Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they are putting in their bodies. Many food manufacturers have begun to reflect those concerns by reformulating recipes and releasing “clean” label products.
The term “clean label” has several definitions depending on who you ask. However, a general definition of a clean label refers to food products containing natural, familiar, simple ingredients that are easy to recognize, understand, and pronounce, with no artificial ingredients or synthetic chemicals. Additionally, some will say food with better nutrition, environmental sustainability, and ethical sourcing qualify as clean label.
The bakery sector is not immune to the clean label wave as consumers are increasingly seeking products with fewer ingredients, and ingredients they recognize. These three challenges come to mind when seeking a clean label for your baked product.
- Reformulating your recipes can be costly.
- The shelf life of your product can be impacted.
- Maintaining the integrity and form of the baked product remains a challenge.
What can you do? Your packaging strategy can play a major role. Let’s get into it.
Plotting a course for your clean label initiative
The wave is here. The clean label ingredients market is expected to be valued at over $50 billion by 2024 with a growth rate of 6.75%, despite the higher cost of raw ingredients.
Brands that don’t opt in to this growing trend or re-evaluate their current efforts, ingredients and recipes put themselves at risk of:
- Losing opportunities from retailers that are seeing demand for clean label bakery products.
- Missing out on sales as ingredient lists come under scrutiny.
- Tarnishing their brand reputation if a listed ingredient is found harmful.
As a major bakery producer, clean label products may only be a small portion of your portfolio; but giving health-conscious consumers options with more natural ingredients, fewer preservatives, less processed ingredients or artificial chemicals, can contribute to improved brand perception, increased brand loyalty and of course, sales. On the other hand, some manufacturer’s entire business model and marketing effort revolve around clean label products. Either way, with the right plan you can capitalize on this growing trend.
First, we’ll help you navigate using MAP to extend your clean label baked products shelf life and its cost implications.
Utilizing MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging)
If you want to extend the shelf life of your baked product, there are three common ways to do it: using MAP, freezable packaging, and using antimicrobials that help food preservation.
Antimicrobials help reduce or inhibit the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage. Some applications spray, coat, or dip the antimicrobial onto the packaging material itself. Despite its success for food preservation, chemicals in or around the food makes your clean label no longer clean.
However, if you want to extend the shelf life of your clean labeled baked product, using freezable packaging and MAP are acceptable methods. The MAP process removes oxygen from your package and replaces it with a mixture of gasses: commonly nitrogen and CO2. This process differs slightly depending on the packaging method.
Switching to MAP is a good go-to but you’ll want to evaluate the ROI. Additionally, you may need to reconsider your packaging method. For instance, if you’re releasing a new type of bread that is considered “clean label” and you use the same bag with a twist tie packaging as your typical loaf, the new product may not have the same shelf life. You may have to invest in designing new packaging that supports MAP technology; thermoforming or flow wrapping are viable options.
Packaging your bakery products to protect and extend shelf life
Every bakery product and recipe is different, clean label and traditional recipes alike. Moreover, two priorities in baking are universal: making sure your product reaches its destination intact and as fresh as possible.
Your new product that uses the cleanest ingredients could have both a shorter shelf life and difficulty holding its form during transport. Let’s say the new recipe left out common binding agents such as white flour and eggs common in certain categories like gluten free. Luckily, there are alternatives that clean label producers can use that generate similar results, but not always.
Design packaging that protects your product through transport; both in terms of freshness and form.
Below, we’ll layout two options that have MAP capabilities and will help protect your clean label bakery product: thermoforming and flow wrapping.
Leverage thermoforming for ultimate product protection
The thermoforming MAP process is more efficient and tends to have a longer shelf life than flow wrapping. A vacuum removes the oxygen before replacing it with the gas mixture giving the packs a lower oxygen residual. Flow wrappers don’t use a vacuum leaving oxygen in the pack while the MAP gas mixture is added. Oxygen promotes spoilage and bacterial growth so taking oxygen out gives the thermoforming method the advantage even before the MAP mixture is added.
Beyond MAP, both the thermoformed package and the machine itself offer a number of features that protect your product, customize your package and offer customer convenience.
- Manually or automatically (robotically) load your baked product.
- Shape cutting system so your packaging will reflect your product.
- Choice of semi rigid, flexible, or rigid material for your desired amount of protection.
- Option to Print brand and nutritional information on the top.
- Easy open and re-closable.
- Perforated packs for portion control.
- Thermoformed packages can show clear signs of tampering.
Thermoforming has a leg up with protection and MAP capabilities, and offers many features; but the good comes at a cost.
First, you’ll have slower speed and less output compared to a flow wrapper because of how the product is loaded. Additionally, you have to change tools for each specific package size. Second, the tray you choose, flexible or rigid, will have an impact. A rigid tray tends to be more expensive than a flexible tray because of the forming process of the rigid tray. Moreover, incorporating more than one type of film in your package adds to your investment cost.
Clean label products are often priced higher than their “conventional” counterparts. The consumers you are catering to have shown they’re willing to pay a premium price. In fact, a study done by Ingredient Communication research found that 7 out of 10 consumers will pay a higher retail price for foods and beverages made with ingredients they recognize and trust. Therefore, the investment in the more expensive thermoforming and more costly package may yield higher profits because consumers will pay – especially when the packaging adds to their buying experience.
Choose flow wrapping for throughput
Flow wrapping is ideal for high throughput and efficiency.
MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) for flow wrapping works by flushing the gas mixture into a film tube lowering the oxygen level, then the package is sealed. The MAP flow wrapping process tends not to be as effective as thermoforming’s process because of the inability to extract out the oxygen with a vacuum before putting in the gas mixture.
All baked products have oxygen entrapped so over time the oxygen level within the package will increase. The oxygen level has a tendency to increase faster in flow wrapping than thermoforming depending on the product density. The addition of an oxygen scavenger into the package to absorb this increased oxygen level may be something to consider .
Flow wrapping features and benefits:
- Packages at a high speed.
- Lower costs due to only needing one type of film.
- Easier product loading.
- Flexibility for changing product and package sizes without use of tooling.
- Some applications have re-sealable closures and zippers.
What’s better for your clean label product?
Choosing whether to thermoform or flow wrap comes down to cost, throughput, and what your baked product is better suited for.
What is your goal? Is your product considered “premium” and product presentation and protection are the most important? What method of packaging is your clean label product more suited for? How long is your supply chain? Is your product naturally sturdier and won’t break apart in transit?
Navigating the nuances of packaging, including cost, efficiency, product quality, presentation, resiliency and shelf life can be a tricky process. You know your product, but could likely benefit from a little help from some expert guidance on the packaging end.