For an impressive body of work accentuated by the latest package introductions noted in this story, we are pleased to name Heinz as our Food Packager of the Year.

Top Heinz managers keep innovation center-of-plate and help push the limits of the company’s packaging developments.

by Rick Lingle, Editor in Chief

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“To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.”
- Henry John Heinz, Founder

H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, is an iconic, $10.5 billion global food packager that remains “Hungry, humble and focused”-its three foundational tenets to innovation. Overseeing the company’s alignment to these tenets as it continues on a fast track in package innovation are Jim Matthews, Group VP – R&D/Innovation, Heinz North America and Emerging Markets Capabilities; and Michael Okoroafor, Ph.D., VP, Global Packaging Innovation and Execution.

What does innovation mean to Heinz and how does packaging fit in? “Quite simply, we define innovation as turning new ideas into profit,” responds Matthews. “While innovation can be a high-tech solution, it also can be a straight-forward consumer insight based on thoughtful enhancement that can disrupt and grow a category.

“Packaging is a major part of creating value for our products. Our R&D and packaging teams are tightly linked with our marketing teams. A major part of my role is creating the culture, tools and talent that will allow Heinz to excel in the marketplace with value added, convenient, purposeful and sustainable packaging designs and enhancements. I judge our packaging team to be one of the best in the business, and an enabler to developing the strategic partnerships and results that help our businesses grow together.”

Okoroafor also sees packaging as an enabler, and also points out another critical focus: the consumer. “There are a lot of insights that go into understanding consumer needs, desires and wants. That’s how we formulate our strategy for addressing innovation. We view technology as an enabler to get us to where the consumer wants us to be.

“Secondly, most of our packaging is designed to communicate to the consumer,” says Okoroafor, “and, in most cases, simplify the way our customers go to market.”

There’s a third crucial component in Okoroafor’s view. “We incorporate sustainable features into our packaging in the most environmentally friendly way possible. To quote our chairman [William Johnson], it’s a case of ‘doing well by doing good’.”

Listening-and responding through innovation

Look no further than the thermoformed, packet-replacing Dip & Squeeze® foodservice ketchup packs as a prime example of what can result from listening to the consumer. As the first transformational packaging innovation in the sachet foodservice industry in more than 40 years, Matthews believes that the Dip & Squeeze platform “really demonstrates the power of clear consumer and operator insights, intellectual property and affordable, intelligent design.”

Comprising a peelable lid applied to a small thermoform and resembling a small bottle, Dip & Squeeze allows consumers to either tear off the tip and squeeze the condiment out or peel back the lid from the bottom for dipping. The pack holds 27 grams of ketchup (just short of a full ounce), about three times the amount of a standard foodservice packet.

“We listened to the consumer over the years regarding some of their concerns with our ketchup sachet packaging. We went to work and as science and material technologies improved, we were able to leverage that into what you see today,” says Okoroafor.

Besides the structural, materials and package design aspects for Dip & Squeeze, the development had a considerable machinery side that itself took 16 months development. Working withMultivac, the result was “a robotics-driven packaging machine that’s the size of a football field,” says Okoroafor. “It’s a fascinating piece of technology.”

The vendor's role also points to the fact that leveraging the science of innovation combines the talents of Heinz's internal team and supplier teams to create value, notes Matthews: “While we develop many things internally, we could not achieve the success we have had without our innovative suppliers.”

The pack has proven such a hit that, last month, Heinz announced it was taking the concept into retail in 10-count cartons. It marks the first time a Heinz ketchup innovation developed for restaurants has made the transition to store shelves.

Okoroafor points to sustainability-driven initiatives the company has championed as exemplifying “doing well by doing good.” One of those is for bagged meals, such as those packaged at the company’s Pocatello, ID, facility (see plant story below).

Traditionally, frozen meals at Heinz were produced in trays made from crystallized PET (CPET). According to Okoroafor, going from CPET trays to bag meals uses approximately 80% less material [by weight] and offers multiple benefits to consumers, customers and the environment. “The bag meal is very convenient, easy to transport, and easy to store in the refrigerator.  And, from a merchandising perspective, our design is better than the competition because it sits better on the shelf.”

Matthews understandably also feels good about the development, though it’s also apparent that Heinz doesn’t take its foot off the accelerator even when it has a winner. “It hits on all cylinders from a standpoint of taste, freshness, convenience and eventually sustainability as well,” he states, “but it’s another platform we are continually refining. We are applying this technology to brands like T.G.I. Friday’s, Smart Ones, Ore-Ida and globally with infant feeding with great success.”

‘PlantBottling’ a winner

Another remarkable success story is Heinz’s unprecedented strategic partnership with the Coca-Cola Co. and its PlantBottle™ technology. It’s yet another unique facet for this sustainability-conscious food packager to effectively leverage existing technology in a win-win arrangement.

Made from up to 30% renewable sugar cane material, the PlantBottle looks, feels and functions just like traditional PET plastic and is 100% recyclable. The PlantBottle runs exactly the same way in production and has the exact same shelf life as standard PET bottles.

“Absolutely no difference,” emphasizes Okoroafor, who possesses a doctorate in polymer science. From a technical standpoint, the 30% renewable content in PlantBottle is monoethylene glycol, the same material derived from petroleum sources.

Currently, all Heinz 20-ounce ketchup bottles are made from PlantBottle packaging. It’s the biggest change to Heinz’s iconic ketchup bottles since plastic bottles were introduced in 1983.

Okoroafor had been part of the team that developed the PlantBottle at Coca-Cola Co. “Because the companies complement one another in several ways and have a long history of shared values, it was easy for us to work together,” says Okoroafor.

The company is collaborating with Coca-Cola Co. towards reaching 100% renewable content. “The other 70 percent is very challenging,” Okoroafor says. “You’re going to be hearing more from this partnership.”

It also exemplifies an approach Okoroafor defines as “leveraging ourself into prosperity, not inventing ourself into prosperity. Inventing a molecule that would substitute for PET is not our core competency. What we do best is meet consumer needs. That’s why people and companies like to grow with us.”

Heinz will produce 120 million PlantBottle packages in 2011.

This wasn’t Heinz’s first foray into a renewable platform. About six months before the PlantBottle partnership, it debuted Simply Heinz brand foodservice condiment packets that use 30% renewable materials as its launch into renewable packaging.

Even the standard PET bottle has been slimmed: The current Heinz ketchup bottle uses 20% less polymer than five years ago, according to Okoroafor. “We have constantly lightweighted to where it is very efficient.”

The company is also using recycled content into its packaging, which Okoroafor consider as very important and fits into the 4 Rs of Heinz sustainability: Reuse; reduce; recycle; renewable. “Depending on which product we’re delivering, we leverage some or all of these pillars,” he explains.

To what does Heinz attribute its successful track record?

“To grow, innovation must be sustainable in terms of new product success rates,” offers Matthews. “We leverage consumer insights at every step in the process. This ensures our investment in new products will pay out and generate an ongoing return.”

And that won’t stop, even against the backdrop of a sputtering economy where other companies have entrenched. “One thing I can tell you is that we haven’t stopped investing in packaging,” shares Okoroafor.
Managers seem to have taken the company Founder’s advice a step further by “doing an uncommon thing uncommonly well” with some frequency. And that means that all the competition can do is try to play catch up.

Sidebar: A dynamic duo: Packaging thought leadership at Heinz

Jim Matthews, Group VP – R&D/Innovation, Heinz North America and Emerging Markets Capabilities, has 35 years food industry experience in Product Innovation, Packaging and Quality Assurance, including 31 years with Heinz. He led the creation of the Heinz Innovation Center.

Michael Okoroafor, Ph.D., VP, Global Packaging Innovation and Execution, is responsible for setting overall global strategy and direction for packaging at Heinz, as well as implementing packaging innovation across various business units. Before he joined Heinz in 2008, he was director of global packaging R&D for the Coca-Cola Co.

PLANT FEATURE: Distinguished plant, distinctive packaging

Produced on a ‘phenomenal’ packaging line made from scratch, bagged meals help expand Pocatello, ID, plant capability and Heinz’s portfolio.

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by Rick Lingle, Editor in Chief

There’s more to Idaho than desert, mountains and potatoes. It is also home to a multi-award winning Heinz facility in the southeast part of this scenic, sprawling state.

Even before Food & Beverage Packaging turned its attention to these operations in Pocatello, Heinz shone a spotlight on the 500,000-sq-ft facility, which was recognized internally as its North America Factory of the Year.

Whether because of-or in spite of-this being Heinz’s most complex plant in the view of Pocatello plant manager Kevin Trussel, the facility earned this heady internal distinction for the second time in three years. Trussel, with 25 years of food industry experience, is a 15-year Heinz veteran who worked his way through the ranks including warehouse management and purchasing. Previously, he was plant manager at Heinz’s Cedar Rapids, IA facility. He’s been plant manager here for about six years.

He credits plant personnel for the award that encompasses costs, safety, quality, food safety, and environmental aspects. “We have incredible people and a great work ethic in Idaho,” he says. “I like to think we probably have the best employees within Heinz.”

He also has one of Heinz’s newest production lines, installed in July 2011 to handle a new packaging format: bagged meals. The newest of eight packaging production lines on-site, the bag line represents a dramatic change in package formats for the plant and for Heinz from trayed entrees.

Like Idaho, the spacious plant offers plenty of room to grow, a rarity in production plants. “Space is one of the luxuries Pocatello has,” says Trussel. “We had all the necessary real estate we needed.”

The plant started getting involved in the line design in late 2010. “This was a different concept and so it took us awhile to pin down that design,” Trussel points out. And because of the uniqueness of the line, more than the usual number of staff was involved from the outset, he says: “We started from scratch to get as much employee involvement in looking at safety, quality and sanitary design. This team was instrumental in developing the concept for the bag line. It resulted in a phenomenal line. Another nice thing is that the equipment is all pretty much off the shelf.”

The line is laid out in a U-shape, with the IQF (individually quick frozen) ingredients arriving on one side of the U and the sealed bags discharging on the other. “You can stand in one place and see the whole process, but there’s still plenty of space to get things in and out in a controlled environment,” observes Trussel.

Currently, the line produces five SKUs of single-serve 12-ounce bags marketed under the WeightWatchers Smart Ones brand. The convenient meals comprise four chicken-based products and one with meatballs.

Source-reduced packaging, production

The bagged meals use more than 75% less packaging than film-sealed trayed, cartoned and cased entrees. There’s also a source reduction on the plant machinery side that Trussel appreciates.

“From our production viewpoint, we use less equipment than with the traditional tray and carton and case packers,” he says. “It’s just much simpler. The ingredients are scaled and bagged, the bags are sealed, and the bags are cased.”

The products use four types of ingredients, all of which are IQF. While the plant uses IQF portions on other lines, this is really the only place that they’re conveying frozen ingredients for any distance, Trussel notes, which made that aspect a key consideration.

Those comprise 15 FastBack 90E horizontal-motion conveyors fromHeat and Control built to the specific lengths that Heinz required. Seven of these conveyors distribute product; four additional conveyors supply a different IQF component to each of two baggers: a protein (chicken, beef, or pork); a starch (various types of pasta or potatoes); a vegetable; and a sauce pellet. 

The ingredients are conveyed to a 24-headYamatocomputerized netweigh scale matched to a pair of form-fill-seal baggers fromBosch Packaging. Trussel declines to identify rates, but says that “it has been a line that started up well and has performed as predicted.” The bag material is supplied byBemis.

According to Trussel, the operators liked the Yamato scales for the intuitive, visual controls and ease of operation. Cleanability and washdown were two other major considerations. The Bosch baggers are mounted on a rail system so they can be rolled out of the way and kept dry during washdown. 

 “We use a lot of Bosch baggers within Heinz,” Trussel adds, “including at a nearby plant, which permits us to exchange parts and knowledge if need be.”

After sealing, the bags are conveyed through aSafelinemetal detector and a check weigher. The bags are cased manually, though Trussel has identified that as an area of opportunity for automation.

Cases are then palletized and unitized on a stretch wrapper. After consulting with other operations, a Lantech ( stretch wrapper was selected for its reliability and ease of use. The loads are transported by forklift directly into an awaiting truck for nationwide distribution.

The line runs five days a week on two shifts.

Trussel believes the line’s control is the most unique aspect: “The line is run by a programmable logic controller, but everything is interfaced together so that we have consistent flow of raw ingredient from the blenders to the scales that dispense it into the vertical baggers. Every piece of equipment talks to the other-we have very good control on this line. The logic that was used to put it all together is really what sets it apart from other lines in other factories.”

The plant uses Allen-Bradley controls and devices from Rockwell Automationprogrammed in-house. “We have very gifted people within the factory who were able to come up with a logic that pulled it all altogether,” states Trussel. “Again, the team identified the key aspects and worked together to execute the plan.”

It was that team effort that impresses Trussel most, including the overall management by project engineer John Beal and operation supervisor Paul Shay. “They coordinated very closely the whole design process in making sure that we got involvement from a lot of personnel,” Trussel says. “The team went through training and team-building processes together. This line showed entire teamwork from the concept to the startup.”

What did he learn from this project?  “The key takeaway for me was making sure to get involvement from all the various disciplines including the employees on the floor because they added a lot to the process,” says Trussel. “There weren’t any changes done to it after it was put in service.  Things were identified prior and the startup went very smoothly.”

As for the plant, it will stay on a course for continuous improvement on all fronts. And no one should be surprised if the Pocatello facility continues its winning ways.

Location: Pocatello, ID
Size: 500,000 sq ft
Employees: 600
Products: Smart Ones entrees; this plant is the sole producer of Smart Ones Lasagna and produces a breakfast sandwich for Smart Ones;  microwavable French fries under the Ore Ida label; sole producer of Nancy’s Spirals, a thaw-and-serve appetizer ; quesadillas under the Smart Ones and the T.G.I. Friday’s brands.
History: Plant bought from Kraft Foods in 1980.
Fact: This is one of Heinz’s most comprehensive plants.