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Bosch Packaging

Portion Packs – Small but Mighty

Checklist for biscuit manufacturers when adjusting production lines to market needs

By Andreas Schildknecht, product manager, Bosch Packaging Technology

Despite the fact that portion biscuit packages are taking the market by storm, many manufacturers find it difficult to adjust their production lines. Some assume the cost of automation for smaller packs and therefore higher speeds will be high, while others are set in their ways – having used plastic trays or end-fold wrapping for some time. Dedicated brand owners might be concerned about flexible packaging providing sufficient product protection, or whether the packaging process is gentle enough for their crackers and cookies. 

It is time to reconsider. According to Euromonitor research on global packaging trends, biscuits are the second largest and the second fastest growing category in flexible plastics . No wonder – flow wrapping offers high flexibility in terms of portion size (from one biscuit per pack to 20 and more), pack styles (pile or slug), fast changeovers and high production speeds. Lower transportation costs, easy and reliable production processes and strong biscuit protection against humidity, dust and aromas are important criteria for selecting flexible packaging materials 

At the same time, consumers increasingly favor smaller packs. People in developed countries enjoy portion packs for their convenience when packing kids’ lunches, snacking on-the-go or protecting favorite treats for later, while consumers in developing markets benefit from smaller pack sizes that are more affordable. 

While talking to our biscuit customers and prospects at Bosch Packaging Technology, we listed their main concerns in employing on pile packaging and developed the following tips: 
What should a biscuit producer consider while selecting packaging equipment for stacked portion packs (piles)?

1. System solution and investment scalability 
For biscuit manufacturers taking their first steps into automation or testing new products and markets, fully automated systems might be too high a barrier for entry. Consider scalable systems starting from hand-fed wrappers, manual cartoning or case packing. Available in both clean and ultra-clean execution, the machine can fill a range of different pack styles depending on the final application – for example, round and square cups with trays, seals with pre-die cut foils or roll stock film. All other elements can be automated at a later stage, allowing producers to grow their production in line with their market success 

It is worth discussing future expansion plans from the start with a single-source equipment provider who can reduce integration issues, offer future-proof solutions and lower installation and set-up time for the entire system. In times of uncertainty, when entering new markets under difficult long-term sales planning conditions, manufacturers check labor costs against automation needs. There is a critical mass of production load and the number of cycles where fully automated lines become the best choice. Other times, automating critical functions such as carton erecting, while continuing to load cartons manually, can be the right – and the most economical solution.   

2. Flexibility 
Promotions, seasonal fluctuations and ever-changing consumer preferences, coupled with intense competition on supermarket shelves, all require fast changes in pack styles, sizes or number of biscuits in the pack. When selecting the right system solution, it is important to consider whether such changeovers are easy to execute and replicate in the future. The fewer tools used, the lower the risk of operator error and increased downtime. Ideally, search for tool-less or “push-button” changeovers. The latter is now possible for biscuit stack height changes via programmable modifications in the recipe. 

Conventional, on-edge biscuit handling limits the number of biscuits in a stack to the number of extraction magazines – or a multiply of it. Intelligent technologies allow for format flexibility, independent from the incoming product supply. In order to compensate variances in product supply to the packaging system, you should look for technologies that offer automated lane balancing. The number of biscuits extracted out of one magazine can be dynamically varied by extracting missing biscuits from one of the other lanes to make a complete stack. Manufacturers can now equip their production with fewer lanes and balance product extraction for increased uptime. 

3. Biscuit protection 
One of the most crucial factors influencing consumer loyalty is consistent product quality and product representation. With fragile crackers and cookies, it is important to thoroughly review packaging equipment to identify areas that may cause breakage, crumbs or waste. Depending on the product characteristics, consider flat handling for sandwich cookies or biscuits with toppings or irregular shapes, whereas any other type can be easily processed on edge with vibratory distribution, offering buffering capabilities for free. Until recently only flat handling offered truly gentle processes, but now modern magazine feeders offer comparable levels of low impact and constant product guidance. Watch out for extraction pushers with high acceleration or packaging steps, requiring product to fall or fly without any support, increasing the risk of product damage. Gentle product extraction should use controlled acceleration and continuous product flow to protect biscuits, as well as enable higher production speeds. 

4. Product differentiation 
With 70 percent of consumer buying decisions taking place in-store and on overcrowded biscuit shelves, enhanced shelf appeal is high on the agenda. Today there are plenty of choices, from on-the-go flow wrapped products next to the counter at small shops and petrol stations to shelf-ready cases. It is important to align your product positioning with the pack style. If it is convenience you are looking for, concentrate on flow wraps and shipping cases. If you require more space to display marketing information and attract consumer attention at the point of sale, opt for the shelf-ready wrap-around cases with an easy peel-away section. Retailers favor shelf-ready cases as they save personnel time, while companies benefit from controlled market representation. Secondary packaging is a perfect fit for multi-packs or display-cartons. Endload cartoning is a perfect technology for smaller counts of 3 to 8 units per carton. Topload cartoning allows for a high variety of product configuration and higher counts, such as 24ct displays.  

5. Operator friendliness 
Finally, we encourage our customers and prospects to check alternative solutions for ease of use and maintenance. This is particularly important for smaller products and smaller packs as they require narrow film width and smaller tolerances. Consider machine designs that are easy to access, with forming sets that are simple to thread, tool-less changeovers and which eliminate points for potential operator error. 

Working with a single-source solutions supplier can help you identify suitable packaging equipment and also to receive advice on primary, secondary and tertiary packaging to best meet the needs of consumers and retailers. 

About the author   
With more than 10 years of working at various roles at Bosch Packaging Technology, Andreas Schildknecht combines a deep understanding of the packaging world with passion towards strategic management. After acquiring his MSc in strategy, technology and management from Danube University Krems, Austria, Andreas held positions in the pharmaceutical team and was in charge of the global product management for the horizontal for, fill and seal (HFFS) solutions. Currently he is responsible for the strategic development of mid-range system solutions for Bosch Packaging Food.

Andreas Schildknecht 
Product manager mid-range systems, food 
Tel: +41(58)674-7726 

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