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Contract packer 'zips' into stand-up pouches

Customers like Dole help contract packer California Redi-Date grow its stand-up pouch business. Resealable zippers work well with pouch-making equipment and provide easy opening and reclosing.
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As U.S. consumers continue to embrace the stand-up pouch manufacturers like Dole Packaged Foods take notice. About two years ago the Westlake Village CA company decided to repack its dates from bag-in-box packages to resealable stand-up pouches. So Dole and other well-known dried fruit and nut companies convinced contract packager California Redi-Date (CRD) to move in the same direction.

Late in ’98 the Thermal CA-based CP did so investing in a Laudenberg FBM 20 horizontal form/fill/seal machine from Profile Packaging (Sarasota FL). Pouches made on the machine are resealable thanks to Fresh-Lock® Style 113 zipper material from Presto Products (Appleton WI).

The hf/f/s equipment operates in CRD’s 125 sq’ building in Thermal CA. The structure is one of five on a 42-acre site CRD purchased from Dole in 1997 when Dole sold its dried fruit and nut operation to CRD.

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“We sold the plant to California Redi-Date and encouraged them to move in this [the stand-up pouch] direction” recalls Scott Campbell a logistics representative with Dole. “They made the investment in the technology and equipment and we’ve partnered with them and built a very strong relationship” he says.

CRD packs about 10 different Dole products including raisins prunes and dates in packages ranging from 5 oz to 3 ½ lb. These are sold at retail outlets throughout the U.S. “The pouches offer us improved graphics and increased consumer marketability” Campbell says. “And though we deal with a variety of contract packagers in North America California Redi-Date was significant for first getting us into the stand-up pouch with our dried fruit and nut line. Before that we were in bag-in-box packages.”

Asked about the economics of the switch Cambell says he prefers not to reveal specifics. However he says “with the pouches there’s a slight improvement in that we no longer have to buy a carton and an inner bag.”

Dole specifies film for its pouch-packed product. In this instance rollstock is supplied by Totai America (Torrance CA) and Printpack (Atlanta GA). According to CRD both vendors provide a 3.6-mil adhesive lamination of 2-mil linear low-density polyethylene sealant layer and 1.6-mil oriented polypropylene. The outer layer is reverse-printed in seven or eight colors. CRD says Totai gravure-prints the OPP while Printpack flexo-prints it.

Zipper works well

Consumers reportedly find the pouches convenient in large part due to the resealable zipper. The 113 zipper that CRD uses for the Dole packages has an extra-wide offset flange that’s said to have an increased gripping area to make it easier to open. And a single-zipper channel permits secure closing to keep product as fresh as possible after the consumer opens the pouch. The zipper also benefits CRD.

“We learned that the Fresh-Lock zipper runs well on the Laudenberg equipment” explains Jack Stutz CRD’s president. “We wanted a zipper that had been on the market and had been proven for stand-up pouch applications.” Now that the CP has used the zipper Stutz hasn’t been disappointed. “The zipper is probably the easiest part of the whole line. With everything there is to consider in a contract-packaging operation it’s refreshing not to have to worry about the zipper.”

The LDPE zipper is designed specifically for hf/f/s equipment. It uses patented sealant ribs that are said to seal well to various films. According to Presto the ribs minimize leakage and permit lower sealing temperatures which reduce distortion of the film. Lower sealing temperatures allow an hf/f/s line to run at faster speeds.

“For us production speeds are driven primarily by the product being packaged. It depends on how fast the product can move through the weighing system” explains Brian Miller who was CRD’s vice president of operations and contract packaging at the time of Packaging World’s interview. He now serves as a consultant.

CRD often runs pouches at 70/min in the “simplex” mode 140/min in “duplex” mode. In simplex mode the machine fills one larger pack at a time; in duplex it accommodates two smaller pouches simultaneously. The FBM 20 produces pouches up to 11 7/8”Wx 13 7/8”H with a 6” gusset in the simplex mode. Duplex pouches can measure up to 5 7/8”Wx 12”H with a 3 ½” gusset.

Another Presto zipper applied on a Laudenberg FBM 20 was employed successfully at Northfield MN-based Ryt-way Industries (see PW Jan. ’99 p. 18 or packworld.com/go/rytway).

Pouches make their mark

The stand-up pouches helped Dole net a 7% increase in category sales in the first year that package configuration was sold. “While packaging isn’t the only marketing element contributing to the increase in sales of dates it’s definitely a key factor” says Elaine Leung senior marketing manager at Dole. In the past year consumers have seen several new stand-up pouches for Dole items such as CinnaRaisins®. As photos accompanying this article attest Dole’s new signature blue graphics create a fresh contemporary shelf appeal.

Consumers have responded to the pack. “The resealability is a key factor plus it offers efficient storage and disposal since the bag collapses as the product is used” she notes. “A lot of our packaging for dried fruit is moving to resealable stand-up pouches with the Fresh-Lock zipper. Consumers tell us they really like this format compared to competitive packages” such as BIB or canisters.

Planning for more

From January through July CRD runs the FBM 20 two shifts/day five days/week. During the busy season of August through December the equipment runs around the clock seven days a week with periodic breaks for cleaning and maintenance. Stutz says the machine produces about 12 million pouches a year accounting for about 18 million lb of product. “The more it runs the quicker our payback” says CRD’s Stutz who says payback on the FBM 20 will be 18 months.

He tells PW that Dole represents about 20% of the business on the line. The CP also counts Sunsweet Del Monte and Valley Fig Growers among its customers. It packs dates under its own Calavo and Dromedary brand names and uses the machine for macadamia nuts for Mauna Loa and MacFarms of Hawaii. The CP has also completed test runs of dried tomatoes and fruits snacks nuts and candy. Stutz points out that club stores represent a strong potential sales avenue especially “as they put pressure on a lot of their suppliers to go to the stand-up pouch.”

Looking back Stutz says “Dole opened up a window of opportunity with its decision to transition its date packs and we acted on it. Fortunately we’re a small enough company that decisions can be made and implemented quickly. It proved to be the right move for us. The start-up of our pouch line has exceeded all of our expectations. And we don’t see anything but continued growth on the horizon.”

CRD is negotiating with several companies that will not only fill up the remaining operating time available on the FBM 20 but also necessitate purchasing another Laudenberg machine (see story p. 86). “The interest in the stand-up pouches is so serious that we’re on pins and needles” says Stutz. “If 25 percent of those companies commit [to work with CRD] then life’s great and we get another line and keep rolling. If 50 percent sign orders we’ve got some problems” he admits. “If 75 percent commit we’ll be losing sleep at night.” Judging by Stutz’s tone of voice it’s a dilemma California Redi-Date is eager to face.

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