Packaging Candy in a New or Newer Form
Consumption of sugar-based foods must date back to the earliest wanderings of women, men, and—especially—children. Recipes for chocolate-based products were recorded during the middle of the past millennium—and probably well before since cocoa derivatives seemed to be a beverage of choice in the Halls of Montezuma when the Spaniards arrived.
Some of our most powerful brands dating to the early 20th century are confectionery: for example, Life Savers, Mars, Hershey’s, Nestlé, and Tobler. Much of the packaging employed for products marketed under these brands are actually extensions of the very first packaging systems, e.g., vertical form/fill/seal pouches (Heide), horizontal flow wrappers, roll wraps (Life Savers), bar wraps (Hershey’s and Nestlé), and twist wraps for spherical sour balls. And the materials developed for packaging in the beginning were for candy: glassine (or hard-pressed paper); its distant descendant cellophane (even harder-pressed modified cellulose); and metal foil. All offered “greaseproofness” (actually fat resistance) and a hint of moisture barrier to protect primarily against finger mess.
As we wind our way into this next thousand years, candy will still be consumed—for fun, nutrition, fuel, and because it tastes good. Everyone knows the allegations of acne and caries and obesity and “empty” calories (although how a product with milk, vegetable lipids, sugar, and lecithin can be accused of being nutritionally empty somehow escapes us). Substitutes have appeared and prospered, although we again ponder why certain convenient, portable, flavorful, calorie-laden products are not officially classified in the confectionery category. These include cookie candy; ice cream laced with candy pieces; coffee flavored with your favorite candy bar; flavored milk; energy and “nutrition” bars; fruit leather; cake and cookie mixes and their products with all manner of candy inclusions and toppings; cookies and wafers enrobed or molded with chocolate or its analogs; granola bars; tubes and cups of pudding, fruit sauce, and who knows what is to come; cereals, sweetened and otherwise, in non-traditional canisters and flexible pouches; and so on, as the new product managers mine the evidently endless desires of a growing and more diverse population.
Confectioners today perhaps fret less about direct competition than about cannibalization from external forces, i.e., substitution. An upcoming April conference organized by the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Confectioners’ Association—not a small regional group but rather the largest and most dynamic of candy-maker assemblies (www.pmca.com)—will, for the first time in several years incorporate a focus on innovations in packaging for confectionery. Even the most traditional of confectioners conceded that packaging is indispensable to protection, delivery, and display of their products because so much of “candy” is initially visual. How can Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day, Halloween, Christmas, Chanukah, Easter, back-to-school Monday, and even the Fourth of July pass without candy? And, for each special event, the candy must be in its own special package: hearts, orange color, unit portion, gold-colored metal foil, egg, etc.
Confectionery Packaging Requirements
The requirements for confectionery packaging have not really changed for many years: moisture barrier, fat barrier, resistance to breakage, flavor retention, ease of opening and (sometimes) ease of reclosing, ability to be decorated for visual attractiveness, and protection for prolonged periods (since products for Halloween must be made and distributed long before October 31). And, of course, on November 1 of any year, Halloween candy is nearly as valuable as yesterday’s newspaper.
• Chocolate as a Protective Agent. But, fortunately, chocolate is a protective agent, as are many of the lipid constituents, and therefore chocolate is a relatively stable product unless the temperature rises. Of course, as soon as inclusions such as nuts, dried fruit, cereal, sugar candy, or the like are present, chocolate’s nearly magical powers are stressed and additional protection must be incorporated, or the added values will become chewy instead of crisp, rancid instead of nutty, soggy instead of soft, and coarse instead of smooth—the result of water vapor entering or exiting the inclusion.
• Sugar Candy Moisture Sensitivity. The hygroscopicity of sugar candies has been documented and is addressed by most in the industry, some better than others. And, however obvious is the potential for flavor loss through volatilization and scalping, not a lot of research has focused on this important issue—except for the mints, with their particularly powerful abilities to reach beyond everywhere.
• Oxidation of Candy. Interestingly, despite some well-known deteriorative reactions by confectionery products—particularly lipid oxidations, flavor disappearance, and moisture gain (which also accelerates the adverse lipid reaction)—relatively little has been done to obviate the changes. Vacuum, inert gas, and other reduced-oxygen packaging is virtually unknown in candy (although it is standard for nuts). Hermetic sealing in high-barrier is not always employed for the more moisture-sensitive, although almost all other sugar-based products in other categories (e.g., cake or beverage mixes) are tightly sealed. And flavor containment is a relatively new concept for candy packaging, although the beer and carbonated beverage folks are attempting to control this quality loss vector.
If this article appears to resemble a series of show-and-tell lists about present and potential products without answers, that is the intent. Candy is not that challenging a product class to protect during distribution. The fact that relatively few candy products become unacceptable during distribution is anecdotal evidence, albeit with insufficient scientific bases to account for the results. That the products could be delivered with better quality is axiomatic within the industry and its ancillary supporters. The inevitable question is whether better quality retention and associated costs will result in increased sales or profitability. And the answer lies in the cannibalization by cereal, frozen dairy dessert, cookie and snack food producers, and fruit cooperatives. Superior quality attainable through enhanced packaging is an established route to sales, profits, and managerial promotions.
Alternative Packaging Technologies
And so, with much prelude, we offer this further list of some of the many alternatives for confectionery packaging that are used or might be considered:
• Blow-molded barrier bottles with inert gas flushing (salty snacks for automobile carriers).
• Vials with internal desiccants in the plastic walls (pharmaceuticals).
• Plastic cups with reclosable closures (products too numerous to count, for car beverage holders).
• Zippers or slides on flexible-film material pouches, with inert gas flushing (shredded cheese).
• Gable-top paperboard cartons (milk, juice, and, in other geographies, nuts and candies).
• Flexible squeeze tubes (yogurt).
• Snap-top thermoformed trays (cookies).
• Formed aluminum—or even plastic—with the package acting as the mold and then the package (cheese spread).
• Active packaging. And for the bold visionaries, active packaging beyond desiccants: oxygen scavengers, antioxidant delivery, oxidation signalers, odor scavengers to remove subtle rancidity, and desirable flavor generators.
Thus, those interested or concerned or even casually looking at confectionery packaging employ a broad array of alternatives beyond the “traditional” bar wrap, pillow pouch, roll wrap, set-up box, thermoformed polystyrene tray, folding paperboard carton, and twist wrap. By looking just beyond the conventional, and seeking to enhance quality retention, manufacturers can control the adverse effects of oxygen and moisture by some devices that are common in other venues: composite paperboard canisters, multiple-cavity barrier thermoforms, hermetically sealed pouches, athlete-friendly bottles, squeeze tubes, and—these above all—reducedoxygen interiors and barrier structures.
And all topped with shapes and graphics crafted from holograms, diffraction patterns, and even sound bites—all designed to enhance the basic notion that confectionery tastes good and is stable (sort of ), portable, and fun. Yummy!
• Oriented polypropylene film with its transparency, moisture and fat barrier, and eventual heat sealability—for pouches and overwraps.
• Cavitated core-oriented polypropylene film, with its moisture and fat barrier, opacity, and stiffness resembling glassine—for bar wraps.
• Vacuum metallized polypropylene, with its enhanced moisture barrier and its metallic-like appearance—for pouches.
• Thin and thinner aluminum foil, with color to coordinate with the season/holiday/contents—for chocolate cones.
• Injection-molded plastic that can be shaped to any device known to kids—computer, tape player, squirt gun, aerosol, whatever struck the manager’s imagination.
• Injection-molded polyester preforms (tubes that precede the bottle-blowing operation), to contain anything that could flow or pour—and even their blown bottles and jars for very-high-acid syrups.
• Embossed and decorated metal cans—for sugar candies and breath mints.
• Convolute and spiral-wound composite paperboard canisters—for cereal-based products.
• Stand up flexible pouches—for minibars.
• Transfer metallized paper and paperboard—for boxed chocolates.
• Plastic vials.
• And others.
by AARON L. BRODY
President and CEO, Packaging/Brody, Inc.