One area where visible packaging advances have been accelerating of late is fresh-cut produce. Because packaging is redefining consumers' expectations in these products we expect Pack Expo to draw a larger-than-usual number of fresh-cut produce processors this year. With the popularity and variety of washed cut and tossed salads salad "kits" and veggie-based fresh meals growing processors are coming to Pack Expo to upgrade their lines. They're moving from manually filled premade bags to automated form/fill/seal systems. They're trading in their dedicated intermittent-motion tray packaging rigs for quick-changing deposit/seal or thermoform/fill/seal systems that handle a broad range of salad ingredients dressings and flatware. Fresh-cut fruit processors whose packaging system requirements differ from those of their fresh veggie counterparts will also be looking for production solutions and new ideas at Pack Expo. As elsewhere produce processors monitor consumer product preferences and purchasing patterns to un-earth market niches and anticipate "the next wave in demand." Under those circumstances pioneering consumer goods packages often represent "works in progress" with ample opportunities for automating or streamlining the manufacturing process as consumer demand accelerates. The new Del Monte Fresh peeled Hawaiian pineapple package is a good example. The package a cylindrical injection-molded polypropylene cup developed by the Santa Ana CA-based Tri-Plas operations of Berry Plastics Inc. (Evansville IN) replaces pre-made bags in which the fruit was previously marketed. The pineapple's still manually packed. But in Honolulu where the cups are being filled a membrane-sealing overcap lidding unit from Ampak Engineering (Hayward CA) ensures the integrity of the lids so the refrigerated cups can be air shipped in unpressurized cargo holds. Cups have a 10- to 12-day shelf life and are already being credited with a 300% boost in sales. But just in case Del Monte wants to extend the shelf life of its fresh pineapple (to reach more distant markets for instance) its new cup lidding system is engineered to gas flush the containers. And if Del Monte wants to automate its pineapple filling they'll find system builders who can handle the challenge at Pack Expo. Chi-Chi's Salsa Snacker from Hormel Foods Corp. (Austin MN) is another evolving package with a potential Pack Expo connection--this one in the multipacking sector. Salsa Snackers debuted earlier this year in hot-filled 4-oz clear plastic cups multipacked four to a paperboard sleeve. The personal-serving cups are a dramatic alternative to the multiple-use glass jars used elsewhere in the category. Hormel packs Chi-Chi's Salsa Snackers in solid-phase pressure-formed polypropylene/EVOH cups from Alltrista Corp. (Muncie IN). Automatically filled and sealed with peel-off aluminum membranes the cups are still being hand-packed in paperboard sleeves from James River Corp. (Milford OH). The first multipacks on the market used paperboard shims to keep the cups securely in place. Later runs eliminated the shims. If the product continues to sell well manual multipacking will be a thing of the past too replaced perhaps with an automated system first seen at Pack Expo 96. It's not hard to find other examples of "work-in-progress" containers in other fields that have profited by past Pack Expos or will continue to evolve as a result of discoveries made at Pack Expo 96. Take the new 750-mL and 1.75-L PET liquor bottles at Jim Beam Brands Co. Frankfort KY for instance. Blow molded by Johnson Controls (Manchester MI) the bottles incorporate a clearly visible pattern of keystones embossed around their shoulders that does more than set the containers apart on the shelf. The pattern also is designed to "significantly improve the bottles' performance in terms of labeling capping filling and top-load capability" says Kerry Silvers project engineer at Johnson Controls. Such happy synergy between Jim Beam's container design and the performance of its packaging equipment is what every Pack Expo is all about. And packagers striving for continuous improvement of their packaging operations will find no shortage of productivity-boosting and profit-enhancing ideas at Pack Expo 96. Ben Miyares is editor and publisher of the new newsletter Packaging Management. He may be reached at 31408 Narragansett Lane Bay Village OH 44140. Telephone: 216/892-0998; Fax: 216/892-0208; e-mail: email@example.com.