In today’s hectic world, the art of dining is taking a hit. Squeezed for time on all sides, on-the-go consumers are grabbing their food and going.
“This trend is not necessarily new, it just continues to grow every day,” observes Paul Naiman, vice president of sales and marketing for portion-control product manufacturer Thermo Pac LLC. “Arguably with the most recent economic problems, consumers are continuing to eat out, but they may not go to the sit-down restaurant as much. They’re going to fast-food and fast-casual dining. It’s all about our busy lives.”
That trend is creating more business for Thermo Pac’s specific market. “Our bull’s-eye is a niche that is different than perhaps some companies,” he points out. “The people we work with select us because of our manufacturing flexibility and high quality standards. Many of the folks we are working with today have their own manufacturing and look for us to fill in the voids where they may have a project that requires a special size, a special formula or a volume that just doesn’t fit their production blueprint.”
Automatic packaging machines are expensive to design and purchase, so when different package sizes are required, the hands-on approach at Thermo Pac is required.
“Our alternative is we use manufacturing equipment that can produce a variety of single-serve pouch and cup sizes and labor,” Naiman reveals.
“The labor component means we can pack into just about any configuration, and so that includes not only the outer case, but also an inner case that may hold multiple pouches and cups that goes into an outer case,” he continues.
“We may do it for 50 different pouch sizes for customers,” Naiman adds. “You can’t design the automation to do it because there wouldn’t be any payback. Flexible manufacturing equipment and labor is how we manage that.”
Thermo Pac’s single plant in Stone Mountain, Ga., can handle a variety of different single-serve pouch or cup sizes and viscosities as well as particulates like single-serve seasonings and beverages.
“The other part of our special niche is that we make products with peanut butter and put it into pouches or cups as single servings,” Naiman points out. “A number of our customers don’t want peanuts in their plants, and we’re good at handling peanut butter. We’ve never been involved in any of these peanut issues that have happened over the last few years.
“We also process cheese into single-serving pouches or cups, and that requires a special skill just in terms of processing as well as filling, and that’s also something we’re very good at doing,” he maintains.
The company manufactures and packs tomato-based sauces, such as salsa picante, marinara, pizza and barbecue sauces, as well as condiments, honey, pancake syrup, hot sauces, salad dressings, jams, caramel and icing.
“An example of an area of growth for us would be in dips that you might normally see sold in the refrigerator case that we make in shelf-stable form,” he continues. “We do cheese dips – all shelf-stable – and they’re high-quality products.” This form provides maximum convenience.
Thermo Pac’s three major markets are consumer, foodservice and military. “We also make and pack products that go into meals ready-to-eat (MREs) for the military,” Naiman says. “We’re packing some different kinds of foods for the military. One example would be a pouch that has peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other.”
Thermo Pac uses the hot fill process in which food is heated, put in a cup or pouch and sealed. When it cools, a vacuum is created.
Thermo Pac not only packages food, it manufactures it. This is more complicated than it initially appears. “It’s one thing to create a recipe, but another thing to run it in a plant,” Naiman emphasizes. “It isn’t like just making it in your kitchen. There are certain rules you need to follow in terms of the formulation so it is shelf-stable. “You’re dealing with large batches and a certain order of addition for the products,” Naiman explains. “How are the different ingredients added? What needs to be done in terms of agitation and heating to achieve shelf stability?”