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France embraces the 'box'

Technically speaking, it’s not a box at all, at least not in the packaging parlance of North America. Call it what you will, French consumers are nuts about this packaging concept.
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FILED IN:  Package design  > Structural
     

When it comes to ready meals packaging, France is in the grips of a convenience craze. A “box” concept has taken off, and among the newest entries into this category is the Choucroute Box from French food manufacturer Stoeffler. Contents are traditional sauerkraut with cabbage, sausage, bacon, and potatoes. But everything is cut into small pieces so that the consumer doesn’t need a knife or a surface on which to cut. An added convenience bonus is the fork included in the package, which makes the dish ready to eat once it’s been microwaved.

“There’s a huge market in France for these boxes,” says Isabelle Angot, product manager at Stoeffler. The box concept, she explains, goes beyond the ready meals that have grown increasingly popular over the past 10 years or so. What makes the box so different is that it’s shaped differently than the oh-so-familiar tray that most ready meals are in.

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“The box format is like the next step beyond the tray,” says Angot. “You can hold it in one hand, standing or sitting, and because it comes with a fork, it’s easy to eat it in any setting once it’s been heated in a microwave oven.”

Also setting the Choucrote box apart is that it doesn’t contain pasta, which so many ready meals do.

“Consumers want a wider selection of everyday dishes in convenience packaging,” says Angot. “So we decided to launch our best seller in a box to create diversity within the category and to satisfy the needs of our customer for practical solutions.”

Now in its 18th year, Stoeffler’s entire line of products contains nothing but ready meals. The firm has not abandoned Choucrote in a tray with flexible film lidding, the single-serve format that holds about 380 g. The box, with 300 g inside, is offered as an alternative. Both retail for about the same, says Angot, about $3.00. Refrigerated shelf life is the same for both formats: 21 days.

Stoeffler’s “box” isn’t really, technically, a box at all. It’s a 3” deep thermoformed polypropylene container from Faerchplast that fits into a paperboard outer sleeve. Product contents are filled semiautomatically, with the sausage being placed into the tray by hand. A clear film lidding is heat-sealed to the flange of the PP container. Operators place the PP container into the paperboard sleeve by hand and close the flaps with a pressure-sensitive label.

And what would a dedicated Frenchman have to say about putting French food into such a package? “Well, the recipe is still a traditional French recipe for a traditional French favorite,” says Angot. “All we’ve changed is the way in which the product is consumed. In the future, we’ll be looking at other products to develop in the same type of packaging.” 

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