Food & Beverage Packagingspoke with Dan Miller and Chad Donicht of Hormel Foods’ Packaging Group. Miller is research and development manager of packaging development and Donicht is research and development packaging scientist. What we found was a well-established, aggressively proactive program that demonstrates the team’s, and Hormel’s, passion for sustainability improvements.

F&BP:The group was formally formed in 1986-87. Please provide us with a summary of the Packaging Group.

Donicht:There are seven of us in the group-we do a lot with a few people. We have both individual and group goals, and we are held accountable for them. Every member of the group is required to have two active sustainability projects, though most of us have at least 10. These can be related to multiple aspects, including materials reduction, right sizing, shipping efficiencies and others.

F&BP: Tell us about the impact of sustainability.

Miller:The Packaging Group members embrace sustainability, and Hormel embraces all aspects of it. We are thrilled to be involved with everything happening in the sustainability front, and there are so many rewards for consumers and for companies. In many cases, sustainability comes in the way of dollars-and-cents savings-it makes sense for companies to do that. Our key customers have been proactive in helping us evolve our efforts.

F&BP: When did “sustainability” kick in to your efforts?

Miller:When I joined in 1991, the word “sustainability” wasn’t used, but it was part of what we did. We are segmented, but that’s in a good sense-we let the experts in their respective areas handle what they do best. Hormel does have a sustainability director [Tom Raymond, manager of environmental engineering, was named director of environmental sustainability in May 2010]. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the environmental aspects, especially relating to air emissions and water. We work closely with him.

F&BP: What amount of your new packaging developments involve sustainability?

Miller:Sustainability is intertwined in all that we do. A lot of these innovations have consumer benefits, but sustainability is also part of it.

F&BP: You mentioned that each group member has at least two sustainable-related projects, and most have many more. What are the ground rules?

Donitch:Individually, we have a responsibility of developing $300,000 in cost savings and 500,000 pounds of material reductions total across two or more projects. We can come up with great solutions that will save a lot of money and material, but not all of them can be implemented. However, we track them and may revisit some of them with our marketing department. As markets evolve and we buy new equipment, the opportunity may develop in the future.

F&BP: What is Hormel’s stated or “official” goal for sustainability?

Donicht: As part of the company’s overall corporate responsibility strategy, we want to reduce solid waste going to our landfills by 2% by 2012. We want to reduce waste going out our doors any way that we can.

F&BP: Hormel must have conducted benchmarking in order to set goals. How is that handled, product line by product line?

Donicht: In 2007, a big customer [Wal-Mart] made a major announcement related to sustainability. We took a hard look at “low-hanging fruit” by following the 80/20 rule: We took 20% of our largest-volume products, and split the top 100 items of those among the group. We then went out into the production plants and went through them product by product. We conducted audits, assessed cases of products and discussed different scenarios with marketing and operations personnel. That evolved into our current program.

F&BP: Do you take a systems approach to your sustainability improvements?

Miller: Everything impacts a primary package perspective all the way through the system. We even go beyond secondary packaging and the tertiary shipping case. For example, how many cases can go onto a truck? If the truck is less than full, can we fill it with other outbound products? Things don’t end at the shipper; it goes much further than that.

F&BP: Hormel has had a number of “victories” related to your group’s efforts (see sidebars pages 17, 18, and 22). Can you point to a recent major effort?

Donicht: One of the big projects that we’re proud of is eliminating the wax coatings from all the corrugated boxes that we use both internally and externally. The solution uses a technology that wasn’t available until recently. Now all of the corrugated from our facilities can be recycled. The conversion to the 100% recyclable wax-replacement coating has the potential to save about 2.5 million pounds of corrugated materials each year. Getting rid of the wax coating on boxes is a huge portion of our goal to reduce the amount of materials going to landfills.

Miller: In cases like this, suppliers are stepping up to the plate and giving us the home runs that we want. If we didn’t have the help of proactive suppliers like this, these victories would not have happened so quickly. We’re excited learning about new technologies, and suppliers are coming to us with ways we can save on packaging materials.

F&BP: What’s the company’s interest in biomaterials such as polylactic acid?

Donitch: We are looking at them and evaluating all that we can. Product safety and quality are our highest priorities, so we’re taking a step back: testing and doing due diligence before moving forward.

Miller: When we find that neither quality nor safety is affected and the economics appear reasonable for our corporation, then we would move forward.

F&BP: One of the common complaints about sustainable packaging is that it often carries a premium. Do you see that as a hurdle?

Miller: Accepting an increase in packaging cost to move forward with a sustainability gain is treated on a case-by-case basis. Sustainability for the environment is a good thing, but there are also social and economic aspects. If the product is too expensive and consumers don’t buy it, then who wins? If there’s a benefit and it makes sense for that particular product across all those areas to make a directional change, then we will do it.

F&BP: Where do you see packaging, especially for foods, heading?

Donitch: The main direction I’m seeing is minimizing and optimizing packaging materials and systems. As new technologies emerge, such as the wax coating replacement, we’re able to do things we weren’t able to do before. Innovations like this benefit everyone.

Miller: Sustainability is becoming a more common language and direction for everyone. It is not a fad-it will stick. Our people are taking ownership in this as we look at new packaging from the ground up going forward. We are looking at sustainability directly and upfront in package development. F&BP

Jenny-O cartons have cumulatively shed more than 175,000 pounds of paperboard.

SIDEBAR: Weight loss, sustainability gain

In late 2009, Hormel Foods unveiled a new round of package reductions through the efforts of its Packaging Group. These built on the 40 projects that the company completed in 2008,  saving 5.2 million pounds of product packaging. New packaging reduction highlights and projected yearly savings that were developed through the Packaging Group include:
• The reduction of space in Jennie-O Turkey Store burger cartons is expected to save more than 175,000 pounds of paperboard.
• Lloyd’s barbeque tubs eliminated a paper sleeve to save more than 660,000 pounds of paper fiber.
• Reducing the glass jar thickness for Hormel bacon bits produced material savings of around 411,000 pounds.
• More efficient shipping of canned foods will reduce the number of pallets needed annually by 14,573, and require less plastic and bundling film.

The company revealed two new projects this summer:
• Hormel collaborated with a supplier to reformulate bags used to protect bone-in loins shipped to retailers for further processing. The changes yielded better puncture resistance with less material.
• It re-evaluated the display case design for a fully cooked bacon product and created a new design that is expected to save more than 192,000 pounds of corrugated annually. A new supplier produced a display-case option with fewer folds and stronger trays that is easier for Hormel workers to assemble.

Primary and secondary packaging changes for Party Trays save about 275,000 pounds of packaging materials yearly.

SIDEBAR: Square and sustainable for parties

In fall 2009, Hormel Party Trays sported a new look and less packaging.

“Our consumers and customers told us they wanted to see more of the meats, cheeses and crackers in the party trays,” says Holly Drennan, product manager for retail dry sausage and party trays. “We are excited to launch our redesigned tray after many months of assessing all aspects of the current packaging.”

The round tray was made square, which allowed three more cases per pallet, eliminating 71 truckloads per year. The shape change also reduced scrap during molding.

In addition, the shrink wrap covering the exterior was replaced with tamper-evident tape on two of the side panels. That eliminated 100,000 pounds of material.

Finally, the corrugated shipping case was made smaller, resulting in a corrugated material savings of more than 174,000 pounds per year.