Design: Intelligent Packaging Solutions
UK launch date: Summer 2012
Competition in the ready meals sectors is, if you’ll pardon the pun, hotting up. Microwavable meals still hold their own although such products can have packaging drawbacks – shoppers can’t always easily see what they’re buying. Sneaking a peak at the product usually means having include cardboard sleeve around a tray. And then there’s the desire to make the pack lighter – no easy feat when the product needs protection.
Stepping up to the ready meal challenge is Intelligent Packaging Solutions (IPS), which has gone from developing a cup for the dairy sector to providing a supermarket giant with a pack that went into stores this summer.
According to IPS sales and marketing manager Gerard Connolly, the Desto Cup was originally developed for Rachel’s Dairy four years ago. It wanted an alternative for its injection-moulded yoghurt packs which weighed 28 grams – the new approach needed to be lighter.
“We came up with a very lightweight cup that took the plastic element of the packaging down from 28 to seven grams,” explains Connolly. “It was made from recycled PET with a cardboard wrap for protection. The new format resulted in a huge plastic weight reduction and rPET is ideal for chilled foods.”
From there the pack went into the horticulture market, providing the protection for Grow Your Own Herbs. But IPS believed the Desto cup could go further and it looked into the possibility of going into the chilled ready meal market. To do that, some amendments were needed.
First was the switch from rPET to polypropylene, which was necessary for when the product became hot. However, the cardboard around the cup itself needed to be thick enough for the consumer to pick up when hot.
“We tested several fibre boards,” adds Connolly. “It had to be the right thickness so it would be okay to pick up. We also took into account the serious temperature changes – from the freezer to the microwave.”
What was unavoidable was the incorporation of two materials. While that can in some respects hampers the recyclability of the product, Connolly stresses that the cardboard sleeve is made from renewable sources and the pot and sleeve are easy to separate.
The cut-out window also helps to increase the product visibility, which was one aspect of the design that attracted supermarket giant Tesco to the packs. It was looking for a pack for its Piing range of ready meals. A few mock-ups from IPS impressed the supermarket, which continues to strive to reduce packaging. According to IPS, the pack is also “66% lighter compared with conventional, injection mould pack formats”.
It might be early days for the Piing brand, which has gone into over 600 stores in the UK, but the signs are already encouraging. IPS has already experienced repeat orders and the company picked up a Tesco Values Award for Innovation in Ready Meals. The supermarket chain liked the cup’s technical and design innovation, plus its environmental credentials.
IPS is now looking at widening the product’s scope to markets such as hot drinks, which Connolly reckons the Desto cup is well suited for. “One of the product’s key points is that the plastic cup inside the cardboard is leak-proof,” adds Connolly.
From yoghurts to ready meals, the four year journey of the Desto cup has, so far, proved to be a rewarding one for IPS. The aim is now to roll it out even further.
Connolly adds: “We are thrilled with the reaction to the Desto cup and are confident that it will become the leading format for the chilled ready meals category.”