Standing Alone in a Modern Cheese Market: A How-To Packaging Guide

By Mike Terry
Posted In : thermoforming, packaging automation, OEE, tray seal, cheese, flow wrapping, cheese packaging, Value-add automation, tray sealing and forming, cheese packaging trends, tray sealing

It’s safe to say Americans have a healthy obsession with cheese.  

Our love for cheese has sliced out a significant portion of the national consumer food market – with the average customer consuming more than 40 lbs. of the stuff per year and adding to a current cheese market valuation of $34.4 billion. 

Fittingly, modern consumers match their adoration for cheese with equally high expectations regarding cheese packaging design and function. Tastes have refined over the past decade, and shoppers are now searching for the right balance of freshness, visual appeal, and eco-friendly materials to match their specific needs.  

As a producer navigating today’s cheese packaging market, you’re tasked with recognizing subtle and not-so-subtle changes in cheese packaging’s evolutionary wheel and incorporating them into your production for brand longevity and commercial success.  

But where to begin?  

At times upgrading your production can seem daunting, as operational success is based mainly on unique factors such as product specifics, production rate, budget, physical plant space, and the ability to innovate. 

Yet tangible success is possible. Experts agree there are smart steps you can take across every production stage to increase efficiency, meet product requirements, and alleviate common production challenges while optimizing system control and management to yield the results you want from your system:


Traditional cheese packaging was always defined by industrial high-speed, high-volume production (up to 250 products per minute (ppm) that yielded basic, low-cost packaging. However, shifts in customer demand has reshaped the design landscape, creating the opportunity to employ customized equipment options that are suited to small, mid-level, and high-volume cheese production. 

Today’s tailored systems allow you to match your machine with your unique needs and determine what is most effective and advantageous for your cheese packaging operations. The continued evolution in packaging technologies now allows you to focus on more advanced, essential factors in tandem, such as reducing plastics, using less packaging film, and incorporating reusable materials for better sustainability – while achieving the same sealability and product requirements that guarantee safety and freshness. 

Let’s look at an example: 

You produce 150ppm. You know you cannot reduce the plastics in the structure of your cheese packaging, as the format requires breathable barrier film for preservation and extended product shelf life.

Where can a modern system enhance production to help you reduce plastics for better sustainability and provide customized operational savings? 


Modern custom flow wrapping equipment for mid-level cheese packaging allows you to reduce the length of your package by up to 15mm without changing the packaging structure yet provides new operational benefits previously unavailable on traditional equipment.  

Let’s do some quick math on those benefits:  

250 mm wide roll of film reduces the package length by 15mm and saves 3750 square mm per package

3750 square mm = 5.81 square inches per package

5.81 square inches x 150 ppm = 871.5 square inches per minute

871.5 square inches x 60 min

52,290 square inches per hour

836,640 square inches per 16 hours of production.

That converts to 5,810 square feet (a nice size floor plan for a house)

5810 x 300 days of production = 1,743,000 square feet of annual plastic reduction

This type of material reduction yields undeniable annual savings in the MILLIONS across a multitude of operational considerations, including transport and storage expenditure, overall material costs, case packing and palletizing processes, and offers the tailored throughput to address the specific volume of your operational volume.


Opportunities to design tailored packaging systems also open the door for other cutting-edge packaging technology to positively impact your operations. Incorporating technology significantly augments shelf life, protects product integrity, and allows you to utilize more sustainable materials and practices in production. And, with sustainability being a leading demand among today’s consumers, promoting recycled and reusable materials and reducing waste is a must.  

Yet one tenet truly stands out among the rest concerning technology in cheese packaging design:  

“System effectiveness means efficiency. And efficiency is measured by a system’s Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).” 

Byunderstanding and integrating the latest in digital innovation – robotic automation, Digital 4.0 and SmartConnected machinery, and specialized Human Machine Interface (HMI) controls and monitoring software – into your production, you’re taking the proper steps towards long-term improvement for your OEE and eliminating guesswork. 

These specific pieces of essential packaging technology address specific, prevalent, and OEE-related obstacles, such as alleviating labor concerns, reducing product quality control (QC) issues that lead to shrink and downtime, and creating the highest levels of efficiency for increased revenue, innovation investment, and company growth.  


No matter what type of custom packaging system you determine to be your most effective – high-speed flow wrapping, thermoforming, tray sealing and forming – each application comes with unique challenges.  

Whether finding and retaining costly labor for higher throughput and system efficiency or covering material costs to achieve the right sustainability or compatibility for your product, identifying cost-saving solutions while still innovating your unique packaging application is paramount. 

The question for modern cheese packagers becomes: 

“What are the best ways to overcome production challenges to achieve ideal OEE for my system, save more on operational costs, and answer the sustainability demands of my customers?” 

There are several strategies you can employ individually, or simultaneously to optimize efficiency, production, and sustainability with your chosen cheese packaging equipment: 


Staying competitive in today’s cheese packaging market is no longer simply about speed. Demand and technology have transcended that requirement and made product quality and packaging sustainability top priorities. 

In today’s modern cheese packaging market, outproducing and out earning your competition while addressing those needs comes down to one simple requirement: PLANNING. 

When optimizing your cheese production, ask yourself at the onset: 

“Is there a place on our production line where we lose control? Where are our inefficiencies? Could we solve that problem by integrating automation or other technology?  

Planning at the beginning of your system design with expert input and a top-down view will save you months of time in trying to correct any oversights later. Additionally, planning helps you avoid the need to spend more (potentially millions of dollars) to redesign and rearrange your production space by adding or subtracting equipment or features from your line. 


Planning also benefits packaging design. You may choose a cheese packaging design format that is perfect for your product yet cost-prohibitive for your operations.  

By examining your complete production line, you can determine the necessary labor needs to form packaging, package product at every stage – infeeding, primary and secondary packaging, and palletizing – and determine your ROI. 

ROI calculations for modern cheese packaging systems are often determined in two ways: piecemeal vs. complete. Many producers ask: 

“Is the ROI still there if I only enhance this part of my line over time? Or, if I waive my ROI requirements for six months, could I optimize my packaging line with a complete, automated system with ideal, long-term efficiency? 

The answer to this question is a resounding “yes” for automation and the complete line. 


Analyzing your production line and integrating automation – especially “value-add automation”– at your various production stages is a multi-functional strategy that alleviates significant operational challenges and yields dividends. Regardless of the application and cheese packaging design format, automation offers universal benefits for every packaging system which cannot be overstated.Complete Thermoforming Line - Harpak-ULMA

  • Reallocates 2-4 manual laborers per line 
  • Increases uptime and output by 30-60% (on avg.) 
  • Saves up to $500,000+ in annual operational expenditures
  • Eliminates menial & repetitive tasks for better employee retention 

Additionally, the traditional timeline of automation’s ROI in cheese packaging, previously 2-3 years, no longer applies as an ironclad benchmark in operational cost analyses. While automation at infeeding, primary, secondary packaging, or palletizing may have a higher upfront cost, the ROI on most current automated cheese packaging systems is less than TWO years after installation. 


Bringing your production in-house is one of the most effective cost-saving methods to create ideal product packaging and improve your bottom line. In-house operations drastically lower your cost per package by eliminating intermediaries from material purchases, production, transport, and storage. Additionally, they give you complete control over your process flow from start to finish.  

Slim Fresh CheeseFor example, you deem a sealed rigid tray your most effective, sustainable, and popular cheese packaging format. However, forming and sealing that tray is cost-prohibitive using third-party production. 

Bringing your operations in-house with tray sealing and forming equipment can reduce your cost per package by up to 38% vs. purchasing preformed trays. According to experts, this could be anywhere between $.04-$.07 cents per tray, depending on the footprint.  

Over time, these savings compound, providing you with your desired, sustainable packaging format for your product as well as outstanding revenue opportunities for growth and innovation without dependence on third-party production. 


Optimizing effectiveness and employing cutting-edge strategies to improve your cheese packaging design and operations don’t come without challenges. Integrating automation, bringing your  production in-house, and conducting operational and cost analyses require upfront capital investment and time to collect and interpret essential data. 

Done right from start to finish, however, these steps manifest significant annual savings across a broad spectrum of your operational costs, including labor, materials, OEE, sustainability, time to market, and overall production expense. 

When you’re ready for a comprehensive view of your cheese packaging operations, Harpak-ULMA Packaging is here. Reach out to us and get the expertise, equipment, and technological innovation to optimize your production at every stage and provide ideal package design to meet the needs of your modern customers. 

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