A resealable stand-up pouch is going to the dogs, and that’s a good thing for Merrick Petfoods, Inc., the Hereford, TX, maker of premium-quality pet food that contains real meat and all-natural ingredients. Last year, the company replaced a multiwall bag with a stand-up pouch for seven varieties of its 1.5-kg (3.31-lb) Merrick-brand dry dog food. The resealability comes from a low-density polyethylene zipper from Presto Products (Appleton, WI).
The dry dog food products are sold primarily to veterinarians in Europe, who “came to us requesting this kind of package,” recalls company president Garth Merrick. He notes, “we’re planning to build up sales of the dog food in the same package to pet stores in the United States.” The company markets other pet edibles through U.S. grocery stores and mass merchandisers under the Beef’n More brand name.
The packaging switch for the 1.5-kg dog food was also made, says Merrick, “because we wanted a more presentable package that would be more convenient for our customers. We had already produced a stand-up pouch for pet treats, and we saw how well customers responded to that pack.”
The previous multiwall bags for these dog food varieties weren’t resealable. “And,” Merrick adds, “if the multiwall bag gets wet, the product could become moldy.”
Looking at the economics of the change, Merrick admits that the materials for the pouch are a little costlier, “but we figured in the long run it would make our product more desirable, and the sales would offset the additional costs.” The film is an adhesive lamination of 48-ga polyester, reverse-printed flexographically in six colors, and a 4-mil LDPE sealant layer.
Not only did the company understand the importance of packaging, it also was savvy enough to trust its suppliers to bring the package to fruition. “We told our vendors what we wanted and they came up with the structure we needed,” Merrick comments. Shelf life is “at least a year,” he says.
Several companies are involved in supplying the premade pouches that Merrick fills and seals in-house. For the pet foods, the pouch material is converted by Star Packaging (College Park, GA).
Star extrudes the proprietary sealant layer in-house through its blown film division, Tara Plastics (Forest Park, GA). The structure is said to deliver excellent laminating characteristics at low temperatures. Additionally, the structure delivers added stiffness. The outer high-gloss film layer, from different vendors, provides shine, as well as puncture- and tear-resistance.
Zipper is key
After printing the film, Star laminates the two webs before forming the material into a 9”-wide x 14”-high pouch. That’s done on a new pouch making machine from Proven Designs (Macedon, NY). The machine forms the 4” gusseted bottom, then heat seals the male half of the LDPE zipper to the inside of either the front or back panel. The female portion of the zipper profile is heat sealed to the other inside panel.
During this process, the zipper halves interlock. So, a special device on the Proven Designs machine reopens the zipper to allow Merrick to fill the bags. That’s done after the machine heat seals the two vertical side edges to form the pouch.
Star recommended that Merrick use Presto’s Fresh-Lock®-style 106 zipper for the pack. The zipper includes patented sealant ribs on the backside of the zipper’s flange to improve its sealability to the film at lower temperatures. Lower temperatures help minimize film distortion and allow faster pouch-forming speeds. A tear notch above the zipper allows the user to open the stand-up pouch.
Sales are up
Star Packaging ships zippered pouches to Merrick’s Hereford facility in wicketed bundles. Pouches are filled semi-automatically, then the tops of the filled pouches are heat sealed before 10 pouches are bundled into a heavy-duty plastic “baler bag.”
Palletized baler bags are exported to Europe where they’re sold in Italy, Greece, Switzerland, and Austria. “And we’re working on [selling the product] in other countries,” Merrick says. He says that in Europe, “it’s too early to say for sure if [the packaging change] has resulted in the increase in sales that we hoped for, but we think it has.”
Merrick is also considering the stand-up pouch for other dog food products. “The pouch has given us a nice presentation, and we’re always looking for other products where we can use the stand-up pouch to help push them into the U.S. market where we’re just a little bump on a log compared to the big boys,” he acknowledges.
Merrick reportedly is working with Star Packaging and Presto Products to evaluate the use of zippered pouches for 8-, 10-, and 20-lb product sizes, determining what zipper, laminate, and pouch designs will be necessary to accommodate the heavier products.
Regardless of the product size, the ability to reseal the packs will again be the key packaging focus. “The convenience of the zipper is huge,” Merrick states. Combined with quality product, it’s that packaging convenience that Merrick hopes will help the company take a competitive bite out of the big dogs in the U.S. dog food market. —JB