Smurfit-Stone Container supplies the auto bottom/auto top carton. AFA Systems Ltd. provides the highly specialized machine that fills folds and overwraps the knocked-down carton. Commercial Packaging guided the project through development and commercialization.
The AFA Systems machine consists of three modules. In the first is a roll-fed form/fill/seal unit that fills corn kernels salt and oil into a paper pouch that looks a lot like competitive microwavable popcorn packages; the paper material includes a microwave susceptor.
These pouches are cut loose and fed to a hopper that feeds the second module that glues pouches into a flat paperboard blank. The blank is folded and glued around the pouch. Finally in the third AFA Systems module a clear overwrap film is applied around the paperboard package. The 120-ga biaxially oriented polypropylene film is from BPX Films.
Currently running at Family Time Snacks is a prototype machine from AFA Systems Ltd. that tops out at 45 cartons/min. A "next-generation" machine says John Little of Commercial Packaging should run at 200/min.
To pop the popcorn in the Perfect Popper the consumer removes the outer wrap pulls clearly marked tabs to erect the auto-bottom/auto-top carton and puts the carton in the microwave for four to five minutes. When the timer goes off a perforated top panel is pulled open and the popcorn is ready to eat.
Two key challenges that have to be overcome by Smurfit-Stone in making the carton revolve around heat and oil. To keep hot oil from leaking through the bottom corners of the carton the converter in effect "plugs" these corners by leaving in each a small web of paperboard that under ordinary carton converting processes would be cut away. And to withstand the intense heat generated as the popcorn is popped in the microwave Smurfit-Stone uses a 16-pt SBS board from International Paper that’s given a fluoro-chemical heat- and grease-resistant treatment at the mill. Graphics are printed offset in five colors plus aqueous coating.
Tested in select Walgreen’s drugstores and Wal-Mart outlets in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana region for just over a year now the Perfect Popper is priced between 84¢ and $1.19 per package.
According to Family Time director of sales and marketing Ron Leskiw Perfect Popper is designed to address three complaints people have about popcorn popped in a bag: that it’s hard to share that it needs a separate bowl and that it’s too oily and messy. Leskiw adds that distribution of Perfect Popper is still in a field test phase. But when the wraps come off of the second-generation packaging machine says Leskiw broader penetration of the marketplace will follow.