It’s no secret that North America is amongst the global leaders in meat consumption. In 2016, the United States topped the list of meat consumption per person sorted by country, with the average American consuming around 97 kg of meat per year. America's northern neighbor Canada also found itself amongst the list's leaders (8th place), with the average Canadian consuming around 70kg of meat annually.

In addition to traditional meats, recent technological advances and social movements towards more sustainable food sources have pushed the development of plant-based meat products forward. The plant-based meat market was valued at USD $3.3 billion in 2019, and is expected to grow annually at a rate of 19.4% through 2027.

So why all the talk about meat consumption? While we do appreciate a juicy steak or a freshly-grilled burger here at IEF, we’re more concerned about the technology that these meat and meat-alternatives are packaged in. In this Product Spotlight, we’re taking a closer look at a key component of one of the most common forms of fresh and frozen meat packaging: Tray Overwrap.

A Full Menu of Features

Tray overwrap film is just as its name suggests – film that wraps over a tray. If you took a look at your local grocery store's meat section, odds are you’ll find several examples. These protein packages may seem similar in appearance, but in reality, there are a variety of different formats and components that determine each package’s ideal properties. The overwrap film can be sealed to the top or bottom of the accompanying tray, depending on the desired packaging application and properties. Sealing characteristics vary from sealant type, seal strength, and performance under different circumstances.

Tray overwrap films typically have very high clarity properties, as most meat producers want to highlight the visual aspects of their products. However, certain products may require more of a protective light-barrier, so you’ll often find tray overwrap films that are frosted or made with semi-transparent one-color print. When it comes to nutrition information and branding, you’ll often find tray overwrap packages with attached printed labels. Alternatively, overwrap films can be directly printed on to display the same information, the choice comes down to the producer’s preference.

When it comes to the technical properties of these films, there’s much more to consider. Depending on the product, producers must consider the different levels of barrier protection needed from oxygen/gasses, light, heat, moisture, oil, and more. For example, beef has two main reactions when exposed to oxygen. At first, the oxygen will turn the beef a bright red color due to its reaction with the protein myoglobin. This is usually a sign of fresh beef, and consumers associate this bright red color with a quality product. However, after further oxygen exposure, the beef will then start turning a grayish-brown color. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the product has spoiled, many consumers will be turned away from the discoloration. Finding the right balance of oxygen protection is a key concern when determining the right tray overwrap film application for your product.

Another area of focus is in the physical structure and strength of the film. Puncture and tear resistance need to be taken into account, as producers must consider the film strength needed to secure their product, while allowing for their consumers to efficiently open and access the final package. Depending on the shape of the protein, the producer may prefer their customers to tear open the overwrap film horizontally and have strong resistance vertically, or vice versa.

The variety of details needed to be considered can definitely feel overwhelming. However, IEF’s technical experts can work with you directly to help determine the ideal film properties for your next product. Technical director Steve Brzostowicz discussed this topic during our Food Packaging Virtual Expo, check it out!

To learn more about how IEF can engineer a film for your next meat packaging project, click here.