Packaging Story

It takes more than happy cows to succeed in a crowded cheese snack market

Henry Ford once quipped “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.” Sonoma, California-based Sonoma Creamery Company learned this lesson the hard way. The story begins in Sonoma’s Food Development lab, where the famed California milk is magically transformed into premium Parmesan and Cheddar cheese. Lots of it.

The product development folks were searching for a cheese-based snack food that could be made shelf-stable and offer a tasty, nutritional treat for people on the go. After lots of fine tuning and fussing over the recipe (it also contains organic quinoa and brown rice – this is California, of course) Sonoma Creamery Cheese Crisp Bars were born. Though the company has been providing artisan cheese products since 1931, the snack bar segment was a new venture. But they were sure the crunchy, savory treat would be a winner. Their hunch paid off; practically everyone who tasted the satisfying cheese treats found them irresistible. Cheesy, slightly salty, very crunchy, delicious, and only 110 calories for one serving of two crisps. Proof in a 10gram bar those happy cows and clever minds can capture lightening in a bottle.

With quality ingredients in abundance, a unique recipe at the ready, and a manufacturing process all sorted out, there was one last but important step to complete: the package.
Like most granola or energy snacks, the best process for packaging ubiquitous, bar-shaped treats on a flow wrapper. Flow wrappers, also known as crimp-seal wrappers or fin-seal wrappers, use a horizontal continuous motion in which a product of nearly any regular shape can be wrapped using rolls of plain or printed film. The process results in a flexible, close fitting package featuring a non-lap type seal on the bottom with crimped, easy-to-open end seals. Good machines that are carefully set up can deliver packaged product at a rate of up to 100 packages per minute when packing by hand (think Lucy Ricardo). The speed depends on the size of the product and how quickly the product can be fed to the machine – automated systems can run considerably faster. Naturally, results like this will require the right machine and expert guidance (at least in the beginning) for optimum results.

Unlike cheese, packaging capital equipment was unfamiliar territory for the folks at Sonoma. They knew they needed a flow wrapper and they knew they needed beautifully printed film if they wanted a package that was as special as their product. The film was the easy part. The flow wrapper was not so straightforward. Wishing to “test the water”, the decision was made to rent a used flow wrapper. They needed the right machine and they did not buy it. Unfortunately, they paid for it and did not have it.

The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco was coming up fast, and strong market entry for Sonoma Creamery would depend on a flawless showing. But the packaging was not quite right – and no matter how good the treats tasted, the retailers who peruse the show searching for breakout new products understand the importance of proper packaging. This is a crowded and competitive market, and good packaging counts.
Regardless of what they tried with the rented machine, the film was distorting, the package was twisting and the end seals were lumpy; the expo was drawing near and the proud parents of the tasty treat were in all hands on deck to find a solution. It was time for serious research, and the clock was ticking. Scanning the internet, Sonoma Creamery came across a neighbor who just happened to sell flow wrappers. San Rafael, California-based PAC Machinery seemed like a logical – and convenient – place to start.

Following their initial call to PAC, Mr. Lou Biaggi, VP of Operations at Sonoma Creamery spoke with Greg Berguig, Executive VP at PAC. After listening to the scenario, Greg believed he could solve their problem using a Packaging Aids FW 400F Flow Wrapper. A beautiful, new stainless steel version was sitting quietly in the corner of the San Rafael showroom – a mere half-hour south of the creamery. Brian Jobson, PAC Machinery Flow Wrapper Product Line Manager arrived at work the following Monday with a box of Cheese Crisp Bars, a roll of printed poly film and a note from Greg on his desk. The note was brief: Load the film. Set up the 400F. Run these samples. And do it quickly, as we have the customer visiting on Friday morning for a demo! PAC Machinery has gained a reputation for superior pre and post-sales service, and this was indeed pushing the envelope, but Brian could make this application work with his eyes closed. And so it was done. The package that was so problematic for Sonoma Creamery was now flying off the 400F Flow Wrapper exit conveyor at lightning speed. The handsome film was tight and straight with perfect fin and end seals. Lou Biaggi was delighted, as his dream to exhibit at the Winter Fancy Food Show with a properly packaged product was again in the realm of possibility.

The final step was moving the machine into a food-manufacturing environment and running off approximately 1000 bars each of five skews. Brian Jobson again helped with the effort, as there was not adequate time to conduct a proper training session. Brian and the crew at Sonoma Creamery would tend to that after their big splash at the food show. The film changeover between the five flavors was absolutely uneventful. Even though the process is rather easy, Jobson made it look inconsequential – further easing the minds of the people who would be tasked to run the machine day-in and day-out in the very near future.

The results of the Fancy Food show are in, and the Sonoma Creamery Cheese Crisp Bars were a big hit. Now the task of filling orders begins. But, this time Sonoma creamery has the machine they paid for – and now, it’s the only one they ever really needed.

The FW 400F Flow wrapper that was used for the pilot run was crated up for its short, northerly trip from San Rafael to the city of Sonoma. Two days following installation, a PAC Machinery team met with the production staff at Sonoma Creamery for a training session on the flow wrapper. Discussing the entire qualification, purchase and training process with the team, Lou Biaggi quipped: “I’m impressed with Brian and Greg. They promised that certain things would happen in a particular order and in a specific time frame. And they all did”. With their packaging challenge resolved, the happy cheese makers at Sonoma Creamery once again live in harmony with the cows known for their sweet disposition.

Sonoma Creamry Cheese Crisps. Cruncky, real cheese snacks are certified glutrn-free, baked (not fried), and are naturally lactose free. 10g of protein per serving. Since 1931, Sonoma Creamery has made quality hand-crafted, all-natural cheeses inspired by the agricultural bounty of California’s Wine Country.

"Sonoma Creamery contacted us regarding their packaging requirements. After listening to their objective, I was quite certain we could solve their challenge with our FW 400F Flow Wrapper"

Sonoma Creamry Cheese Crisps. Cruncky, real cheese snacks are certified glutrn-free, baked (not fried), and are naturally lactose free. 10g of protein per serving. Since 1931, Sonoma Creamery has made quality hand-crafted, all-natural cheeses inspired by the agricultural bounty of California’s Wine Country.
The FW 400F is a horizontal flow wrapper that’s ideal for suppliers of food products that must be packaged individually.

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