Slugs Packs. My least favourite industry term for biscuit packaging. Some call it slug pack, others on-edge packing. Some call it back to back.
I like “on-edge.” In my head, the biscuits are standing on their edges, and packed in a queue, one behind the other. Simple, easy to understand. Here’s a picture for clarification:
So why is on-edge packing important?
On-edge is usually the first step up to higher capacity bagging. As your biscuits are lifted off the oven tray (after cooling) and placed in the tray, they are instantly easier to handle. You no longer have to touch the biscuits and they’re divided into their retail pack sizes.
The tray can then be placed in an L-Sealer, or pushed along an in-feed tray on a flow wrapper. The in-feed has “flights”; little sticks that push the product along until it meets a conveyor belt, which then carries the tray into the wrapping film. Some flow wrappers have a gap between the in-feed and the conveyor, so they’ll only work with trays or some kind of carrier, like a piece of food safe card, to carry the product over the gap.
Do You Need a Tray?
Trays are for speeding up bagging and add protection to your product, but they’re not essential in the early days. If you’re using an L-Sealer, or bagging products by hand, then a tray is an added cost. If your products are delicate or melt when touched, then a tray could be an easy way to reduce handling, so it’s a choice between cost and making your life easier.
What are Trays Made of?
There are loads of food safe trays but the most common for biscuits are laminated card and PET.
Laminated card is cardboard sheets coated in polyethylene (PE), to give the card a grease and oil resistant barrier. If you have particularly buttery or oily cookies, you’ll need to test them inside the card boxes to ensure there is no leeching from the biscuit into the card. While it’s not dangerous, it leaves an oily stain in the tray, which makes people uneasy about the quality of your products. You’ll have to store your biscuits in the tray for as long their shelf life, checking them regularly for any marking.
The advantage of card based packaging is the versatility of shapes. They can be cut and formed into endless shapes and sizes, making them ideal for a wide variety of products. When I first started selling my own biscuits, I used cupcake boxes without the insert. I bagged my biscuits in fours, then put two packs inside each box. They made ideal gift boxes of biscuits and wedding favours. People also liked the biscuits being in smaller wrappers, keeping them fresh for longer:
PET (or PETE) is short for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester. It’s a food safe plastic that can be recycled. It’s clear, strong and light, making it ideal for bakery products. It’s heated up and pressed into shape using a mould. This is great because thousands can be made very cheaply. It’s also bad because moulds are expensive, which means manufacturers of bakery trays make a range of moulds to choose from. If your products don’t fit the moulds, then you’ll have to get one custom made, or come up with an innovative solution to keep your products together. When talking to manufacturers about custom moulds, they’ll discuss production volumes in the tens and hundreds of thousands, so it’s not for the beginner.
The good news is, there are loads of manufacturers, it’s just takes time to shop around to find one with the tray that suits you. When you do find one, they can be available in small numbers, such as 200 or 500 trays at a time. Larger suppliers however will ship by the carton or by the pallet.
If you want to make greater savings, you’ll need to order by the carton, which is simply the outer cardboard box the trays come in. Some suppliers will only deliver by the pallet, which could be a lot of cartons. While the larger volumes work out cheaper per tray, typically 3-5 pence per tray, you’ll need plenty of space to store them and potentially the access and equipment to unload a pallet when they’re delivered. You can check out my pallet post when you’re ready for bigger volumes.