75 seconds, depending on the power level of the microwave. By contrast, a cup of salsa heating in the same microwave for the same time period may merely become warm to the touch.”
Frito-Lay therefore developed a multi-layered packaging to ensure chips could be heated without any undesired burning.
The packaging, it said, had to contain at least two layers – a microwave-safe barrier and a water absorbent outer layer.
The snack firm said the water absorbent layer enabled consumers to wet the product ahead of microwaving which added ‘load’ to the product to absorb some of the microwave energy and heat the chips more slowly and evenly.
Frito-Lay said there were several design options for this water absorbent layer, including a paper coating that covered the entire package.
“When substantially the entire outer surface of such a package comprises a water absorbent layer, the package may appear to an observer no different than a prior art food package,” it said.
Alternatively, it said manufacturers could opt to have just part of the outer package as water absorbent, for example with an affixed label.
“Providing only a portion of the outer surface as water absorbent may be preferable in order to prevent the consumer from over-wetting the surface, and thereby using a supplemental load that is too high to allow the food products inside the package to heat in a reasonable time, or heat consistently, inside the microwave,” Frito-Lay said.
The snack major said this partial water absorbent layer could be designed in such a way that consumers knew exactly how long to heat the product for – with a color-change function to indicate adequate wet levels, for example.
Another option, it said, was to build in the additional water load into the food package so the consumer was not required to separately wet the food package.
“This embodiment may provide additional convenience to the consumer, and greater control by the manufacturer over the amount of water provided in the water absorbent portion so that effective and efficient microwave heating of the product inside the food package can occur.”
Beyond chips, Frito-Lay said such technology could also be considered for cookies and candy products that were desirable when eaten hot.
Source: WIPO Publication No. EP2892822
Published: July 15, 2015. Filed: September 6, 2013
“Package for microwaving dry foods”
Author: Frito-Lay – D. Lestage, JP. Sagel and S. Tanner