By Bob Gatty, Snack World -

Snack manufacturers around the world rely on Kliklok-Woodman (KW) for the packaging machinery they need to effectively and efficiently provide the  ever-changing consumer with the snack products they crave. It’s a company that has dual roots, joined together to produce the cartons and bags needed for snack products as well as cookies, crackers and other foods. As every snack manufacturing executive knows, those containers are critical for product integrity, freshness, marketing and sales. And as consumers’ needs continue to evolve, so must the packaging for their favorite snacks.

The Kliklok story began in 1944 when the Bemis-Jason Co. asked Binns Machine Works to develop a machine to produce four-ply laminated board made from bond paper, glassine and two layers of ground wood paper. Carton design guru Reg Meller developed a method of folding the brittle glassine board and designed a tray corner lock that would click when snapped into place. It was called “Klik-loks.” Three years later, Herman Lay of the HW Lay Co. asked Dan Woodman and a team of engineers to develop an automated method of weighing and packaging potato chips. When Woodman invented the Air Weigh System, it was the first step toward becoming a snack-food industry packaging pioneer and leader as Kliklok cartoning and Woodman bagmaking are fully integrated.

The company is a world leader in packaging, offering a single source for sales, service, engineering, manufacturing and parts for all KW products. How did all that come about? How has the company grown and maintained its success throughout all of the changes in the industry?

“It’s really our experience in the snack industry dating back to the early days of mechanization and automation for salted snacks,” said Ross Long, KW’s executive vice-president. “We’ve been associated with potato chip and snack food packaging for over 70 years, and that’s where it starts. The secret of our success is this long association and understanding of the needs of snack manufacturers.”

An important contributor to that understanding has come from KW’s deep level of engagement with snack manufacturers, enabled by its involvement with the Snack Food Association (SFA). “SFA provides us with an opportunity to meet regularly and engage in significant dialogue with snack food manufacturers regarding the challenges that the industry is facing,” Mr. Long explained. “It’s not just a domestic audience perspective that we get through SFA. It’s a global perspective. Through our active engagement with SFA’s trade show and meetings, in addition to our direct sales force contacts with individual companies, we have a good grasp on what issues the market is struggling with and where we think things are headed.”

There has been plenty to anticipate as consumer and industry trends have dramatically evolved over the years and continue to do so at a rapid rate. “When I started some 35 years ago, the standard production rate for 1 oz of potato chips was about 55 or 60 bags per minute (BPM),” Mr. Long recalled. “It was unimaginable that you could package potato chips at 90 or 100 BPM back then, but today the reference speed is 120 BPM for 1-oz bags and faster on some products. KW has always been at the forefront of this, and we’ve worked to push these limits further.”

Package size and format flexibility also has become increasingly important, Mr. Long noted, as manufacturers tailor their product offering to meet individual consumer tastes.

“Now it’s, ‘What does my customer want to buy?’ and the snack manufacturer will make it,’” he said. “That is the single most defining change in the business that we have witnessed. In the past, when manufacturers produced four sizes of bags, that’s what they brought to the marketplace. It was easier for a packaging machinery company to design machines around that specification.”

Today, that is no longer possible. Customers can define what package sizes and what flavors they want to run, and in a variety of package formats. “For us, it’s really bag size range and format that’s the criteria,” Mr. Long explained. “Customers want flexibility in machinery design for whatever they want to run.”

Today’s technology allows KW to produce equipment that can package up to 160 BPM. The key, he said, is to listen carefully to customers and understand the industry trends driving their business and then find ways to respond.

“KW doesn’t have a singular focus on the domestic US market,” Mr. Long added. “We are proudly an American company, and we make our machinery here in Georgia, but we’ve been exporting snack-food packaging machinery around the world since the early 1960s.” As a result, KW snack-food machinery is in about 86 countries.

“From that standpoint, it helps us to provide some perspective to our customers about what’s going on in the snack industry in other countries,” he said. “Our customers appreciate the fact that we share ideas through a broad market area and that we can share best practices without trading on proprietary information.”

With the fastest snack industry growth rates coming from developing international markets that cannot handle highly complex equipment with the fastest production speeds, KW has developed machines specifically designed for those customers.

“Our latest offering is the Frontier bagmaker, introduced at PackExpo in November. It is exciting for us,” Mr. Long said, “because it is designed in two models, one for snack foods and the other for crackers, cereals and confections which don’t require specialized snack features. It is designed to be simple to operate, simple to maintain and cost-effective for developing markets.” Recently introduced are the new P3 and G3 bagmakers, each in two versions: continuous motion and intermittent motion.

More innovation is ahead. “We are doing some investigation and work on ultrasonic rather than heat sealing of packages,” Mr. Long said.

KW’s branding message is that it produces “Packaging Machinery with a Custom(er) Attitude.”

“What we try to do is listen carefully to our customers, share experience in their industry and develop products and services attuned to those needs,” he said. “We keep a narrow focus and are not distracted by the next shiny thing that comes down the street.”