Whether chicken, turkey, duck or goose – today’s kitchen not only values poultry meat for its versatile flavours, but also because it provides biologically important protein and contains less fat and therefore fewer calories than other meats. This is why poultry has become extremely appreciated by consumers, as can be seen from its ever-growing share in the global meat consumption in recent years. Poultry meat is a sensitive product. As a result, the demand for suitable packaging has become a decisive factor for many food manufacturers, especially now that the self-service segment is booming. Poultry packaging has to meet many different requirements at the same time: it must offer product safety, adhere to the highest hygiene standards, and should be efficient and cost-effective in production and logistics. Furthermore, consumers increasingly demand convenient handling and improved sustainability.
The benefits of skin packaging
Of all these requirements, product protection is the most important. Due to the sensitivity of the poultry meat, special hygiene requirements apply to its processing, packaging and storage. In addition, the use of high quality and extremely fresh raw materials is a first prerequisite. A consistent cool chain, as well as processing and packaging under optimal conditions, are just as important.
There are various packaging solutions for poultry. One of them is a proven system, which has recently become more widely used: vacuum or skin packaging. Owing to continuous developments, skin packs that are produced entirely from film reels or that consist of a pre-formed tray and top film, and that are sealed under deep vacuum, offer a number of benefits to manufacturers, retailers and consumers:
1. Improved shelf life and product quality
Through skin packaging, the shelf life of poultry, depending on the product and microbiological starting situation, can be increased significantly. A major advantage of vacuum is the hardly measurable residual oxygen content inside the package. The use of high-quality vacuum packaging technology, gas-impermeable films and trays, and thus the exclusion of oxygen, are inhibiting aerobic microorganisms that impair the preservation of food. Retailers are benefiting from less food spoilage through reduced throwaway, while consumers are happy with the longer shelf life. As such, skin packaging can assist in preventing food waste.
However, not only improved freshness, consistency and shelf life of meat products speak for skin technology. Poultry products can also benefit from better taste due to this type of packaging. The meat juice, an important flavour carrier, is retained when packaged under vacuum, as the tight-fitting skin film prevents drip-loss. A further positive effect can be seen with marinated, ready-to-grill poultry. As the product is closely surrounded by its marinade, it is able to fully develop its flavour. This leads to excellent aroma and perfectly tender meat. The result: a real BBQ treat, with the additional option of preparing the meat in the oven outside the grill season.
2. Reliable product protection
Hygienic packaging is a first requirement for the protection of sensitive poultry meat. Modern skin technology produces hermetically sealed packs. These benefit from innovative packaging materials, such as films of different compositions that have an excellent barrier against external influences. At the same time, these materials are extremely thin and yet particularly resilient. They prevent puncturing of the film, even in the case of demanding shapes or bone-in products. As an example, large poultry parts can now also be perfectly skin packaged.
3. Attractive product presentation
From a marketing point of view, skin packaging offers a number of advantages. It supports retailers with a particularly attractive visual presentation on the shelf. The poultry is clearly visible and can even be ‘touched’, owing to the 3D effect of the film that fits like a second skin. As such, it demonstrates the manufacturer’s integrity for showing the product the way it is and creates confidence with the consumer. Due to the secure fixation of the product, for example in a solid skin tray, the poultry becomes an eye-catcher at retail. The packs can be promoted standing or hanging while saving valuable shelf space.
4. Convenient handling
Also from a consumer’s perspective, skin packaging offers a number of benefits. First, the product is visible from all sides. In addition, the poultry product can be kept longer in the refrigerator without loss of quality. Modern materials and processes also make handling of the packaging particularly easy. Innovative opening aids prevent the need for hand tools, like knives or scissors, while re-closable systems support longer storage with optimal product quality. Functional packaging, such as ovenable skin solutions, facilitate the heating process and guarantee a successful preparation. In addition to this, skin packs are suitable for freezing and can easily be defrosted.
Various skin alternatives
To sum it up: skin packaging of poultry products can create benefits along the entire distribution chain. However, not every skin packaging system is the same. Today, there are quite different versions of this innovative vacuum packaging technology. SEALPAC, a specialist in the development of such vacuum packaging solutions, would like to highlight the following:
Skin packaging in trays
With the TraySkin® system, poultry products are hermetically sealed inside a pre-formed tray with a highly transparent barrier film that fits the contours of the product like a second skin. This provides stability to the product, allowing for vertical presentation at retail. In case of marinated products, because the contents are securely held inside the tray, the product is able to fully develop its flavour. An optional second top film allows for easy stacking or labelling. The created headspace can even be used for extras, such as seasonings or recipes. The TraySkin® system is suitable for a wide range of products, such as chicken breast, thigh and even whole birds.
Ovenable and microwavable skin packaging
New materials have made it possible to produce ovenable or microwavable skin packs that allow for easy and error-free preparation of meat by consumers. In this case, the poultry is skin packaged in a heat-resistant tray that can be placed straight from the freezer or refrigerator into the oven or microwave. The controlled internal pressure inside the vacuum pack leads to a gentle cooking process that preserves taste and consistency. To consumers, such skin packs stand out for their convenience and hygienic handling, as they prevent any contact with raw products whilst keeping their oven or microwave clean.
Paper-based skin packaging: FlatSkin®
With regard to food packaging in general, another aspect is playing an increasingly important role: the demand for more sustainability. Manufacturers are making every effort to reduce the amount of packaging material without sacrificing product safety. Consumers, on the other hand, pay ever more attention to recyclable packaging that should nevertheless provide them with convenient handling. With this in mind, SEALPAC has now launched its FlatSkin® system that combines a cardboard carrier and skin film. This carrier is made from bleached or unbleached fibre (with FSC or PEFC certification), and can be printed on both sides by means of low-migration printing inks and varnishes. The carrier is coated with a polymeric protective layer.
A highly transparent barrier skin film fixates the product directly onto its flat support, which allows for excellent vertical presentation. A peel tab simplifies the opening of the skin pack. After taking out the product, the thin polymeric layer is easily removed from the cardboard to allow for separate disposal. By using this new skin system, up to 75% less plastic is used compared to common skin packaging. At the same time, due to deep vacuum, the shelf life of the packaged poultry products is improved even further. That is why FlatSkin® convinces in terms of sustainability. Finally yet importantly, the extremely flat tray offers optimal branding opportunities, for example to highlight specialty products (e.g. bio or organic poultry).
The perfect match
No matter which type of skin packaging system a manufacturer selects for his poultry products: every single link in the distribution chain counts. In order for sensitive food items to finally end up fresh on the consumer’s plate, first-class products, innovative packaging technologies and modern packaging materials must be perfectly matched to each other.