Senior business development and sales strategy manager for Dole Packaged Foods Canada, Peter Stewart has a solution for parents whose child’s snack has been smeared across their vehicles backseat. In June 2008, Dole Packaged Foods Canada launched Squish’ems! Squish’ems! is a fruit puree packaged in Cheer Pack spouted pouches manufactured by the CDF Corp. The spout is designed to allow the puree to dispense freely, but also narrow enough to prevent the contents from spilling easily from the package. The pouches are also equipped with a resealable cap.
The Dole team was inspired by similar packaging for pureed foods in Europe. “We saw how successful the product with this format had been in Europe, and we know Europe is ahead of North America with their packaging ideas,” stated Stewart. “We agreed that if we could bring this package to North America, we would be ahead of the curve.”
However, the draw back from being ahead of the curve is not having a clearly defined road map to implement a new product.
“We saw the European packaging about two and half years before we actually ended up launching the product,” Stewart remarks. “It’s been a long, tortured path to the market. When we started this project there were I think two machines in all of North America that could do this.”
The Dole team had discovered a copacker in upstate New York that was equipped to work with the spouted pouches. “But it was a small company, and they eventually went out of business,” recalls Stewart.
During this time, Stephen Fairfield was consulting for a state-of-the-art form/fill/Seal facility in Mississauga, Ontario, which was suffering with poor sales. Fairfield recognized this as an opportunity. Fairfield and an investment partner incorporated Eco Container Corp. (ECC) and together began negotiating the purchase of the business.
ECC began talking with Dole concerning their Squish’Ems! project. In detail, Dole wanted to know if the facility in which ECC was to be purchasing would be able to fill fruit puree into Cheer Pack pouches.
“As it happened, the negotiation for the facility went south,” Fairfield stated. “We had a production contract done and signed with Dole, and no place to put the equipment, and the clock was ticking for the launch target date.”
Dole Canada was eager to get the product to market, they enlisted the help of the packaging manufacturer CDF Corp. “Dole led us to Eco-Container and said, ‘talk to them about doing the copacking and everybody kind of roller up their sleeves and got it done,” recalls Steve Gosling, CDF Corp., director of sales for Cheer Pack North America.
The companies identified the packaging machinery, including CHP40 filler from Gualapack S.p.A, being the best fit for the packaging application. ECC then created a new copacking business model that would ensure that the new operation would be sufficiently capitalized.
“Our business model is to go into an existing facility that has the trained staff and infrastructure, QC, logistics, accounting departments, etc. and we fund and maintain the equipment” Fairfield explained. “The facility’s owner has the advantage of no capital expense or ongoing maintenance costs, and secures better asset utilization. ECC covers the variable cost of running the equipment and provides a simple profit allocation.”
“And the investment bankers like the model as the entry cost is lower, which in turn provides for a competitive costing to the trade-so, it’s a good financial model,” Fairfield complements.
Canadian grown and processed apple cause, being the main ingredient in Squish’Ems! products currently on the market, arrive at the copacking facility in large totes. The apple sauce is mixed with the other fruit-based ingredients in accordance to Dole’s recipes.
After mixing purees, the product is heat-treated in a simple steam injection, tube-in-tube pasteurizer that has been modified with a heat exchanger to control the stream. Quality-control is conducted at a minimum of every half hour; however these checks have been clocked in at being every fifteen minutes.
From the pasteurizer, the purees go into two separate, but synchronized CHP40fillers. “They’re well built; fairly simple in design and solid,” say Fairfield “depending on fill amounts, and pouch capacity, each filler can run between 40 and 44 pouches per minute, with larger pouches easily accommodated with minimal adjustment or downtime. The model is calculated to deliver 83 percent production efficiency on a 24-hour shift, resulting in close to 96,000 pouches of approximately 8,500 kg of puree.”
Fairfield states, “the Gualapack fillers can handle a wide range of viscosities” and that, “fruit piece identity is possible, though it is limited to a fairly small size in order to clear the valving and fit through the pouch’s neck.”
The Cheer-pack pouch is vacuum-checked by the converter prior to its delivery to the packaging operation. The evacuation of the air from the pouch enables the pureed product to enter the pouch faster. Pouches are delivered at the copacking facility preloaded on rails, which are enabled quick loading into the filler’s magazines.
Once the pouches have been filled and sealed, they are on their way to a post-fill steam tunnel in which they receive a second heat treatment to more than 90 degree C to further ensure the integrity of the product. After exiting the steam tunnel the product is dropped into a cooling bath, the temperature ranging between 30 and 35 degree Celsius. Once finished with the cooling bath, the pouches are put into a drying chamber; the cooled pouches are dried by air knives. All the machinery used if from Gualapack.
Each pouch is coded by a Leibinger printer with the date, time and filler information. Once coded and cooled pouches are conveyed to manual pack-out area, where personnel manually shape the package for a smooth looking product. The pouches are then packed into colorfully printed paperboard cartons that are manufactured by Cascades, which also supply the case former and sealer.
Dole considered the flexible packaging an competitive advantage and didn’t want the secondary packaging to take away from any interaction the consumer may have with the product. Stewart states, “We wanted a window so people could poke it and feel it and touch it,” he continues, “the problem is that when you open up a carton, the window allows the product to move around. And it doesn’t present itself well within that window.”
Dole worked with Cascade to develop secondary packaging that would secure the pouch within the carton packaging but would also display the product nicely through the secondary packaging window.
Four pouches are inserted into each carton: two pouches are displayed with caps up and the other two caps down. The packing line personnel then hand-pack 12 Squish’Ems! Cartons into a master shipping case.
The product is engineered to have a 12-month shelf life, the Cheer Pack configuration used for Squish’ems! is a PET outer layer, laminated to aluminum with an inner sealant layer of PE.
The PET layer imparts a high-gloss finish; this enables the eight-color gravure printing done on Cerutti press by CDF partner Hosokawa Yoko.
The laminate structure of the package allows for the product to be stored in a wide range of temperatures. The packages are able to withstand very cold temperatures, with some parents reporting the ability to freeze the product. And yet, the same pouches are hot-filled during the packaging process.
Gualapack has created a safety cap, each pouch is sealed with a large-diameter, screw on cap. “This cap is 32 mm in diameter,” Gosling stated, “This means it won’t pass through the choke tube, therefore its considered to be child-safe.” According to Gosling, the cap meets the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Small Part Regulation, 16 C.F.R. Part 1501 and 1500.50-53.
Stewart continues, stating that even if a child was able to swallow the cap, it’s manufactured with enough venting that it wouldn’t create a total blockage.
Gualapack was awarded U.S. Patent D547, 657 S for the cap design.
Squish’ems! is performing well as part of Dole Canada’s single serve fruit market, and adding children single serve is a huge component. Plans were made to expand the market in 2010 into two new flavors, grape and cherry.
Other sectors of Dole are considering the product and the reception within the market within their region. The U.S. group plans to develop a product similar to Dole Canada, but the U.S. will cater to a sweeter taste preference that cater to the American preference.