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Nut bowl offers microwavability and more

Plastic bowl for nuts and snacks is microwavable, reclosable and convenient. Barrier materials extend shelf life, and footed bottom allows stand-up on-shelf display.
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FILED IN:  Package design  > Structural
     

"It's definitely not a 'me-too' package." That's how vice president of marketing Jim Barker at John B. Sanfilippo & Son describes his firm's new Snack 'N Serve Nut Bowl. "It gives us" he continues "at least in the nut category the only ready-to-serve plastic bowl with a footed display feature." Supplier of the bowl and the unusual filling/lidding system that fills it is MAP Systems Intl. (Des Plaines IL).

The package is made from multilayer barrier materials with a hermetically sealed film lidding. Shelf life is one year.

Holding from seven to 12 oz of nuts or nut-and-snack blends the unusual package is now being rolled out nationwide and sells for $2.49 to $5.99.

In addition to the features pointed out by Barker the container comes with a friction-fit dome lid thermoformed of polyethylene terephthalate by Winkler Thermoforming (Santa Fe Springs CA) that lets consumers reclose the package. What's more the bowl is microwavable. That gives consumers the opportunity to experience the sensation of freshly roasted nuts.

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Machinery helps

Despite all the benefits designed into the package says Barker Sanfilippo still aims to offer its product at price points competitive with those from other nut marketers like Planters. Helping make this pricing strategy possible is the MAP Systems MS700 high-speed tray filling/lidding system Sanfilippo uses at its Elk Grove Village IL plant.

Like other comparable systems it nitrogen-flushes the trays to drive out ambient oxygen because the nuts are highly sensitive to oxygen. But unlike most comparable modified-atmosphere lidding systems it doesn't depend on vacuum. Higher filling speeds are achieved because trays don't need to pass through a stationary vacuum chamber as oxygen is evacuated and replaced by nitrogen. This makes the system capable of speeds to 70 bowls/min considerably faster says Barker than vacuum systems.

The same black bowl thermoformed by MAP Systems is used for all six items in the new line. Though MAP Systems is somewhat guarded about precise bowl specs the predominant component in the bowl is polypropylene. It also includes a layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol in a coextrusion laminated to the PP. Another substrate in the tray is a proprietary sealant layer.

Clear lidding is supplied by Clear Lam (Elk Grove Village IL) in one of two varieties. For the most oxygen-sensitive items the lidding includes Mobil's (Pittsford NY) AOH material. It's an oriented PP coated with polyvinyl alcohol to give it high gas barrier properties. The AOH is adhesive-laminated to a 2-mil sealant layer. For products having a higher sugar content which makes them more susceptible to spoilage from moisture the AOH is replaced by polyvinylidene chloride-coated OPP a better moisture barrier. In both cases the lidding is reverse-printed flexographically in six colors.

Fifty-four bowl carriers

The heart of the MS700 tray sealer is a conveyor holding 54 carrier plates arranged in a single lane. Each plate picks up a bowl and then carries it through labeling filling backflushing/lidding and discharge. The carrier then travels beneath the machine back to the beginning for another pass through the same sequence. Filling and lidding stations handle two bowls/cycle.

Sanfilippo's filling operation begins with a floor-mounted hopper leading to a bucket elevator system that brings product to the combination scale mounted overhead. All of this equipment was moved into the Snack 'N Serve Nut Bowl operation from other areas of Sanfilippo's large plant.

The combination scale drops one bowl's worth of product into the upper hopper of the MS700 system. That machine has two chutes down which product drops into either a right or left lower hopper according to which one requires it. From these two hoppers product is loaded directly into the bowls that are carried underneath on the main conveyor. Two bowls are filled simultaneously.

Running directly beneath the hoppers are the black bowls which are automatically loaded from two nested stacks into carrier plates. Just before reaching the filling station pressure-sensitive paper labels carrying nutrition facts and other information in black and white type are applied to bowl bottoms by a Label-Aire (Fullerton CA) blow-on labeler. The lead bowl of each pair is stationary when it receives its label but the trailing bowl gets hit on the fly.

Immediately after labeling and filling bowls pause momentarily in a station where vibration settles the product. Only if the nuts are below flange height can a good seal be made.

Next a Videojet (Wood Dale IL) ink-jet coder marks the bottom label with a date code. Shortly after date coding trays are ready for evacuation and backflush in a 48" long three-sided chamber of plexiglass and stainless steel. The bottom of this chamber remains open. Mounted just above the trays as they are conveyed through this chamber are gas rails. With each pause between forward strokes of the main conveyor nitrogen gas emitted by the rails floods the trays and drives out ambient air. Even though much of the technology is patented MAP Systems still chooses not to describe the gas rail concept in any great detail. But the oxygen content in the Sanfilippo bowl is less than 1% when it exits the machine the company reports.

Sealing

The last station on the MS700 is for sealing. As with filling it's done two-up as two sealing tools on a single mount come down together. Dwell time is 0.75 seconds. Pneumatically driven cutting knives operate independently of the sealing tools. About 200 milliseconds into the sealing cycle the knives stroke down and cut the film from its web. The knives retract the seal heads lift and finished trays are pushed out of the cavities and onto a table for manual application of PET domes. Case packing is also done by hand.

Metal detection is done upstream between the combination scale and the product-dumping hoppers. If metal is detected that charge of product is tracked by the system's software so that when it reaches the heat-seal station that bowl and the two that surround it are automatically rejected.

But it isn't sophisticated software or pneumatically driven cutting knives or vacuumless sealing that impresses Sanfilippo's Barker. "From a marketing standpoint the benefit of this machine is that we can offer a variety of nut items in an attractive package that gives us better shelf presence than tins jars or bags" says Barker. "The idea is for the package to move people first to trial then to repeat and loyalty. It's really unique."

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