Snack Food Packaging: 100 Years and Counting

"Cellophane brought about the first transparent...packaging concepts." So said Dr. Richard Podhajny, one of PFFC's contributing editors, in his feature, "A Century of Packaging and the Printing That Adorns It" (PFFC, October 1999). From that simple concept introduced almost 100 years ago—a material that would enable the customer to see the product and protect it from moisture—the world of packaging has grown into a domain that includes high polymer research and discovery; tremendous advances in printing; sophisticated, in-line mechanical operations; controlled-atmosphere applications for food products; and much more.

Food packaging is an area in which food-product developers and retailers, material and machine suppliers, converters, scientists, and chemists have all been, and still are, involved heavily. Within this expansive realm of food packaging, there is the province of snack food packaging.

In its evolution and application, snack food packaging is not so different from other food packaging, yet it does seem to be carving out a niche all its own. (For more in-depth coverage of food packaging development, Dr. Podhajny's previously mentioned article provides a succinct overview.)

1900-20

  • Material developed in France that eventually will be named "cellophane."

1920s

  • Aniline printing begins in US; banned for use in food packaging due to aniline dyes, which were made from coal and tar and were thought to be toxic.

  • (1920s-1940s)

    Chemists begin using other "safe" coloring agents for inks used in aniline process.

  • Gravure printing introduced into packaging applications, used by such companies as American Chicle Co., Brach Candy, Peter Paul Co., and Chicago Printed String Co.

  • (1924)

    Cellophane introduced to US by E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. Inc.

  • (1927) Hudson-Sharp

    produces a three-color flexo press that uses oil-based inks; it is utilized to print napkins, paper, and wallpaper.

1930s

  • (1933)

    Glassine paper waxed bag patented; especially useful for potato chip packaging.

  • Single-color gravure press designed as part of continuous printing wrapping operation (for Tootsie Rolls).

  • A benchmark in development of in-line gravure operations: Champlain Co. (now Bobst Group) builds two customized gravure presses for Jell-O brand desserts (Beverages, Desserts & Snack div. of Kraft Foods) to be utilized for printing on paperboard Jell-O cartons; this is the first US installation of equipment that can handle large-scale production of multicolor folding cartons in a continuous printing and die-cutting operation.

  • 1939

    Champlain's concept (the two presses built for Jell-O) of large-scale, in-line gravure printing and other operations wins All-American Packaging Award.

1940s

  • Snack consumption rises during WWII era, due, in part, to more working members per family.

  • Polyolefins developed: polyethylene (PE) and polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC, a.k.a. Saran wrap). The introduction of PE film is a substantial advance in materials that would be utilized later for food packaging; it provides for product viewing plus high-moisture barrier. PE is one of the first economical materials to provide weld-type seals, toughness, and stability.

  • First central impression (CI) press developed; three CI presses completed and delivered in 1942.

  • "Eye appeal" in packaging, particularly in snack food packaging, increases in importance.

  • Cellophane and glassine packaging demand increases.

  • 1945

    DuPont begins exploratory work that leads to PE extrusion coating process in 1948.

1950s

  • Milprint (and other materials companies) develop reliable, cost-effective adhesives.

  • Thin-layer laminations of multiple materials; combinations utilized for increased package strength and more cost-effective production.

  • 1952

    Packaging Institute holds national election for name change of process known as "aniline" printing; the term "flexography" is chosen overwhelmingly.

  • 1953

    Italian chemist Giulio Natta begins intensive study of macromolecules. Later, he "obtains" polypropylenes (PP) with a highly regular molecular structure. Using Karl Ziegler's catalysts, Natta experiments with the polymerization of propylene and obtains PP with the regular molecular structure. The properties—high strength, high melting points—of these polymers soon prove commercially important for packaging applications.

  • Common usage of PP/cellophane, PP/glassine combinations for snack food packaging.

  • Era of the "form/fill/seal" bag begins (late 1950s).

1960s

  • Further advances in PP usage; PP's stretch capacity and strength increases its usefulness.

  • Snack market starts to see brand rivalry for national and regional dominance.

  • Direct engraving method comes into use (gravure printing).

  • Food packaging begins to feature more layers of color due, in part, to advances in flexographic printing.

  • 1963

    Natta and Ziegler win Nobel Prize for the development of Ziegler-Natta catalysts (see 1953). These chemists both contributed to high polymer development, which has proven to be useful in the manufacture of films, plastics, fibers, and synthetic rubber.

  • 1966

    Electrostatic Assist printing developed by Gravure Research Inst. (now part of Gravure Association of America); improves gravure process by improving inkdelivery from engraved cells.

  • 1968

    Electromechanical engraving machines (for engraving of gravure plates) debut in US market.

1970s

  • Advent of extrusion lamination; results in a thicker laminate with smoother appearance; more resistant to handling damage.

  • Coextrusion process develops, combining various hot plastics to produce more desirable packaging properties.

  • Vacuum metallized films introduced; these films provide superior oxygen-resistant properties that are necessary for extended shelf life of snack food products.

  • Snacks are designed to be packaged in controlled-atmosphere packaging.

  • Retailers increase snack food packaging shelf space.

  • Aluminum foil combinations in packaging increase.

  • Ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) resins and films introduced in Japan; EVOH films offer several features suited for snack food packaging, including barrier properties, dimensional stability, attractive appearance, durability, and economical cost.

  • Development of ionomers and similar coatings; they provide for higher hot tack seals at lower seal-initiation temperatures.

  • Environmental regulations begin affecting converting/packaging production; industry responds with more environmentally friendly production techniques/methods, such as water-based technology and 100% solids technology.

  • 1980s

    • Snack foods packaged in canister-type packaging, i.e., chips, peanuts

    • 1984-1985

      Cold-seal patterned adhesive introduced; creates simplified operation for sealing snack products such as candy bars; results in easier package opening for consumers.

    • EVOH resins and films introduced in US and Europe.

    • Open code dating begins to appear; consumers now can see plainly a product's age.

    • Snack food combination kits become available (1988), i.e., Oscar Mayer's (a div. of Kraft Foods) "Lunchables" product; packaging includes a multi-compartment-type structure.

    1990s

    • EVOH combined with other film structures in flexible snack food packaging applications.

    • Metallized layer usage in packaging increases; metallized film is less coarse than foil yet provides adequate barrier properties and smooth, glossy surface for visual appeal.

    • Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP): process of packaging food in which oxygen is removed inside package, resulting in products remaining fresher longer.

    • Snack food combo kits evolve into multi-compartment packaging that sells two different brand-name products in one package.

    • Canister "rigid-flexible" packaging evolves--higher barrier properties, new constructions; canister-type packaging becomes more consumer-friendly; film and paper substrates utilized for sealing product, providing for safer opening of package "mouth."

    • Foods that traditionally may not be considered snack food are marketed to have snack food appeal; i.e., Philadelphia's (a brand name in the Cheese div. of Kraft Foods) cheesecake "snack bars." Bars are shelved in refrigerated display, within folding carton packages of six bars, each bar individually enclosed in film wrapping.

    • Introduction of "shaped" packaging; increased shelf appeal, dual-usage for consumers (plus play value for children).

    Sources
    Podhajny, R. 1999. "A Century of Packaging and the Printing That Adorns It." Paper, Film & Foil CONVERTER, Vol. 73, No. 10: 77-80.

    Kinigakis, P. Senior technology principal, Kraft Foods Inc. (Glen View, IL). Interview by author. Chicago, IL, May 2000.

    Keese, P. Senior market manager, Sonoco (Hartsville, SC). Interview by author. Chicago, IL, May 2000.

    "Flexible Packaging: Economy and Eye Appeal" and "Packaging Machinery: Pampering a Fragile Product": Both articles courtesy of Snack Food Assn., Alexandria, VA.

    Gravure Process and Technology. 1991. Rochester: Gravure Assn. of America and the Gravure Education Foundation.

    Flexography Principles and Practices: Fourth Edition. 1991. Ronkonkoma: Foundation of Flexographic Technical Foundation.

    Brody, A., and K. Marsh. 1997. The Wiley Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology: Second Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

    Osborn, K., and W. Jenkins. 1992. Plastic Films: Technology and Packaging Applications. Lancaster: Technomic Publishing Co. Inc.


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