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Cookie Bags, Wrappers & Polypropylene

    Polypropylene? Don’t panic, I won’t get all industry jargon on you just yet. For now, assume it’s mostly evil and there are better materials for cookie bags and cookie wrapping.

    This is a good time to introduce the concept of bagging however. As a beginner, bagging cookies typically means to put a cookie in a bag and seal it. As you progress through your cookie making career however, you’ll find the mass production industry has every conceivable step sub-divided, categorised and labelled.

    Here’s a simple example:

    I put a cookie in a bag and close it.

    Here’s how that statement looks at a very high level in a factory:

    • Transport from the oven
    • Cooling
    • Lane / infeed adjustment
    • Machine programming
    • Stacking
    • Wrapping
    • Sealing
    • Batch labelling
    • Boxing

    The relevant part for us bagging cookies at home is the distinction between Stacking, Wrapping and Sealing.

    Cookie Bags

    You might be surprised to hear that individually wrapping cookies is one of the harder ways to package a product. The small size requires finer settings and timings on machines, compared to their bigger packs and trays counterparts. Which also makes them ideal for handmade gifts, and gives us a way to create a beautiful product, that’s hard to replicate in mass production.

    Let’s go back to our Stacking, Wrapping and Sealing steps.

    Iced cookies stacked on top of each other
    Iced cookies stacked on top of each other. The trick is designing a package that will keep them there.

    Stacking

    How many cookies will you pack together? If it’s one or two, you’ll need a small bag or a narrow film (think Impulse Sealer or L-Sealer from the first blog post).

    Will they lie on top of each other, i.e. stacked vertically; lie flat side by side; or stacked horizontally, on their edges, one behind the other? Rather unpleasantly, this last layout is known as “slug packing.”

    Another of the many considerations when packing individually or in packs, is the outer box and labelling. If your cookies are individually wrapped, they may need to be individually labelled with the relevant allergens and legal information. This can greatly increase your costs and time spent labelling. If your cookies are packed in groups, any outer box may need to be a food safe material, even if your cookies have an inner wrapping. Don’t despair though, at the end of this post I’ll show you an easy way to make all the decisions you need.

    However you choose to stack your cookies, you’ll need a bag or a film that will support your chosen shape. If it doesn’t, your cookies will fall over and break or bend inside the bag. Even if they aren’t damaged, they’ll look messy and unappetising.

    If you’re ready to jump straight in and just want to bag the occasional cookie or a few cookies for an upcoming market, go with a bagging kit from a cake shop or Amazon.

    Or if you’re planning a bigger production and need to be sure of your bagging supplier for potential repeat orders, go to a reputable supplier who has filters for finding food safe bags and wrapping as well as data sheets with all the information you need. I started with Polybags who had a great selection and friendly customer service.

    Slug Pack; cookies in a tray, one behind the other and wrapped in film

    Another common way to support your cookies when packed together is in a tray or folded card. For a tray, the cookies lie back on each other and the whole lot is wrapped together (slug wrap). This is useful for faster bagging, but adds material waste for the consumer and expense for you. If you have a bagging machine with a conveyor belt, a “carrier” such as a tray or a piece of food safe folded card could be essential to keep the biscuits together. The carrier bridges any gaps between the conveyor and sealing fins, stopping the biscuits falling onto the floor.

    Alternatively you can wrap the biscuits “loose” then slide them into an outer box. By using the strength of an outer box, you can slide your bagged cookies into the box and have them supported by the shape of the box. Having a window, with or without a clear film across it, lets consumers see your product and still leaves you lots of space for text. This is common for mid sized and larger manufacturers targeting retailers. A box is easy to stack and put on display but you will need a box designer and a box printer which always have minimum orders, usually in the thousands. You can order in smaller numbers, but the costs are exceptionally high. Don’t rule it out though. I used the low volume, expensive packs to get my own biscuit company started and it kept me in business when supply chain problems affected everyone else.

    It may sound odd to you and me, but if you opt for a box with a window, it's not uncommon for people to pick up your box and squeeze the visible products inside. For a soft cookie this isn't an issue, but if you make a firmer product like shortbread, it will often snap or crush. The offending shopper will then return your product to the shelf and continue on their way. Personally I like the window on a box, but I wouldn't use it with my shortbread products.

    Wrapping or Cookie Bags

    As mentioned above, you need to decide if you want your cookies in a bag, or wrapped in a film. Bags are slower to fill as you have to open the bag, fill it, then close the bag and finally seal it. Their advantage is in their cost and ease of sealing with an Impulse Sealer or Horizontal Bagger.

    Commercial cookies bags are individually flow wrapped, heat sealed underneath and at either end.
    A flow wrapped shortbread biscuit. The film is folded over the top of the biscuit and heat sealed together underneath, before rotating, heated fins, seal and cut either end.
    Note: this is considered a badly wrapped biscuit due to the amount of air and waste material either end of the biscuit.

    The next question is cellophane, food grade plastic, industrially recyclable, home recyclable, compostable? The list of materials, specifications and legal requirements is staggering. The easiest way to decide is by ruling out the options in order of importance. This will effectively make the decision for you:

    • Legal requirements – it has to be a food safe material.
    • Shelf life – compostable materials are ideal but if their shelf life is 6 months, you will need to bag and sell your product within 3 months to give the customer 3 months shelf life on your product.
    • Availability – buying commonly available materials reduces your chances of shortages, or suppliers dropping the range that you rely on.
    • Eco Credentials – do you demand recyclable or compostable? Is industrially recyclable sufficient, or does it have to be home recyclable – beware the suppliers who will try to trick you!
    • Size – is the material available in the size you need? The size is defined by the size of your cookies and the machine used to wrap and seal them. You can read more about sizing in this post.
    • Thickness – will the material work with your bagging machine? If it’s too thick it won’t melt and seal. If it’s too thin it will melt through and leave holes in the bag. Answering this one is trial and error I’m afraid.
    • Finish – does the bag obscure the product inside with a dull textured finish or is it crystal clear?

    Before you make a decision on your bagging method, material and machine, you need to decide on the final product. Read on for my secret to simplifying the process.

    Sealing

    Home made cookie bags using food safe tubing with an Impulse sealer.
    Shortbread sealed in cookie bags made with an Impulse Sealer

    Sticky tape, hot wire, shrink wrap, heat sealer? Your wrapping choice affects your sealing method, but realistically there’s not a lot of choice here. Your choice of machine to suit your production volume will choose your sealing method for you.

    Just bear ease of opening in mind. A bag sealed with a straight melted edge has no opening mechanism, such as with an Impulse Sealer or Horizontal Bagger. This is the same for flow wrappers in large factories, which is why the cutting edge is often toothed. The saw like teeth on the end of a mass produced chocolate bar wrapper make it easy to tear through the melted wrapping material. The only alternative is to pull the sides of the bag in opposite directions like a bag of crisps. If your bag or film wrap is too strong, there’s a risk of cookies exploding out of the bag when pulled apart with the force required to split the melted edge.

    Decision Time

    It’s time to decide on all the factors that will wrap your cookies. It may feel like an overwhelming list of requirements, but don’t panic. Firstly, this is the tip of the packaging ice berg, but there is a way…

    Make this decision first: who will buy your retail packaging?

    When you have answered this question, you will know what your packaging should look like. Just to clarify, retail packaging is the nice bag, pouch or box the consumer buys, the one you see on the supermarket shelf.

    Top tip: you might be selling your cookies to cookie lovers, but your buyer could be a retail buyer who has no interest in cookies, so you have a mixed audience. Find out what the buyers want and incorporate that into your design too.

    If your cookies are for shops, they have standard shelf heights, standardised shipping boxes, standardised pallet sizes to fit the standard delivery vans and lorries. There’s a pre-defined size for everything in the world of logistics. It’s safer and cheaper, so unless you want to deliver very expensive packaging to everyone by hand, you’ll need to conform.

    So how do you choose a retail box size? Choose a shelf height and a delivery box size. You now have a solid set of numbers. It might be as simple as the size of a cardboard “outer” (the boring brown box food is delivered to shops in), for example 30x30x40cm. But now you can work out what size of cookie box you want and how many boxes you can stack inside that “outer.”

    There are loads of cardboard packaging companies selling cardboard boxes, which you can use for delivery. Finding someone local will cut down on your delivery costs, but you’ll have to balance that with discounts for bulk ordering from bigger suppliers. Check out Ebay too, as many packaging companies sell their products at a discount or with discounted shipping through an Ebay store.

    That cookie box (the one the consumer sees) then defines the size of your cookies, which in turn defines the size of your inner bag or film wrap.

    The size of your bag or film wrap will then help you choose the type and size of machine you need.

    Polypropylene (PP)

    I did mention PP at the start for a reason. It’s one of the most commonly used “plastic” materials for food wrapping. It’s strong, clear, melts with a good seal and is low cost at around £15 for a roll of 1500 metres (Q3 2021). It’s also not recyclable as most people think of recyclable material. I ran into this issue when trying to buy recyclable and compostable materials in early 2021. Suppliers and manufacturers would tell me it’s recyclable but failed to mention “only in industrial recycling facilities,” i.e. you can’t put it in your recycling bin at home.

    New facilities in the UK are just starting up that will recycle it, but they’re years away from large scale adoption. Home recyclable and compostable packaging is available, but as a “new” material, it’s four times the price. The bigger problem is suppliers aren’t stocking it yet, so you can’t buy one or two rolls. You have to order it in by the pallet. Even if you had the budget and warehouse space, it has a shorter shelf life than PP or similar materials, so you’ll need to be sure of using it all up before it starts to degrade.

    For more information on compostable wrapping and papers over films, the chemicals company, Futamura, has a brand called NatureFlex which is one of the better known wraps gaining popularity in the eco-friendly space.

    Let me know how you wrap your cookies in the comments below and any hints and tips for speeding up bagging.

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