When executives from Mt. Olive Pickle Company went to PACK EXPO in 2017, they weren’t exactly looking for a whole new way to package their product. However, as they walked the show, they began to see a lot of equipment and materials related to flexible packaging. Further investigation made them decide it was time to put their pickles into pouches.

Mt. Olive is the No. 1 producer of pickles, peppers and relish in the world. Pickles have many antioxidants, are low in calories and are considered a healthy snack. Since they day the company was launched in 1926, their products primarily have been packaged in glass jars. Recently, they’ve also begun using lidded plastic cups, rigid plastic bottles and — as of January 2019 — stand-up pouches.

Larry Beckman, vice president of manufacturing at Mt. Olive, says consumers want portability so they can take their pickles to work, the beach or pack in their children’s lunch boxes. Reclosable pouches offer that convenience. In addition, the pouches open up new retailing channels for the pickle producer — such as gas stations and convenience stores — while providing the ideal package that can withstand the rigors of E-commerce shipping.

Mt. Olive now offers pouched pickles in four flavors and two pouch sizes: a 4.8 oz pouch for single servings or snacks and an 11.8 oz pouch that can be used when a group is going on a boat or out for a picnic.

Retailers Like New Format

Beckman says retailers seem very excited about the new packaging, and many are displaying them prominently on aisle endcaps. The pouches are shipped in perforated, tear-away cartons that are shelf-ready. Retailers also appreciate that they have a little higher margin on pickles in pouches.

When Mt. Olive made the decision to begin using pouches, they decided to purchase printed rollstock, then use a horizontal form/fill/seal machine from Volpak to complete the pouch. The pouch has a zipper for convenient reclosability. Volpak recommended that Mt. Olive use Glenroy as their rollstock supplier.

“We all partnered and worked together to make sure we had a good pouch design and we had good equipment,” Beckman says.

While other companies may sell pickles in a pouch, Beckman says, Mt. Olive is the only company doing so with fresh, not processed, pickles. The new packaging line first fills fresh cucumbers in the pouch by weight and then adds a brine and spices by volume. Once filled, the pouch is hit twice with heat sealing. The pickles are then pasteurized in the pouch, so the film is required to withstand the high temperatures.

Learning a New Process

“For us, it was all new technology. We never had anything quite like this machine,” Beckman says. “Setting up a vertical form/fill/seal was quite new to us. Having to learn the quality aspects of how we handle pouches was interesting. Because we are pasteurizing the fresh product, we have to have the right mix of brine and cucumbers. Too much brine and the customers won’t be happy.”

Beckman attributes Mt. Olive’s growth to innovation. The company has brands within their brand, including the core Mt. Olive brand, a sea-salt brand for younger consumers and a clean label brand called Simply Pickle. “Through our innovative product offerings we’ve been able to attract more people to the category,” he says.

So far, he adds, there has been no leaking and no breakage. And because the pouch is much lighter than glass, it costs less to ship. “We think this was a good time to offer product in a pouch,” Beckman says. “From a quality perspective, the pouches allow us to optimize the pasteurization profile, creating a crisper, more flavorable profile that meets or even exceeds our jar products.”