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on May 16, 2007

Crossover packs from the human side

Packaging innovations for human foods are already proving a rich source of inspiration for new packs to hold petfoods

In central Spain to attend a meeting, I stayed at a hotel that provided a small box in the room. "Bebida Autocalentable" said its label; translated as "self-heating drink." Inside the box was a plastic beaker containing an instant coffee liquid at the top and some crystals in the base. Shaking the beaker released heat from the crystals that made the coffee quite hot, so there was no need for any form of external heating.

Could you see the same idea some day in a petfood setting, say as a way of warming a gravy to pour over dry food while away from home? It is not so fanciful. Packaging innovations for human foods are already proving a rich source of inspiration for new packs to hold petfoods, as we were told at Petfood Forum Europe this past fall.

Examples abound

One instance was due to appear in November at the Pack Expo held in the USA. It takes the form of a sack that would be ideal for a dry dog food sold in bulk, for example. The innovative bit in this case is that the sealed multi-wall sack has holes cut in both ends to act as handles. This makes it a lot easier to lift than a large, weighty bag that has only a handle at the top.

Packs formed from multiple materials (aluminum foil, paperboard, polypropylene) have appeared on the market as retortable pouches holding meat products. Apparently something similar has been trialed in Italy for a moist dog food previously sold in cans. Another crossover product could be the pouch that has a perforated tab in the top so it can hang more visibly on a peg in the store.

Travel packs for dogs and cats as well as humans are here now. So far the pet versions have consisted of separate pouches of food, water and litter, but the human desserts section of the grocery store contains a pack that could change the presentation. It is a plastic bowl with a peel-off lid and its main compartment has a rice or yogurt dessert. The child eating this, however, first folds over one corner of the bowl where there is a small reservoir of jam or biscuit fragments to mix into the main food. Substitute water for jam and kibbles for rice and you can see how the twin-chamber idea might cross over into a pet's travel pack. Alternatively, the mix-and-feed principle would work well in those places where pet owners like to add a liquid such as gravy to the dry material they feed their dog.

You may call this an expensive option, but the cost-per-pack can be made quite affordable by making use of a design already pioneered elsewhere. It saves on initial tooling costs, for example. At the Glee PetIndex exhibition in the UK this year there was a display by British company Clifton Packaging Group, featuring a number of off-the-shelf pack types from other food businesses. Among them I noted a shaped foil pouch, employed currently for children's candies. The front of the pouch had been printed with a cartoon of a bear that matched the pouch's shape. It was easy to imagine a similar pack having a cat or dog on the front instead and winning notability on the shelves of a petfood store.

A matter of design and convenience

Colorful designs certainly help, but a further reminder at Petfood Forum Europe had been that packaging is a matter of convenience. Some dog food bags were criticized there as being quite difficult to open and poor at resealing. Demonstrating the value of a pack type that is obviously convenient, PetIndex exhibitor Little Treasuresnewly formed this year, to sell its own-brand extrudates to the "small furry animal" marketwon plaudits from visitors for the brightest of colors and lively images on a retro-style cardboard box. A typical visitor's comment was that the box stood out from the array of plastic pouches offered by competitors.

However, the most remarkable of the packs on view at the UK exhibition must have been one in the Wild Things range of complementary foods for wild animals and birds shown by Spike's World. Inside the pack were dry pellets, designed to float on water because they are intended for feeding to pond birds such as ducks and swans. Last year the company sold these pellets in a single-pack size of 1.5 kg, but it has since responded to public demand by introducing a bigger 5-kg sack. Unbelievably, it was discovered there are families who want to put a bulk pack of bird food in the back of the car in case they encounter any birds to feed while on their travels.

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