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Article | April 30, 1998
Tabletop filler boosts soups
Since a tabletop filler was installed last December, restaurant Barnum & Bagel is enjoying solid growth in supermarket sales of its frozen soups in PP tubs and lids
For 20 years Barnum & Bagel restaurant has been a popular destination in Skokie IL. Now management has begun pushing product "out the back door" as the saying goes by coming up with a line of prepackaged soups sold in supermarket freezer cases. Helping in a big way is a semi-automatic piston filler from World Cup Packaging (South Beloit IL) installed last December.
"We can do three times the volume we were producing before when we relied on hand ladling" says the restaurant's owner Mike Osher. "The World Cup people have been great in getting us going too. I met them at Pack Expo where I visited about six or seven booths having similar equipment. This turned out to be the machine we needed."
Wholesaling at Barnum & Bagel started two years ago February when restaurant personnel would cook package freeze and hand deliver polypropylene tubs of soup to just two nearby supermarkets. "It wasn't long before the two stores accounted for 1 soup packs per week" says Osher "so we knew we were onto something. It's not aimed at whole families really but it's ideal for couples empty nesters or single-person households."
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As Osher prepared to expand the soup program he also upgraded the packaging-the labels in particular. Instead of a small spot label with little shelf appeal at all he opted for high-impact glossy labels not only for the front and back but also on the lid. That means the brand name is always prominently displayed. If the containers are stacked in the traditional freezer chest the label on the lid performs billboard duties. In a vertical freezer cabinet with a glass door the sidewall labels are responsible for catching the consumer's eye.
Supplied by Pamco (Des Plaines IL) the pressure-sensitive paper labels are printed flexo in four or five colors. Adhesive-laminated over the paper stock is a 1-mil clear PP for protection and added gloss.
While labeling has changed for the better the PP cups have been a constant. Supplied by Fabri-Kal (Kalamazoo MI) they stand up to hot soup filled in the 140integral range they don't crack under freezing conditions and their microwavability means consumers can heat their soup right in the tub. "The soup is ready in just 10 minutes straight from the freezer" says Osher.
Barnum & Bagel's frozen soups began to really take off about a year ago when a specialty distributor started carrying them. Now they're available for $1.99 each in select markets like Minneapolis and Spokane as well as in supermarkets surrounding the suburban Chicago restaurant.
This growth would have been out of the question without the addition of the World Cup piston filler. It's run by a single worker in a small room that was added to the back of the restaurant specifically for packaging the soup. Before filling the worker applies labels to cups and lids. He then places the food-grade hose of the piston filler into a 20-gal pot of freshly cooked soup that has been partially chilled but still hovers in the 140integral range.
Filling is a simple matter of placing a tub beneath the spout and depressing the pneumatically operated system's foot-switch activator. This causes the piston in the product barrel to stroke down and send product out of the product barrel through the filling valve and into the waiting tub. When the piston's stroke is complete it strokes back up and because the valve has rotated from a dispense position to a fill position soup is sucked up into the product barrel for the next cycle.
"Accuracy is great with chicken soups" says Osher. "With the more viscous split pea or beef barley it's a little less precise but it's easy enough to use a pitcher to top off a tray of filled tubs."
Lids are applied by hand and the trays of filled tubs are racked and wheeled into a walk-in freezer. On the following day the tubs are packed 12 per shipper and the shippers taped shut. About every two or three days Barnum & Bagel's frozen food distributor picks up the cases and moves the soups out into the marketplace.
The size of that marketplace could expand considerably next October or so if Osher's plan for larger plastic tubs aimed at the club store trade comes to fruition.
"We almost had the larger format ready last winter but we think it's going to happen this winter" says Osher. "It's an interesting package too. We'll put three 1-quart containers similar to our current container except bigger in a paperboard sleeve. Then four sleeves will go into a case. The whole case goes onto the shelf in the warehouse club freezer. You open up the side of the case and you've got four sleeves showing. The consumer reaches in and buys as many sleeves as he wants."
The World Cup filler will handle the 1-qt containers as easily as it does the 16-oz tubs filled currently so that part of the operation won't have to change. One thing that Osher is exploring however is direct printing of his tubs and lids to cut costs.
And how does he feel about being a wholesaler now in addition to being a foodservice operator? "It's a breeze" says Osher. "All we do is make soup."
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