5 Secondary Packaging Challenges in the Snack Food Industry

Our love of snack foods hasn’t changed, but how they’re packaged and distributed constantly evolves to meet demand and consumer preferences. Secondary packaging is integral to hygiene and quality, ensuring our favorite chips and candy bars are safe. It plays a crucial role in branding and enhances shelf appeal to persuade consumers to choose one product over another. 

However, the secondary packaging process for snacks comes with challenges that producers and co-packers must consider to support their strategic objectives. From managing a growing number of SKUs to making the best use of limited floor space, these challenges are tough but not impossible to overcome. 

Let’s dig into some of the most common challenges that impact the snack food industry and explore various solutions to optimize your secondary packaging operations for sustainable growth in the very competitive space on the shelf. 

1) Too Many SKUs


The next time you go to the grocery or convenience store, check out the extensive range of products in the snack food aisle. Each product has its own flavor variants, sizes, and packaging requirements, especially with the growing popularity of multipacks, which we will expand on later. 

Other product factors that can increase the complexity of secondary packaging at a given time include seasonal preferences and styles, irregular packaging sizes for new and existing products, and introducing more sustainable packaging materials.

Additionally, market consolidation has increased the number of SKUs and challenges for producers and co-packers. You could be running products for our own private label in the morning and running something completely different in the evening for a customer you’re co-packing for. 


If you mostly rely on manual packing for your secondary packaging process, you must train your packers to do everything to accommodate and manage all those SKUs. This, of course, will require extensive training and resources and is especially difficult to manage as retention of manual packing staff is traditionally low. 

Increasingly, more producers and co-packers are turning to automation to manage a plethora of SKUs with their various packaging requirements. Automation can revolutionize your secondary packaging process to help you meet demand. Still, there are considerations here, too, to ensure you have machines capable of handling various case sizes and pack styles.

The critical thing to remember is that you don’t have to go from manual to full automation in one project and can make the transition slowly as your business grows and your team becomes more comfortable. As a true partner, BluePrint Automation can consult you on any production challenge or guide you on the steps you can take as you transition. Here are a few recommendations based on past experiences with customers that have been very successful:

  • A collator is an excellent first step toward automation if you’re starting with automation or have a limited budget and wish to keep manual packing lines. Our Collator 200 is a low-cost semi-automatic machine that can stand bags up to present them in a vertical format for human packers to pack in a case. This will immediately increase production and flexibility on your line as it eliminates pack-off tables and cuts out a step for the packers. 

  • As you get more comfortable with automation, you can add speed and precision to your secondary packaging process. For example, a Spider 200 is an excellent intermediary step toward full automation. It is equipped with our high-speed collation systems and has on-the-fly picking and placing capabilities to handle various SKUs. 

  • Furthermore, we are constantly evaluating ways to make our fully automated systems the most flexible in the industry by challenging our equipment's minimum and maximum ranges to handle more products and packaging types, from family-size bags for barbecues to single-serve packs you grab on the go at a convenience store. This, of course, would be a more advanced solution, but one that can produce significant results when you’re entirely on board with automation.  An example of this would be the Spider 200i, an all-in-one system erecting, loading, and closing your case.  To take it a step further you can also think about integrating our automated case blank distribution and loading system to get corrugate off the floor and reduce potential safety hazards.

By adding speed, precision, and flexibility to your line through automation, you should be able to accommodate more SKUs and their varying packaging requirements. 

2) Limited Floor Space


Floor space is a massive challenge for manual and automated secondary packaging operations. Manual processes need significant labor to perform all the steps, from erecting the box to sealing the fully packed case. And many automated packing solutions require substantial floor space to operate, even if they reduce labor needs. 

Another challenge that indirectly affects floor space is the advancement of baggers. Current baggers are running so much faster than they used to run (up to 200 bags a minute), and you really can’t accumulate bags, so your secondary packing operations must keep up even if floor space is limited. 


Remember, not every solution will work or even fit your floor space. You should consult an equipment manufacturer or integrator when adjusting your layout to accommodate new equipment. 

One benefit of working with BluePrint Automation is that our sales team comprises engineers who work with customers daily to create a layout that best utilizes their floor space. We will consult with producers and co-packers to understand product flow, where to bring corrugated from, where to distribute pallets, and more. 

We can tailor a solution based on your unique needs and floor space. For example, the Gantry 200 is designed with snack food plants in mind for its versatility and small footprint. It can even fit under mezzanines found in many snack processing plants while delicately handling bags of chips and other fragile products commonly produced in the snack food industry. 

As you deal with issues directly affecting floor space, finding a flexible solution is paramount. Consider your specific needs and pain points concerning floor space as you work toward finding the best solution for your lines. 

3) Variety Snack Packs


Consumer preferences are shifting towards convenience and variety, driving the demand for multipacks that offer a selection of snack flavors in a single package. While these variety packs cater to consumer needs, they pose logistical challenges for secondary packing operations. Packaging multiple SKUs into a master bag or carton requires careful coordination and attention to detail. 

In the past, producers and co-packers relied on hand packers to go through thousands of bags in bulk to find the right products to assemble the variety packs, which is time-consuming and lends itself to wrong product counts and other errors. Legacy machines also have issues as they often don’t have the precision required to create variety packs accurately and reliably. 


Adding a vision system to your robotic case packer is a proven way to optimize your multipack assembly process, creating a turnkey multipack solution. One of our core competencies is integrating vision systems into many of our case packers to ensure precision and accuracy while assembling variety packs. Our Spider V series features our vision technology that can be programmed to pick and pack selected snack bags into a master bag or carton for various multipacks consumers prefer. 

We can add quality control tools to ensure the correct product count, pack pattern, and weight for any multipack that goes through your secondary packaging process. This level of flexibility is available for any type of packaging you prefer. 

For example, while master bags are still the most common packaging method for variety packs, especially in Europe and Latin America, some companies in the United States and other places worldwide are turning toward cartons for sustainability reasons. Our machines are flexible enough to accommodate your evolving packaging preferences. This multipack solution creating a multipack in cartons is a great example of our flexibility. 

If you are still waiting for the results you want from your current manual process or legacy equipment, consider vision-guided robotics as a proven way to add automation to the assembly of multipacks. 

4) Changeover Time and Maintenance


Changeover time is a constant issue in the snack food industry as you must adapt to shifting production requirements and accommodate diverse product lines. As we noted, the growing number of SKUs and packaging formats has complicated the secondary packaging process for snack foods, making shorter changeover times crucial to maximizing production and operational flexibility.

In the past, changeover times were long and cumbersome, requiring carts to hold the necessary parts to change recipes on the line. These carts have to be stored somewhere on the floor for easy accessibility to avoid additional downtime. Longer downtimes reduce overall productivity and efficiency. 

Equipment breakdown also can add to downtime, which means you need to have machines that are easy to maintain by anyone who operates them. Any machines also need safeguards to prevent performance issues from loose product, dust, and contaminants getting stuck in the machines. 


You can implement some practical strategies right now to reduce changeover times. One way is to review your production schedule to see if there are opportunities to group similar production runs together and reduce repetitive tasks. Another way is to standardize your SOPs and ensure all operators are trained on these procedures to add consistency to your processes. However, you will likely see the most impact and improvement through equipment upgrades and automation.

Over the past decade, BPA has pushed to minimize change parts and points on our equipment to reduce changeover times and complexity. The size and weight of the change parts used on our machines are significantly lighter and smaller. Technicians can ditch the cart and carry all the parts they need in their hands for faster and more efficient changeovers. 

Additionally, we have minimized the amount of controls platforms and their complexity for our machines to simplify operations and increase user adoption. By making our machines more user-friendly, we can reduce your downtime and reliance on highly skilled technicians for changeovers and general maintenance.

As you choose a solution for your lines, simplifying changeovers and maintenance will help you reduce downtime, increasing productivity and revenue. Inquire about how easy changeovers are for any equipment you consider adding to your line. 

Also, whether you invest in new equipment or stick with your legacy systems, follow the designated maintenance and clean-up schedule and make repairs as soon as possible to avoid longer and costlier downtimes. One of the ways we have helped make cleanup easier is by adding covers to our machines to prevent dust accumulation and loose product from getting into them. 

5) Display-Ready Pallets


Display-ready pallets (DRPs) are designed to streamline product unpacking and restocking processes in big-box and club stores as products are prepacked for easy access and display. Once built in the distribution center, DRPs can be transferred to the sales floor. They often feature prominent branding to attract consumers’ attention and facilitate impulse purchases from any side of the display. 

However, the biggest challenge for using DRPs is assembling them on the floor before distribution as the process is heavily manual, requiring significant time and space. Traditionally, this has been a necessary cost to producers as the popularity of DRPs continues to rise for the reasons we’ve mentioned: they streamline many unpacking and restocking processes at the store level and increase product visibility for consumers.


Reducing manual labor is essential as more stores request DRPs to enhance operations and marketing. Optimizing your processes and scheduling to accommodate DRPs will help, but finding an alternative way to construct a DRP-style display will likely yield the best results. 

BPA has found a way to automate this process. By using stacked three-sided display boxes, producers can replicate the traditional DRP while automating the assembly process, saving significant time, space, and resources. We use our Gantry 300, which can run vertically and horizontally, to facilitate these display case runs. 

If you are considering ways to run DRPs in your facility, this may be a viable option to keep in mind. Even if now is not the right time for an automated solution, we can consult you on other methods and packaging options to support the demand for DRPs.

Wrapping Up

The snack food industry is ever-changing, with new products and packaging to meet consumer preferences, industry trends, and technology advancements. Automation has improved many challenges impacting the snack food industry, but many options exist. 

We can tailor a solution to your unique needs if you’re looking for ways to add automation to your secondary packaging process. Let’s work together and explore the endless possibilities to increase speed, improve flexibility, and stand out in your industry. Contact us today to get started.

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