US-based MeadWestvaco (MWV) has launched SmartFare, a package for use in chilled ready meals (CRMs) intended to improve upon conventional CPET trays. Currently available to UK food customers, the container was engineered with significant consumer input.
Keeping pace with food
Diane Teer, chief marketing and innovation officer of global food and beverage for MWV, spoke to FoodProductionDaily about the package, and how advancement in CRM packaging must keep up with improvements in the food itself.
“Food manufacturers have invested heavily in the development of improved ingredient transparency and great tasting new recipes over the years, but packaging hasn’t kept pace,” she said. “Consumer research clearly suggests we have a shopper and consumer inspired solution that will help our customers unlock the full value of their investment by addressing consumer needs.”
SmartFare is composed of a paperboard outer shell, lined with a thin food barrier by a proprietary process designed to enhance package strength. The paperboard exterior can be printed with a range of design for branding purposes, and it reportedly can be heated in the oven or microwave, with the outer shell remaining cool for ease of serving or eating.
Teer said the packaging’s construction and branding potential can enhance the consumer experience, and sustainable profile.
“SmartFare looks and feels more like crockery, so it helps the meal seem more authentic,” Teer said. “It is made from renewable resources and is widely recyclable, a key requirement for many retailers nowadays; most CPET trays cannot compete on sustainability.”
The package is intended to be easily integrated into a food processing operation’s current lines, with minimal tooling investment.
Teer said the CRM market has performed better in recent years than frozen meals.
“CRMs are perceived as higher-quality products that deliver a more authentic experience than their frozen counterparts,” she said. “Broadly, the category has faced a number of headwinds over the last several years; according to the Kantar World Panel, the latest figures show only a 2.8% value growth.”
She added consumers around the globe are clamoring for health, wellness, freshness, and convenience benefits from their food products; these demands, she said, offer up opportunity for CRM producers and packagers.
“These trends show there is a demand for chilled ready meals, which consumers view as a more convenient alternative to takeaway, restaurant dining and home-cooked meals,” she said.
Teer claims the black CPET trays commonly housing CRMs are holding the market back.
“Until the launch of SmartFare, the prepared food industry was primarily focused on packaging that could only transport food from the oven to the table—with this type of solution, the only branding opportunity becomes obsolete once the tray sleeves are removed,” she said.
SmartFare launched in the UK in May 2014. Prior to its English debut, the package was subjected to deep consumer and retail studies.
“MWV developed SmartFare by digging deep into the new consumer reality for this category,” Teer told FPD. “We walked the stores, talked to our retail partners, met with consumers, and quantitatively tested our hypothesis.”
Out of the consumer study emerged four values the shoppers held dear: convenience, variety, value, and a factor called “the experience."
“Convenience, variety, and value seemed to be hitting the mark, but the experience was lacking,” Teer said. “Consumers said this experience should inspire and offer a sense of exploration, adventure and excitement at the end of a hard day—an experience that does not exist with the black CPET tray.”
The SmartFare packaging, Teer reported, stirred positive responses from consumers, such as curiosity, interest, surprise, delight, and joy.
“These factors combined can drive new eating occasions and lead to increased penetration and frequency for the category,” she said.
In addition to the consumer testing, MWV reportedly put SmartFare to production tests. The containers were subjected to chilling, freezing, and cooking tests at various CRM facilities in the UK. In addition, the test packs went through a 5,000-tray trial run through manufacturing, logistics, and retail shelves.
Teer told FPD while the SmartFare is not on retail shelves to date, MWV is in talks with a number of food firms interested in launching products in the packaging.