After destructive fire, baby-food company rebuilds business and switches to plastic packaging

Initiative Foods baby-food jars on conveyor

Disruption often can be the impetus for change. When the Initiative Foods facility in Sanger, CA, was destroyed by fire, President John Ypma was determined to rebuild not only the plant but the business. That included making a shift in the company’s packaging from glass to plastic. “We had limited capital after the fire and had to decide whether to invest in glass again or try something new,” said Ypma, who had already been “on the fence” about its glass jars.

Initiative Foods is the largest private-label baby-food manufacturer in the United States, according to the company’s information. The company offers more than 50 recipes of premium organic, natural and conventional baby food flavor profiles and packaging sizes.

Consumers with infants are buying more online than ever, yet Initiative’s previous experiment of selling a private-label line of food in glass jars online was short-lived, according to a case study from TricorBraun (St. Louis, MO), a global packaging leader that was tapped to help Initiative make the switch.

“There was a lot of damage to the lids and jars no matter what we did,” said Ypma, “and a case of baby food in glass is twice as heavy.” That resulted in extra costs to cover breakage and shipping, not to mention the concerns Ypma had of glass breakage during production and getting into the food. He envisioned a plastic package that would solve those problems and offer greater portability for on-the-go parents.

Ypma also took the opportunity to redesign the baby food jars to give the product a more “advanced” look, asking TricorBraun to help with the project. Criteria for the new jars included aesthetic appeal, functionality, comfort and an ergonomic design. Additionally, the new jars needed to tolerate the retort process’s high temperatures and pressurization required for Initiative Foods’ veggies and dinners.

“When you’re dealing with hot fill and retort,” explained Marco Serrano, TricorBraun’s Design Development Manager, “glass is ideal because it can withstand higher temperatures. With plastic, you run into more issues. One of the values TricorBraun brought to this project is that we understand plastic—both its limitations and opportunities.”

The entire supply chain participated in the project, including RPC Group from Germany, which supplies the lids and cups, and Taipak, part of the new TricorBraun Flex business unit, which provides the container sealing film. This collaborative effort kept everyone “on the same page,” said Ryan Fichuk, TricorBraun Packaging Quality Engineer. “There were many intricate measurements in the lid and getting the snap,” he said.

Additionally, allowing TricorBraun to manage those supplier relationships reduced the overall complexity for Initiative Foods. Packaging consultant Debbie Hooey said, “Before this, Initiative was using standard cups and lids from two different vendors. Now that all of that is supplied by [TricorBraun], it simplifies their supply chain.”  

A number of benefits came from the glass-to-plastic switch. Stacking lids and nesting cups created shipping efficiencies, and worked well with existing filling and capping equipment. Response from early customers has been “highly positive” and retailers find the cups’ curvature design to be an attractive, practical alternative to glass.

Initiative Foods expects to mass produce the baby food in 4-ounce cups for the U.S. market this summer, with a 4.5-ounce version for the Canadian market to follow.

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