Remember 14 months ago? Strolling the aisles of your favorite upscale grocery store. Flirting with fresh fennel. Canvassing colorful cupcakes. Pausing at plentiful packaged popcorns. Joyful journeying through spices savory and sweet.
Those days may return—someday. In the meantime, among the more curious ways consumers are getting their grocery shopping fix is literally keeping their favorite products at hand. A recent New York Times article, The Grocery Store of the Mind – The New York Times (nytimes.com), highlights mini-me packaged products. These tiny treasures have no actual food inside and the package size is about that of a thimble. Grocery-shopping-loving adults experiencing shopping withdrawal are buying them to self-soothe in the comforts of home.
The journalist calls it “vicarious food shopping” and “a grown-up itch for the lost pleasures of the supermarket experience.” I call it a good reminder of the power of brand reputation and the depths of consumer loyalty to beloved food products. Yet, the relationship could be compromised: One day a consumer could be bonding with a tiny package replica, reminiscing about shopping trips gone by. The next day, a metal bolt in a real packaged product could cause a food fan to literally bolt to another brand for good.
There is much innovation to reduce the risk of foreign objects entering packaged food products. Metallic foreign objects, such as ferrous, non-ferrous and stainless steel are among the most common contaminants of concern. They can enter the process at any stage in a food plant. Advanced technologies for metal foreign objects such as Multiscan enable a food processor to scan five different frequencies at a time, virtually eliminating the chance of an escape from a range of metals, sizes and orientations. This technology is well suited for applications such as meat, baked goods and dairy where product effect and noise can compound detection challenges. Selectscan technology is another recent innovation in metal detection technology. It enables the user to select a single best frequency for each application; software such as Autolearn and Noisescan make set-up and adjustment easy for operators at a range of skill levels to achieve optimal detection.
For food processors concerned about a wider range of foreign objects, including metal foreign objects along with stone, plastic and bone, there is easy-to-use and affordable X-ray inspection technology. Special-use X-ray systems such as for tall profile products and for finding foreign objects in high-value products (such as almonds) close to the source could be appropriate. Gain insights into both metal detection and X-ray inspection in A Practical Guide to Metal Detection and X-ray Inspection of Food.
While there may seem to be a supermarket of detection technologies to help brands keep their #1 fans, the technology is only as good as its fit for the application. A product test enables a savvy food safety solutions shopper to see which detection technology is the right fit for the application. Shopping habits real or imagined may change, but the need to protect brand reputation will always remain.