By Gary Tee, Sales Director FFP Packaging Solutions Ltd.
Packaging that can be placed in the oven has been around for decades, driven by consumer demand for quick, convenient, safe food. Ever since the TV dinner was introduced in the 1950’s, there has been a form of packaging designed to stand up to the domestic oven and microwave. Since the early 80’s, there has been an ever-increasing range of tray ready meals, protected by heat seal polyester topweb lidding film. Since the beginning of 2014, though, the key ovenable market area has been the packaging of raw proteins, especially whole roast chicken, in ovenable, roast-in-bag packaging.
Consumers value the convenience of the direct from fridge or freezer to the oven approach, and the fact that they no longer have to handle raw meat. The drive in the poultry industry to minimise the risk of Campylobacter contamination contributed to the uptake of the technology. Campylobacter remains a key issue for poultry producers, with the most recent figures for Campylobacter testing revealing that around 60% of supermarket bought chickens still test positive for Campylobacter, with nearly 11% testing at the higher level (FSA website, Year 2 of a UK-wide survey of campylobacter contamination on fresh chickens at retail (July 2015 to July 2016). Testing dates to end of December 2015). Campylobacter is completely killed by the cooking process, so ovenable packaging removes all the risk. Compliance with the Food Contact Framework Regulation (EC) 1935:2004 is crucial, of course, and roast-in-bag packaging goes through a rigorous three stage testing process before it is approved for use.
Just as importantly, the opportunities that roast in the bag packaging presents – for new ranges, new flavours and new designs - have reinvigorated many of the basic protein categories. Roast in the bag packaging manufactured with the top quality polyester allows the reassuring browning effect of the Maillard reaction, and moisture retention in the pack means that, arguably, meats cooked in the pack taste better and are more succulently moist than those cooked more traditionally. Certainly more consistently delicious.
At FFP, we have moved strongly to support this developing technology. To be safe in the oven, specific adhesive and ink systems need to be used, and we worked with our suppliers to create the formulations that we use. Not only that, but the printed laminate has to be cured at an elevated temperature for up to seven days. To give readers an idea of the scale of growth of this sector, FFP has expanded hot room capacity six-fold. We believe that we now have the largest hot room facilities in Europe, possibly the world.
The actual numbers are quite amazing. At FFP alone, we are rapidly approaching 100 million packs produced since the beginning of 2014, and that includes the growth phase. Chicken has been the major market sector, but we have seen projects in pork, fish, beef and even rabbit. More than 100 designs spread between the major UK and European retailers and brand owners, with food manufacturers in North and South America, Africa and Asia. Other manufacturers are undoubtedly seeing major growth too. Every major UK grocer now has a substantial offering in roast in bag meats and fish.
So, where next? In the innovation-led retail packaging arena we can never stand still. New options already available are self-venting packs to remove the final connection between the user and the raw meat. New decorative approaches can provide a more rustic, deli-style appearance. Stand-up pouches provide great pack frontage to really enhance shelf impact in all sorts of categories, and new ovenable pouches are set to add the same sort of impact to the chilled aisles. This is a technology that is not standing still in any way. We expect to see new concepts and new inspirations driving new growth as brands and retailers continue to look for extra differentiation, convenience and new value.