Microwave susceptor technology creates a new market for two pork rind producers, as family-owned Grandad's and food exporter Alamilla and Associates try their hands at microwavable pork rinds.
By Marci Merola, Associate Editor
For Ellenwood GA-based Grandad's extending its bacon-rind snack into a microwavable product line made perfect sense. After all most would agree that rinds are best when eaten warm and fresh from the cooker-and a microwavable version lets consumers do just that. Grandad's microwavable bacon rinds were introduced to grocery and convenience stores in the Southeast last November. For Miami FL-based food exporter Alamilla and Associates the decision to introduce a microwavable pork rind was based on president Carlos Alamilla's wish to develop a low-fat product. Microwaving instead of deep frying pork rinds reduces fat content about 70% making them a healthier choice than potato chips. Alamilla's product was introduced last August. Both offerings are in flexible pouches designed for sale in grocery and convenience stores. The basis of the package technology is the same: like microwavable popcorn microwavable pork rinds rely on microwave susceptors which consist of patterned metallized film laminated to other films or to paperboard. This metallized film acts as a heat conductor heating the food and causing it to crisp or pop like popcorn. The trick then is to control the amount and the temperature of the metallization in a given package thereby controlling the cooking process. Bacon-not pork Bacon rinds according to Frank Bullock president of Grandad's differ from pork rinds in seasonings the cooking process used and the area from which the skin is taken. This affects not only the product but the amount of heat-and type of susceptor-necessary to achieve a properly cooked product. Printpack's (Atlanta GA) microwave susceptor system best suited Grandad's needs. "It provided the most consistent product expansion" claims Mike Willis director of sales for Grandad's. "That's very critical for this type of product." "Because of the different fat content of the products they cook differently" explains Steve Hermann product manager of microwave packaging for Printpack. "How you process it additives used-they all have an effect on how the product cooks and how it tastes. There's a lot you can do with these rinds." Package shape was also a factor: "We wanted to use a pillow-style bag as opposed to one that's overwrapped and folded" says Willis. "From a manufacturing standpoint it's so much easier. We can run it on a standard vertical form/fill/seal and get high speeds. This package helps us keep our costs down-and it helps lower our customers' cost." The product is said to fill the bag completely when popped. Fused susceptors The key to Printpack's susceptor film is Advanced Deposition Technologies' (Taunton MA) patented Accu-Crisp® fused susceptor technology in which microwave susceptors burn out when they reach a certain temperature. In a process called "patterned metallized printing" a metallized pattern is created. This consists of small individual metallized squares with nonmetallized borders at the corners that resemble corner brackets. The opening or gap between the nonmetallized brackets forms the fuse area linking one square to the next. Glenn Walters president of A.D. Tech explains: "Much like an electrical fuse if too much microwave current passes through that fuse area it will break deactivating the heat-generating area. It's a material that self-optimizes itself depending on the conditions of the microwave. It helps prevent fires and excess charring or burning caused by different oven configurations." The flexible bag starts with Printpack's 70-ga SigmaPak(TM) polyester film. It's sent to A.D. Tech where it is metallized. It's then shipped back to Printpack where a 30# super calendared pouch paper flexo-printed by Printpack in two colors is extrusion laminated to the susceptor film with a proprietary resin. Printpack sends rolls of this laminate to Grandad's where it runs on the company's new Woodman (Decatur GA) Polaris II form/fill/seal machine purchased specifically for this application. "We're getting about 60 to 70 bags per minute" says Willis. "It's a very efficient operation." Currently grocery and convenience stores in the Southeast carry Grandad's although both national and international expansion is expected. Suggested retail price for the 2-oz package is $1.49. Chicharrones Primarily an exporter of American products to Central and South America a microwavable pork rind was Alamilla's first attempt at marketing its own product. Named for the Spanish word for deep fried pork rinds chicharrones Cha Cha Rones(TM) are available in two varieties regular and picante flavored. The company turned to Lima OH-based pork rind snack manufacturer Rudolph Foods to help develop its product. Both Rudolph and Alamilla decided to work with Phoenix Packaging (Maple Grove MN). "Phoenix's new technology allows our product to cook right" says Colin Clark of Alamilla. Rich Rudolph executive vp of sales and marketing for Rudolph Foods agrees: "We found Phoenix willing to help us develop a package that would work. We tested many different formats before finding one that would cook our rinds properly." "What's special about pork rinds" says Eric Jackson vp of operations at Phoenix "is that they burn so easily. A full susceptor provides way too much heat." As with Grandad's pack a pillow-style bag was judged best at Rudolph's. Holding only 1.8-oz the bag is smaller than Grandad's. Similarly the bag is said to be full when popped. Suggested retail of the product is $1.19. Demetallization Phoenix Packaging's method of controlling heat is found in a patented process called "patterned demetallization." This process begins with a fully metallized sheet of film that is stripped of its metal in various areas reducing the heat conducting capability. But even that process proved too powerful: "We used a susceptor patch on the package but even that was too hot" says Jackson "so we had to remove some of the metal within the patch." Madico (Woburn MA) supplies Phoenix with full webs of metallized film. Phoenix then applies a proprietary solution to the film in a process similar to gravure printing creating specific patterns. The film is then put through a wash removing both the solution and the metal beneath it. What remains is a patterned piece of partially demetallized film. For Cha Cha Rones Phoenix uses a checkerboard-type pattern. Next that film is die-cut into 4.5" x 6" patches laminated between two sheets of greaseproof paper and printed flexographically in one pass. The patch size was the amount determined by Phoenix necessary for the product to cook correctly. Rolls of this lamination are shipped to Rudolph Foods. "We run these on a form/fill/seal machine" says Rudolph. "We pack about 50 to 60 bags per minute." Bags are then manually inspected hand-packed into cartons and sent back to Alamilla where they're warehoused. Cha Cha Rones are now sold in Miami Los Angeles and Chicago and there are plans to expand. It's also being exported to Sweden Denmark and parts of Central and South America.