Choosing the right packaging for a food and beverage facility

Owners must be strategic and intentional with material purchases and investments and what goes into a packaging process is no different.

By Sean O'Brien May 25, 2022
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

The accelerated expansion of e-commerce over the past five years paired with ongoing supply chain constraints have affected a crucial area of food and beverage processing: packaging. The price of corrugated has been steadily increasing for years, but recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a sharp spike in cost since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of corrugated and solid fiber box manufacturing products reached an all-time high in February 2022.

In the face of significant price increases, owners must be strategic and intentional with material purchases and investments. This is the perfect time to reevaluate a facility’s current packaging process, including whether a change in case style could help optimizing the process and save money.

What are regular slotted containers (RSCs)?

Regular slotted containers (RSCs), also known as “knock-down cases,” are the most commonly used corrugated box style in packaging. The manufacture joint of RSCs is pre-glued by a manufacturer and the boxes are shipped flat to a packager who then erects (or assembles) the cases, packs the case and seals the case for shipment.

This style is well-suited for manual packing and its low equipment capital cost is a leading reason newer businesses choose RSCs for their facilities. Operators have three packaging methods to choose from depending on their budget and labor allocation:

  • An owner can erect, seal and pack the cases manually for a minimal cost with only a case conveyor and table.
  • An owner can buy an automatic case erector and sealer to form the cases. They would then manually pack the product and automatically seal the cases using the equipment.
  • An owner can buy an RSC case packer to erect, pack and seal cases automatically. The upfront cost of this option is more costly, but optimizes packing speed and therefore productivity.

What are wraparound cases?

Wraparound cases are flat pieces of corrugated that use an automatic case packer to form, load and wrap the corrugated blank around the product and glue it closed. These cases are specifically designed to fit the dimensions of a company’s products. The tight case often translates to a stronger, more durable case because it is using the strength from the product and the corrugated case together.

It’s been my experience that an increasing number of food and beverage manufacturers are transitioning to using wraparound style cases. While wraparound case packaging equipment requires more upfront investment than RSC case packagers, owners reap the benefits of their investment in the long term.

Four advantages to choosing wraparound case packaging for a production line

1. Materials savings

Taking a hard look at the company’s corrugated case design can reveal multiple opportunities to cut costs.

The precise dimensions of wraparound blanks immediately lower material costs since they reduce the amount of corrugated used to create a case. An added benefit is that the tight packaging can also make overall cases smaller and allow more finished cases to fit on a pallet, thus leading to cost savings for customers in addition to material savings.

Corrugated suppliers will charge more for RSC products due to the extra step they need to take to seal the manufacturer flap on these cases. Wraparound case packers automatically take care of this step and remove the added cost for owners who have adopted the system.

2. Freight savings

Ordering corrugated blanks that have not been pre-glued by the supplier saves a significant amount of space on a pallet. Since these wraparound cases begin flat, more will fit on a pallet and truck, saving an owner on transportation costs. It will also save time, especially considering how a shortage of transportation sector workers has resulted in long and unpredictable delivery times.

3. Operational efficiency

Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are taking a toll on every facet of the food processing industry. In today’s market, the ability to maximize operational efficiency is crucial. It’s why many are looking at what changes they can make — big or small — that emphasize automation and enhance employee safety.

Since nearly twice as many wraparound blanks can fit in a packer’s magazine compared to RSCs, an operator does not need to load the magazine as often. This translates to both improved efficiency and safety. Less fork truck travel is required in a plant to replenish the line with corrugated blanks. Additionally, more wraparound blanks fit on a pallet compared to RSCs, which means they take up fewer floor and pallet spaces in warehouses.

Part of the appeal of a wraparound case packer over an RSC packer is that it cuts down on labor by automating the process of erecting, packing and sealing a case. The speed and efficiency of this case style is hard to beat. However, unlike with an RSC, if a wraparound case packer were to break down and require maintenance, operators could not pivot to manually packing cases.

4. Quality

Operators will often find that wraparound cases result in higher-quality products compared to RSCs.

A common problem with RSC cases is when the pre-glued manufacturer joints become skewed, resulting in a case that is not square. When a product does not fit into a misshaped case, it can cause the case packer to crash. Plus, misshaped finished cases can lead to unstable pallets since they do not stack consistently. However, wraparound cases are wrapped around the product, which in the end makes a more consistent square case.

An additional concern is that the glue from the manufacturer flap can seep past the manufacturer joint to the inside of the case blank and glue the case shut. When such a case is placed in the case packer, the equipment’s failure to open the corrugated can cause the packer to crash.

While the low capital investment and equipment maintenance cost associated with RSC cases may seem attractive upfront, if you are looking to optimize production efficiencies and save on packaging materials in the long term it is better to invest in wraparound cases.

Stellar is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at Stellar.

Author Bio: Sean is experienced in the food and beverage industry and has worked extensively in package engineering for coffee, bakery, beverage, dairy, poultry, read-to-eat and dry foods. Sean has 13 years of industry experience including four years with Stellar.