CHICAGO — In the world of packaged baked goods, single-serve items are winning the day for a plethora of reasons. Consumers are mobile once again and looking for on-the-go options. Meanwhile health-and-wellness is more prevalent than ever, but even the most mindful eaters want to indulge on a little something now and then. And as a global pandemic becomes normalized, safely packaged, individually wrapped foods are in high demand.

Single-serve packaging checks all the boxes.

During the American Society of Baking’s BakingTECH conference, held March 1-3 in Chicago, Josh Becker, bakery/confection segment manager for Harpak-ULMA, addressed the key factors bakers should think about when considering single-serve packaging for their products.

“Consumers have an on-the-go lifestyle,” Becker said. “They’re going to seek out products that are going to save them time; they also want products that are easy to purchase and easy to dispose of, without much preparation.”

In fact, Becker said, roughly a third of millennials and Gen-Z consumers — already known for high snacking habits — have reported snacking even more than they were two years ago.

Packaging products to meet those demands requires one important first step: Define your objective.

As with most strategic decisions, understanding the why behind it is critical to ensuring all other factors are correctly addressed. With so many reasons why consumers are choosing single-serve baked goods, defining the objective is critical in order to package products that will align with why the consumer is eating a single-serve item in the first place.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘What I am I venturing down the single-serve path for?’” Becker advised. “Are you looking for new outlets such as convenience stores or meal kits? Or do you want to extend the shelf life of a fresh bakery product so it can withstand being wrapped and extend some pantry life at home? Whatever objective you determine is going to drive your formulation, the packaging materials and maybe even the equipment you’ll require.”


“You have to ask yourself, ‘What I am I venturing down the single-serve path for?’” —Josh Becker | bakery/confection segment manager | Harpak-ULMA


With the objective identified, choices on capital investments for automation become clear.

“Different levels of packaging machinery are available, and it all depends on the capital investment strategy you want to employ when moving into single serve,” Becker said.

For instance, a higher throughput operation may require more automated options such as flowwrapping or thermoforming. Automation add-ons that feed product into the primary packaging and also move it into secondary or tertiary packaging is also important to consider, he said.

“It’s capital dollars versus labor requirement evaluation,” Becker noted.

This is a huge consideration for bakery operations today as the industry struggles with a critical labor shortage.

“At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if the capital investment makes sense for the product you’re making and the labor you’ll apply to it,” he added.

These considerations, coupled with the throughput of the operation, can reveal the right direction to go in when it comes to automating. And that goes for the automation of delivery into the primary packaging equipment as well.

“It adds footprint to your machines, but if automation is done correctly, it’s going to save some conveyor investment in your footprint,” he said. “It all depends on how much you want to automate.”

With the right foundation, determining single-serve packaging automation can more easily fall into place.