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EatingWell brings VSP frozen entrées to the table

Using vacuum skin packaging, new EatingWell frozen entrées deliver preservative-free recipes and visual transparency to the fresh ingredients in the freezer section.

Photography of the prepared, plated food cleverly surrounds the die-cut, offering visibility to the product.
Photography of the prepared, plated food cleverly surrounds the die-cut, offering visibility to the product.

Consumers are looking for transparency in retail food offerings—in product ingredients, as well as in packaging. A new line of healthy frozen entrées delivers both, through the use of vacuum skin packaging (VSP).

In August 2016, media and marketing company Meredith Corp., in partnership with frozen food company Bellisio Foods, introduced a line of eight frozen microwavable entrées under the EatingWell brand. The meals contain no preservatives, MSG, hydrogenated oils, or artificial flavors or colors, and use beef, pork, and chicken raised without antibiotics, along with whole grains.

According to Jeff Tuttle, Senior Vice President, New Brands & Innovation for Bellisio, the product launch is part of Meredith’s strategy to expand its media brands to new channels, where the opportunity and brand fit are appropriate and compelling. The brand strategy for the entrée line was to deliver recipes that would meet the better-for-you parameters of the EatingWell brand, while delivering great taste and ingredient sourcing.

To deliver a fresher, preservative-free product, Bellisio selected a frozen format. However, in order to allow consumers to see the high-quality ingredients in the EatingWell entrée on-shelf, it needed to find a packaging system that would resist frosting and freezer burn by removing the majority of the package’s headspace.

Bellisio was also looking for a format that would allow for the use of a low-profile plate that would duplicate for consumers the experience of bringing a premium, authentic entrée to their table. “In addition, the package system had to give a quality experience after heating in a microwave oven, where the food is gently steamed in the doming of the film,” says Tuttle.

To hit these targets, Bellisio selected VSP technology. The package consists of a square, black, recyclable CPET tray covered with a proprietary film construction from Bemis that adheres to all open areas of the tray and tightly drapes around the food. To package the product, Bellisio purchased a Multivac T850 automatic tray sealer customized for the application. Bellisio then refined and modified the machine, based on knowledge gained during startup, says Matt Lorence, Packaging Technology Manager for the company.

In addition to providing visibility to the product and allowing for a preservative-free recipe, VSP also uses a film-venting technology that lets surplus moisture leave the system. “This prevents excess moisture within the meal, which can make the food more watery and soft,” explains Lorence.

The outside carton, offset-printed in six colors plus an aqueous coating by Graphic Packaging Intl., features a large, die-cut window on the front panel that provides a clear view of the entrée. Photography of the prepared, plated food cleverly surrounds the die-cut, with the food inside completing the image. Says Tuttle, “Our EatingWell brand partners had certain standards for the look and feel of the design, as well as the presentation of the logo.”

Elements of the design include the following:

  • Transparency of “what’s in the box,” with a window showing the vacuum-sealed product inside, allowing the food to speak for itself
  • A real and natural look, including a wood-grain background, handwritten fonts, familiar and informal language, and close-in food photography
  • Attention to the product freshness benefit from vacuum sealing, highlighted with “Fresh-Seal™” call-outs on the front and back of the package
  • The use of bright colors to differentiate and accentuate the varieties
  • Nutritional benefit call-outs consisting of round “buttons” on the front of package
  • Key ingredient call-outs, with arrows and descriptions on the front of the package and a description of the recipe on the back

The products are now available in more than 5,000 stores nationwide and are priced on average from $2.99 to $3.99 per entrée.

“We have received very strong positive reception from retailers, who have been looking for innovative products like this to fulfill consumer demand for a new paradigm in frozen entrées,” says Tuttle. “Initial takeaway velocities have been well above expectations, and consumer feedback via Facebook and the website has been extremely positive, indicating that consumers are embracing the combination of trusted brand, unique packaging, refreshing product varieties, and delicious food.”

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