Ready-to-eat meals can bring flashes of soggy microwaved TV dinners to mind. Roth Premium Foods was determined to change that preconceived notion when it set out to create ready-to-eat meal kits with a fresh and minimally processed product as a new addition to its food business.
“We’re always trying to keep a finger on the pulse of the market and accommodate retailer requests,” explained Mitch Roth, co-founder and president of Roth Premium Foods. “We were in the process of developing protein packs when we realized there was a demand for a whole meal solution, packed with protein and honest ingredients.”
The product Roth Premium Foods developed was a marriage of two brands: Kilyn’s Kitchen and Bourbon Brothers. Kilyn’s Kitchen is an expert in natural, antibiotic-free, grass-fed, protein-packed ingredients, and Bourbon Brothers is known for its delicious, home-cooked, barbequed flavors. Blending these together resulted in all-natural meal kit options with on-trend flavors such as pulled pork chile verde, smoked meatloaf and Kung Pao chicken.
Another point of difference is the way the meal kit is prepared. “We know microwaving food can create a mushy texture and bland flavor. An oven can dry out the product,” Roth explained. Immediately after the food is made, the team flash chills it from 195 to 125 degrees—making sure it’s never frozen and the natural juices are preserved. All the meal kit ingredients are then put in vacuum-sealed, plastic pouches that the customer adds to boiling water to reheat. It is actually a common method that restaurants use with leftover food to ensure consistent food flavors and textures, but it’s not as common for companies to offer this directly to consumers.
With this new product, Roth Premium Foods was eager to get it to market. “We needed samples to provide to retailers before they would commit to supplying these products at their stores. That’s where the urgency came in,” Roth said. There was also the uniqueness of the vacuum-sealed meal, which created some challenges for packaging the product.
Roth sent a sample of the product to Great Northern StrataGraph and asked to have the team build packaging around it. There were two considerations that led to the final packaging design: fitting and displaying the product properly and ensuring the package could be folded either manually or automatically.
Making the design come to life is where Great Northern StrataGraph’s new digital press came into play. We chose to use our new digital press instead of the offset press for a variety of reasons, for starters, there werethere were variations with the different meal kit flavors. There were two meal kit product lines which meant two different box designs, with each line offering four to six flavors. Roth Premium Foods requested an initial run of 12,500 pieces of each design. With it being a startup product, we knew there would be changes to the design as a result of FDA requirements and what the consumer was or wasn’t responding to.
This is a case where the value of digital printing made more sense than offset printing. The quantity and versioning mix were good reasons to choose digital for this project, as the amount of time it would take to process digitally would be greatly reduced. With digital, we save time throughout the process, reducing time needed for proofing, prepress and plates offset would have. Also, with four versions, offset would take us up to four hours to set up to print, whereas digital takes us just 30 minutes to do all those different versions. Overall, using a digital printing saved us at least one to two weeks of production time.
The end packaging product was made with a quality top sheet which allowed for the graphics that Roth Premium Foods designed. The sheet was laminated to a 100 percent recycled liner board which gave it the desired strength and thickness that was needed. A window was also included to allow customers to see the ingredients of the meal kit clearly.
Great Northern StrataGraph’s piece of the puzzle was technically completed, but it didn’t stop there. Knowing that quick and easy assembly of the packaging was important to Roth, Jeff Ringgold, account manager at Great Northern StrataGraph, introduced Roth to Eagle Packaging, which set the company up with customized automated assembly equipment. “We had developed the packaging to be flexible in that it could be folded by hand or by special equipment, so it made sense to work with Eagle Packaging to make sure Roth Premium Foods was completely happy and satisfied with the end product,” confirmed Ringgold.
Also helpful in meeting deadlines was the digital press, which allowed Roth to get the product to 303 stores in Colorado and Texas on time. Roth Premium Foods already has plans in place to continue its partnership with Great Northern StrataGraph on its next product: grab ‘n go bistro boxes, with paperboard sleeves instead of traditional sticker bands, which will reduce costs and increase durability.