The global market for ramen, a convenient vehicle for Southeast Asian instant noodles, continues to expand, according to Instant Noodles Market 2018 Global Share, Trend, Segmentation and Forecast to 2023 by Market Watch. But as today’s ultra-busy consumers increasingly focus on heathier and fresher foods, traditional ramen products, inexpensive but highly processed and far from fresh, fall short. In fact, outside of a recent resurgence in trendy foodservice settings, ramen is most often perceived as cheap, processed college dorm-room eats.
Pearson Foods Corporation is launching a sophisticated new convenience ramen meal concept that bucks the cheap and processed stigma. This new Fresh Ramen line features grab-and-go bowls filled with nutritious, fresh-cut vegetables and fresh ramen noodles with a variety of savory broth seasonings.
“The project came out of the growing trend for consumers seeking more grab-and-go meal replacement, heat-and-eat options, and also from the consumers' perspective that they're looking for more flavorful options, more unique options for meal replacement, and ethnic options,” says Ruta Pearson, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Pearson Foods Corporation.
Only one other element was needed to fully support the new brand: a distinctive, upscale, and sustainable package, something unique that would raise the bar on shelf appeal.
“To literally show consumers how much better Fresh Ramen is than center-of-store brands, we needed a different kind of packaging than the usual paperboard and opaque foam,” Pearson says. “We wanted a stylish, crystal-clear ramen bowl to showcase our fresh ingredients and give customers confidence in the quality and freshness. At the same time, the bowl had to be microwaveable, heat resistant for fast and easy preparation, and recyclable. Overall, the packaging and design had to be eye-catching, unique, and provide a variety of merchandizing options for our retail produce and deli customers. This is definitely not your college ramen.”
Pearson brought in Display Pack, a food packaging manufacturer, to design the custom ramen bowl and to recommend the material to be used. Display Pack identified long-time partner Milliken & Company and its NX™ UltraClear polypropylene (PP) for the development of the bowl.
The NX™ UltraClear PP material was the ideal choice for the new Fresh Ramen grab-and-go bowl. It’s engineered to handle hot-fill applications and microwaving, which gives consumers the choice of adding very hot water to the ingredients or combining them with room-temperature water and then heating the mixture in the microwave. The versatile Milliken material is also well suited for low-temperature use, which is important because Fresh Ramen products must be kept refrigerated.
An added benefit is that the NX UltraClear polypropylene offers better environmental performance than other plastics used in single-use packaging. It is easily recycled (resin code 5), which is important to the environmentally minded, especially young adults who place a high value on sustainable product packaging.
Within the bowl are three film pouches—one for the fresh, never frozen noodles, another for the fresh-cut vegetables, and a third vertically formed, filled, and sealed broth pouch.
The bowl’s closure currently consists of a snap-top, easy-open lid of the same PP material. A paperboard belly band, printed by Foremost Graphics and delivered as die-cut blanks, is manually formed using tabs and slits—no glue is required—and placed over the bowl.
Whimsical, but practical
Following material selection, Display Pack’s packaging engineering team worked on the bowl design. To convey the aesthetics of traditional ceramic ramen bowls, they incorporated a pedestal and decorated the sidewalls with graceful, wavy lines reminiscent of the noodles themselves.
“We aimed to design a beautiful, functional container with a hint of playfulness – the noodle motif – to deliver a unique brand experience during the whole process of choosing, preparing and enjoying the Fresh Ramen products,” said Hope Ramseyer, Marketing Manager, Display Pack. “The crystal-clear, custom packaging and Pearson’s fresh ingredients elevate ramen from a quick meal to an occasion.”
The team also had practical goals in mind. One was designing the bowls so they could be nested and stacked tightly together to expedite shipping, avoid damage and minimize storage requirements. Another was meeting Pearson’s tight deadline for its Fresh Ramen launch in supermarkets, convenience stores and universities.
Display Pack’s in-house tool and die shop is well-versed in forming this type of polypropylene. Milliken offered their expertise in helping troubleshoot any thermoforming issues, but there were few. Forming was done on a SencorpWhite 2500 Ultra thermoformer, and prototyping was done relatively quickly, from iteration to production on Display Pack’s manufacturing floor in less than six weeks.
“Hats off to Display Pack and Milliken because truly it was the collaborative effort that really defined the success of this project,” Pearson added. “The end user, the manufacturer, and the manufacturing and materials specialist coming together and working as closely as we did together, I think is what really made this successful.”
Pearson’s Fresh Ramen line comprises five varieties: Sesame, Ginger, Miso, Pork and Chicken. The products will be available in stores in the United States beginning late summer 2019. They will retail for between $4.99 and $5.99, and will be positioned as fresh, refrigerated products refrigerated products in grocery store deli and produce departments.