Popcorn packaging leads converter down new paths.

Himac helps Phoenix by downgauging its susceptor film, giving greater coverage for the material.

Phoenix Packaging has parlayed its expertise in microwave popcorn packaging into an expanded niche that includes moisture barrier laminations.

Phoenix Packaging, Maple Grove, MN, is a niche converter offering innovative and cost-effective solutions for branded, specialty packaging. Using patented susceptor technology, the company is a leader in microwave packaging, supplying 60% of the world's microwave popcorn bags. The bags are produced primarily for Hunt-Wesson's Orville Redenbacher[TM] Div. and Act II[TM] popcorn, distributed by Golden Valley Microwave Foods.

Founded in 1985, the company has expanded into other food packaging areas as well, utilizing the knowledge of paper and thin-gauge metallized film gained from its microwave popcorn packaging experience, explains VP and general manager Eric Jackson.

The Phoenix product is a printed, laminated sandwich of susceptor film between two paper layers. Himac supplies the metallized polyester susceptor films, and paper is from E.B. Eddy Co. and Rhinelander. The operation includes three custom-designed Kidder stack presses, three central-impression presses, a Kroenert laminator/coater, and demetallizing equipment. The presses laminate, print up to five colors, apply coatings in register, and slit - all in one pass. Both flexography and gravure printing are available. Water-based inks are from Color Converting Industries, and water-based adhesives are supplied by H.B. Fuller.

Raising Quality, Cutting Cost

Himac's film is key to the operation, according to Jackson, who reports that the film has extremely tight specifications and good roll formation, which provide the necessary even tension control that minimizes blocking at the core and gauge bands.

"We constantly seek out quality, low-cost raw materials, such as the chemically treated polyester susceptor films from Himac. I feel that few US metallizers can control optical density so well and, at the same time, give us the benefit of being able to lower our incoming costs for susceptor film materials."

Further, says Jackson, Himac helps Phoenix by downgauging its susceptor film, giving greater coverage for the material. The polyester film is metallized to precise Phoenix specifications and maintains an optical density within [+ or -].02 to ensure efficient microwave performance.

Phoenix has extended its microwave popcorn expertise into moisture barrier laminations involving paper and oriented polypropylene, as well as cast PP (the latter being a Himac specialty).

"Our experience with both paper and thin-gauge metallized films in popcorn gives us a leg up," says Jackson. "It has allowed us to develop surface-printed paper/metallized OPP laminations that can be adapted to meet specific packaging requirements."

Among these laminations is a new liner developed by Phoenix for Pepperidge Farms Goldfish[TM] crackers and cookies. It is paper/metallized, heat-sealable PP, which has excellent properties, is a foil replacement, and provides customers with desirable source reduction capabilities, says Jackson.

Jackson also notes that this new structure offers cost reductions and advantages in roachinability due to its excellent layflat property. Since Phoenix uses water-based inks and adhesives, the potential for any odor issues with the product is reduced. Variations in paper types and calipers are possible, as well as different metallized OPP films.

Jim Dohanick, director of manufacturing services, adds, "Faced with increasing raw material costs in the past two years, we have looked at new and innovative ways to keep costs under control and, in some cases, reduce them. Being a low-cost producer of microwave popcorn rollstock, we have been working closely with companies like Himac to reduce costs in ways that include downgauging and sourcing low-cost base films from multiple suppliers."

Demetallization a Specialty

Another specialty at Phoenix Packaging is its demetallization process, devised to bring the temperature of susceptor film to the precise point that makes it compatible with various food products.

Jackson cites pork rinds as an example. "When the first trials were conducted on this product with standard metallized film, we found that too much heat was generated. After investigating different formats, we found that the product needed a larger susceptor area for coverage - 50% larger in most cases - but with lower heat. By using our advanced susceptor technology and proprietary demetallization, we were able to develop a package that works."

He explains that throughout the industry, demetallization is achieved by applying solvent to metal areas, then washing away the metal. This does the job but requires coping with solvent contamination. "We learned how to apply a special solution to remove the metal without adding solvents," says Jackson, "so the film is not compromised, and solvent contamination is not a problem. Furthermore, with our process, we can tone metallize in any pattern, allowing us to customize film for specific microwave cooking requirements. In the end, we can achieve a finely graduated demetallized susceptor."

"Since the popcorn packaging business has reached a plateau," Jackson says, "we need to look at other susceptor film markets. Our demetallization process lends itself to those markets, and, as a result, we feel our overall business will continue to grow."

Speaking of growth, Phoenix has grown from a two-press to a seven-press operation during the past ten years. It has done this by virtue of its one-pass operation, as well as through the development of its graduated demetallizing process. New processing technology is in the making today, and the company intends to expand its position as a converter that concentrates on a niche while always looking for ways in which to innovate.

Supplier information:

Himac Inc., Atlanta, GA; ph: 404/505-1203; fax: 404/505-7302.

E.B. Eddy Paper Inc., Port Huron, MI; ph: 313/982-0191; fax: 313/982-7124.

Rhinelander Paper Co., Rhinelander, WI; ph: 715/369-4100; fax: 715/369-4142.

Kidder Inc., Agawam, MA; ph: 413/786-8692; fax: 413/786-8785.

Kroenert Corp., Cedar Rapids, IA; ph: 319/366-6200; fax: 319/366-5230.

Color Converting Industries, Des Moines, IA; ph: 515/263-6500; fax: 515/263-6511.

H.B. Fuller Co., St. Paul, MN; ph: 612/481-1588; fax: 612/481-1828.

Subscribe to PFFC's EClips Newsletter