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Understanding Meat and Poultry Packaging

What You Need to Know About PVC Overwrap, Modified Atmosphere Packaging, & More

When it comes to packaging meat and poultry, there are a lot of aspects to consider. While safety of the product – and subsequently safety of the consumer – is always the top priority, you should also think about efficiency, cost, information to be included, labeling requirements, and more. Further, as consumer buying habits shift, it’s important to stay conscious of changing preferences. From trends toward environmentally friendly designs to preferences for freezer-ready options, packaging is certainly not one-size-fits-all. Read on to learn more about the basics of meat and poultry packaging, and what to consider when choosing a design.

Defining Case-Ready Meat

Case-ready meat refers to meat that was cut and processed at a regional facility, then sent to retailers ready for display. By contrast, the traditional method involves stores receiving primal, or larger, cuts of meat, which can then be divided up and packaged at the store. Because they need to be transported, case-ready meats have greater packaging requirements than butcher-to-consumer cuts; however, these packaging designs also have the added benefit of extending shelf-life, being readily freezable, and more.

Types of Meat & Poultry Packaging

Although PVC Overwrap – that is, a polystyrene foam tray with plastic wrapped tightly around it – is still the primary packaging choice, its lead is waning, shrinking from 51 to 34 percent. This is in part due to environmental considerations, as shoppers are increasingly hesitant to purchase products in what they deem to be excessive packaging. Further, alternative packaging options can provide longer shelf-life, which is highly valued by both stores and shoppers.

By contrast, Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) has grown in popularity. As its name suggests, this packaging involves modifying the atmosphere inside the package. In this case, that means removing the oxygen to slow spoilage and lengthen shelf life. Within the MAP category is vacuum packaging, which has grown from 10 percent to 29 percent penetration from 2002 to 2018. MAP may be used for meats and poultry but is also popular with other foods like coffee beans and produce. This method can be used for a variety of packaging designs as well, including stand-up pouches.

For ground meats, chub packaging is also a common option. Vacuum sealed for a strong oxygen barrier, this packaging is affordable and makes efficient use of shelf space, making it an effective choice for many companies. Producers can also customize the packaging with cut marks, which help consumers divide the meat into portion sizes.

Below, see a meat chub printer we installed in action.

Packaging Design Considerations

Although the COVID-19 pandemic drove sales of frozen foods to spike by 70%, data suggests that customers were actively freezing fresh foods prior to the pandemic as well. One British study found that 92% of consumers regularly freeze products at home, with fresh meat being the most common at 51%. To encourage this behavior and boost sales, opt for freezer-ready packaging that makes the process easier for shoppers. Likewise, clear freezing instructions can help reduce concerns for wary buyers.

Like all food products, meat and poultry packaging should effectively convey necessary information, including nutrition details and best-by dates. To stand out, these packages can also offer additional details, such as a simple recipe (for example, “How to Bake a Chicken Breast”) or information about the company’s values (Is it organic? Grass-fed?).

Similarly, brands should consider the packaging shape itself. Will a zippered bag make access more convenient? Will a stand-up pouch stand out among competitors? As with all food products, a clear window or transparent packaging can also be beneficial for building trust with the shopper.


Not sure where to get started? GCB Solutions is here to help. To learn more about our custom packaging solutions, schedule a free consultation or contact us today at (904) 263-2804.


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