Convenience food has come a long way from the days when sandwiches, chocolate bars and potato chips were the only choices. Still, there are not too many options for warm, healthy and convenient meals or beverages that don’t involve a stop at a restaurant or coffee shop. HeatGenie, a company based in Austin, Texas, now developed a self-heating packaging solution that could take the concept of smart packaging to a new level.
“We heard that major food and beverage brands considered self-heating the holy grail of convenience packaging but it was clear the available ‘wet chemistry’ solutions were very inefficient”, says Mark Turner, president of HeatGenie, in an email interview. As a serial entrepreneur with 29 years experience in consumer product companies, he knew there were more efficient energy storage solutions in the consumer battery space. Some of those solutions, he thought, could be applied to develop a self-heating food-packaging product.
HeatGenie is led by Brendan Coffey, who serves as CEO and CTO and has 25 years experience in technology and business development in small companies. He developed the original concept for the HeatGenie self-heating technology and leads technical development both from a scientific and engineering perspective.
In 2009, Coffey, Turner and their team began developing a series of criteria their product needed to fulfill. They include safety, recyclability, cost-effectiveness and ease of use. “Safety is paramount to a consumer product. While you want a small, fast, powerful heater you can’t allow that to create a consumer hazard”, Turner emphasizes. The team also aimed at developing a product that would heat the food in a controlled and even manner in less than two minutes. “The most challenging aspect of development was to create a simple reliable passive thermal control system built right into every heater that prevents overheating if the heater is somehow misused”, Turner says.
After receiving funding, the team set out to develop a compact modular heat source the size of a tea candle. The heating element contains aluminum and silica, two benign materials, which in a mixed powdered state can undergo a chemical reaction to give off a large amount of heat. HeatGenie has created a method to precisely control the oxidation reaction to safely and efficiently generate heat energy. The mix in each heating device is also exactly measured to provide the right amount of heat for each type of food or beverage. This is important because coffee, for example, heats faster than stew.
The consumer can activate the heating process by pushing a button on the bottom of the can that starts the oxidation reaction and creates heat. Once the fuel is spent, the heating process stops. According to HeatGenie, the result is a cup of hot coffee or a bowl of soup in the hand of the consumer in less than two minutes.
HeatGenie sees itself as the developer and licensor of the patent-pending convenience packaging technology and plans to work with licensed manufacturers to sell an integrated packaging solution to brand owners. At present, HeatGenie’s heater components are manufactured under license by Wanho Manufacturing, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of US Capital Resources, LLC. HeatGenie is in discussion with a number of brands and anticipates being in the market in 2016. The first product to be heated on the go with the push of a button is most likely going to be a coffee drink, tea, hot chocolate or soup