Just how much bearing can a mere closure have on a packaging design? Even to those individuals working in a food packaging related industry this sort of detail can be easily overlooked. Eye catching details are all well and good but if the functionality of the packaging is not optimised the customer may never return. Blindingly obvious you might think, but it's surprising how often packaging design trips up at this hurdle.
The US producer of custom cheeses, Sargento Foods, has grown to become one of the leading players in the dairy segment in recent years. The company also strongly believes that the packaging of its products is one of the core driving forces behind this success. In 1986 it became the first food company to start using resealable press-to-close bags for its diced and cubed cheeses. Since this innovation the Wisconsin-based company has had its inevitable imitators - so in order to keep one step ahead it had to progress its packaging design once again.
"Packaging is a key driver for the consumer," said Brad Rostowfske, director of new products at Sargento Foods. "It has to be eye-catching, easy to use and functional. In the case of our cheese products it is also very important that it remains resealable, too, in order to keep the products as fresh as possible, for as long as possible.
"Also, from a pure branding point of view, the packaging has to be innovative, so as it remains at the forefront of the consumers mind. In order to do this we have to keep the consumer happy by giving them exactly what they want. In this case, it took extensive interaction with the customer to discover that one of the most important criteria was the freshness of the product. What the customer wanted was packaging that was easier to seal and keep resealed, enabling the product to remain fresher for longer."
To get the ball rolling Sargento approached packaging provider Pactiv to collaborate on the project.
"When we first contacted Pactiv we knew exactly what we wanted so we were very specific with our design brief. However the project was highly interactive and although we had total control on the design of the project, both sides bounced ideas off one another."
The technical development with Pactiv started in 1999 and in the early stages end users were presented with hundreds of different designs.
"The undeniable conclusion from all this field work was that the customers liked the sliding closure design, which Pactiv held the patent for. The slide was combined with the standard form-filled seal platform and the final product took shape. The patented Slide-Rite Advanced Closure System was used to create a unique packaging concept for Sargento."
Another crucial aspect of the design was the tamper-proof seal. It goes without saying that appropriate packaging security is crucial in order to win over the confidence of the consumer, so a great deal of consideration was taken in this area too.
"We worked on a comprehensive project to get the seal just right and again it was the consumers that drove the design. The crucial aspect here was the score technology we developed along the outside edge of the pouch, enabling the zipper and slider to be concealed. It is interesting that many of our leading competitors do not fully conceal their seals, which could lead to disguisable tampering.
"We also created a packaging that lived within the footprint of the original packaging design. The basic dimensions remained the same, which meant that the stores didn't have to make any changes to accommodate the new packaging. Finally we entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with Pactiv and the packaging hit the [US] shelves last year."
Undoubtedly the best way to determine the success of a new packaging design is to determine what effect it has had on sales. In this case the Slide-Rite closure has, according to Rostowfske, helped the company achieve double-digit growth over the past two years.
To top it all the design has also been recognised by a number of industry awards, which this year included the silver medal for design packaging excellence from the Flexible Packaging Association, as well as the WorldStar Packaging Award in the retail food category from the World Packaging Organization.
Surely that puts the seal on the bag for Sargento.