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.

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.

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.”