In 2020, poultry sales in the U.S. reached $35.5 billion. Of that total, 2.18%, or $776,471,550, were whole chickens.
Almost all of them were packaged by hand.
Much like traditional tortilla packaging, workers laboriously stuffed product into premade bags using handbag loaders with clipping systems for processing and production. Packaged poultry was then transitioned to using vacuum systems to evacuate the air and seal the bags, eliminating the metal clips before the final product was ready for shipment.
This protracted process cost producers time, money, and efficiency on an industrial scale. Automated whole chicken production was still science fiction, and producers were left at the mercy of limited productivity, rampant employee turnover, and the production impacts of the Pandemic.
Yet, producers recognized the inefficiencies and expenditures of outdated processes, even as demand volume increased. Simultaneously, the consumer crusade for safer, more sustainable packaging continued across every food packaging sector, with younger generations of customers shifting brand loyalty and spending dollars to those who could deliver.
Necessity gave way to technological innovation. In December of that year, engineers at ULMA Packaging developed a format that worked with smart connected vertical form fill seal machines (VFFS) that changed whole chicken production irrevocably. It was now possible to package whole chickens on a single VFFS system, integrating roll stock with dynamic graphic labeling for the first time.
Tight-Chicken™ packaging had dropped into production, and there was no turning back.
VFFS POULTRY PACKAGING ON A SINGLE SYSTEM
TightChicken’s revolutionary VFFS capabilities stem from a redesign and integration of ULMA’s preexisting Tight-Bag™ system. It creates an airtight, uniform second skin that is leak-proof and offers optimized product freshness and visual appeal across the entire supply, distribution, and sales chain.
Why is such a poultry packaging system so important?
For you as a producer, this innovation means almost the difference between night and day.
Previously, packaging poultry required two separate systems – one to open the premade bag to insert product and one to extract air and seal the bag. This two-system process was costly, less efficient, and required more physical plant space for installation and associated maintenance.
Additionally, traditional whole chicken packaging processes meant more manual labor to execute repetitive motions from one system to the next. Operators manually loaded bagged chicken onto the conveyor platforms for transference into supplementary vacuum chamber systems.
Now, the Tight-Chicken™ VFFS system executes the forming, sealing, and air extraction continuously, like an assembly line, removing any excess air and sealing the package automatically at the cross-sealing jaws.
HOW DOES TIGHT-CHICKEN™ ON VFFS LOWER MY PRODUCTION COSTS?
A single system reduces required labor and physical plant space. That is helpful, but is it revolutionary? Without extensive production data, we can’t know, making it hard to trust investment dollars to an untested system.
With its advent in the winter of 2020, the Tight-Chicken™ on VFFS is very much the new kid on the block. However, for what the poultry sector lacks in empirical data, the single-system savings are becoming as apparent as they are numerous, quickly making this VFFS application ideal for not only whole bird poultry packagers but producers looking to package a broad range of other product formats as well.
Like poultry automation, Tight-Chicken™ reduces the labor necessary to process and package whole chicken by an average factor of EIGHT employees. In addition, it increases efficiency and productivity by more than FOUR times the rate of packages per minute (ppm) per employee compared to traditional whole chicken packaging.
For example, using the traditional hand bagging methods and non-automated technology of pre-2020, an average plant worker could package eight whole chicken packages per minute. Once packaged, those birds would then move to other employees working air evacuation chamber equipment for final loading and processing.
With the average salary of poultry plant worker at $23,000 and climbing, and the new Tight-Chicken™ system doing the work of four employees (conservative average), the labor savings can be significant:
4 workers x $23,000 avg. salary = $92,000 x 2 shifts = $184,000 total annual savings
Of course, this figure highlights only the annual average salary savings per employee. As a poultry producer, you can expect to see additional savings utilizing Tight-Chicken™ on VFFS stemming from the reallocation of personnel, health care costs ($6400 avg. per single employee), training and turnover ($1250 avg. per employee), and more. These numbers add up to approximately $32,000 per employee in annual costs – all of which can be reallocated to technological innovation and production improvements to scale for the future.
The Great Resignation’s lasting effects on labor have made it a global issue. As a result, innovative packaging solutions that help to alleviate labor woes can be considered groundbreaking in their own right. Yet, ULMA’s Tight-Chicken™ technology takes on a new status of leading-edge VFFS poultry packaging application for the sheer volume of earning potential it can accomplish through its innovative capabilities.
The Tight-Chicken™ VFFS system produces up to 35ppm – more than four times the average rate executed by human workers. Adding up the potential earnings for both organic ($15 per pound avg.) and non-organic whole chicken ($3.30 per pound avg.), it has the power to conjure MILLIONS in from increased production and sales.
VFFS ADVANTAGES FOR THE WORLD AS WELL AS THE WALLET
In October of 2022, poultry leaders met in Atlanta, GA, at the Poultry Tech Summit to discuss the essential issues facing the sector and the industry. Topics included net zero for poultry, increased processing and packaging automation, and developing new strategies for improving food safety.
As in clairvoyant response to these discussions, ULMA designed the Tight-Chicken™ system years ahead of its time, incorporating additional features and benefits for eco-conscious consumers and producers not exclusively confined to dollars but sense.
Sustainability in Poultry Packaging
As more companies flock to the banner of ubiquitous sustainability – creating brand initiatives and making lofty promises to hit sustainability goals by fast-approaching deadlines – Tight-Chicken™ VFFS does its part towards that effort through its sustainable design.
Integrating Tight-Chicken™ into poultry packaging reduces overall plastic waste and eliminates superfluous packaging materials in key locations. Because of the successful removal of air, opting for Tight-Chicken™ on VFFS shrinks the total packaging surface area. In doing so, the format excludes any need for additional point-of-sale plastic packaging, giving the product a leak-proof function and optimized product appeal.
Safety & Hygiene
Minimizing waste and reducing operational costs are quickly becoming mainstays for today’s modern poultry market. Unfortunately, however, hygiene standards can often go by the wayside in the effort to pursue and accomplish those goals.
In answer, the intrinsic design of Tight-Chicken™ forms a second skin around whole chicken products, encapsulating them and providing a leak-proof, fully hygienic packaging solution, fully compliant with today’s industrial standards. This increased hygiene and safety means eliminating contaminating liquids and achieving optimal safety throughout the supply, distribution, and sales chain – from store delivery to consumers’ home storage.
However, the hygienic echoes of Tight-Chicken™ don’t begin at just the primary packaging stage. Safety benefits are built into product loading and pre-production at the facility level as well.
For example, with the Tight-Chicken™ on VFFS, you can have the whole chicken fed automatically onto an elevation conveyor via chain into the equipment, so there is no manual intervention from human operators. This safety measure decreases chances for contamination and ensures packaging stays in total compliance with hygiene regulations for fresh products, as well as modified product formats such as marinated birds or birds injected with sauce.
Uniform Product Weight
Currently, many poultry processors predict future broiler bird weight manually. This process can be complex process, integrating large amounts of variable data points, including feed management and weather forecasting.
Innovations in IoT technology and VFFS system automation now offer improved predictive analytics regarding product size, uniform weight, and total bird inventory. Yet, integrating these capabilities into mass production has presented a true challenge for producers in the poultry sector – especially where hand-bagging was the go-to process.
Once again, Tight-Chicken™ proves transformative for modern VFFS poultry packaging. Smart connected machinery, IoT, and integrated automation work in tandem with contemporary analytics, creating streamlined compatibility and improved data otherwise unavailable through traditional methods. These applications and data help to maintain unchanged product weight across the supply chain to minimize shipping and logistics costs and maintain uniform pricing, based on weight, at point of sale.
TIGHT-CHICKEN™ ON VFFS IS THE FUTURE OF POULTRY PROCESSING
From store shelves to Sunday dinner, optimal poultry packaging will always depend on quality, presentation, and safe product preservation. Today’s consumers seek convenience, value, sustainability, and packaging that stands out.
As a producer, you must adapt your packaging to fit those needs while saving more and wasting less. You must optimize production and revenue and minimize waste and global environmental impact.
If that sounds nearly insurmountable, it is.
Yet state-of-the-art innovations, like Tight-Chicken™ on VFFS, are the future. They show the way and the road ahead. They light the path to critical developments such as hygienic, single-system production, increased savings, sustainability, and optimal product preservation.
All you need is a guide. Let Harpak-ULMA Packaging be there for you.
Contact our packaging professionals to learn more about Tight-Chicken™ VFFS and other vertical form fill seal machine applications. Fresh or frozen, whole chicken or cuts, our experts will show you the smart connected solutions you need to meet modern demand and prepare your poultry production for whatever lies ahead.