Paper vs. Plastic
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Packaging manufacturers battle for their share of the
market for bottles, jugs and cartons.
Paper or plastic may mean
one thing to supermarket consumers, but it takes on a whole new
significance among packaging manufacturers and their customers.
But what advantages does one type of container have
over the other? What can one offer that the others can’t?
Paperboard cartons have an advantage of extremely high
graphics capabilities in a package format that has a more favorable cost
when compared to other types of packaging, says John Rooney, general
manager of International Paper’s Evergreen Packaging Equipment, Cedar
“Our new gable-top package formats, including
Micro Pak and the ‘Slim’ half-gallon, give new attractive
paper-based packaging options that allow for great shelf presence and a
billboard effect for graphics, giving the producer the ability to market
his product at a very competitive cost structure,” Rooney says.
“Spout closures provide the producer and end consumer an easy-to-open
package that is also easy to close. Gable-top packaging machines have lower
operating costs than bottle fillers in the extended-life dairy and juice
markets. All functions — form, fill and seal — are completed on
one machine platform, utilizing minimal production plant floor
Plastic bottles are more consumer friendly than paper
cartons, says Steven Rocheleau, president of Rocheleau Tool and Die Co.,
Fitchburg, Mass. “Plastic has more flexibility for size of packaging,
shape and ease of handling. Plastic is resealable, easier to open and
easier to transport in a car or backpack.”
Rocheleau adds that plastic is recyclable in a normal
polyethylene recycle stream, and a product’s brand can be identified
by shape as well as graphic design.
Rooney agrees the ability for different shapes and
sizes in bottles allows for effective product differentiation. “This
feature, however, comes at an additional cost to the producer. Not only
should the cost of the bottle be factored in, but also the cost of the cap,
label or shrink sleeve must be considered. Increases in resin prices have
negatively impacted the cost of bottles,” he says.
“Along with that, the extra capital equipment to
perform these operations and the floor space consumed must be accounted
for. High-speed bottling lines utilize significant amounts of water and
chemicals for bottle sanitation. All of these costs need to be factored
into the total cost of operation.”
The paperboard carton is the best solution for higher
graphics, longer shelf life and recyclability and lower costs, asserts
Nils-Erik Aaby, senior vice president of Elopak Inc., New Hudson, Mich.
Elopak supplies a full line of carton-filling machines, material-handling
equipment and paperboard gable-top cartons.
But John Hoeper, market manager of Bottles North
America for Chicago-based Alcan Packaging, says plastic is superior to not
only paper, but glass and metal as well. “Glass is breakable, heavy
and does not provide good portability. Metal cans do not provide good
resealability and are poor marketing vehicles,” he says, because of
their lack of shape variety and because they’re perceived as a
Alcan’s most recent bottling development is the
new Gamma Retort bottle for shelf-stable dairy-based
beverage packaging. Alcan’s plastic bottles are essentially
unbreakable, reclosable, portable and provide barrier protection so that
product does not require refrigeration on the retail shelves or in
distribution, Hoeper says. Because the retort bottle is shelf stable, it
eliminates refrigeration from the distribution system and retail shelves,
eliminating the advantage that only glass and metal previously provided for
dairy beverages, he says.
Alcan’s Gamma Retort packaging features
vacuum-paneless design for enhanced label appearance and can be designed in
unique shapes and sizes. “Critical to surviving the retort process,
our patented seal-surface technology delivers seal integrity through the
retort process. We have proprietary material science that provides flavor
stability and extended product shelf life,” Hoeper says. Gamma Retort
bottles are designed to fill on current dairy processing equipment and are
available in 8- to 16-ounce sizes.
Evergreen Packaging, a manufacturer of both gable-top
and bottle filling equipment, has new offerings in both areas in response
to customer demand. One recent gable-top development is the Q-16, which
Rooney says is the world’s fastest quart/liter machine at a speed of
up to 300 cartons per minute. Another development in its bottle filling
line is the BFAH-30, an advanced hygiene bottle-filling machine targeted
for dairy and juice markets. For gable-top products, Evergreen Packaging
has standard machines and extended-life machines; bottle fillers range from
standard gallon and half-gallon jugs to extended life dairy and juice
products packaged in PET bottles.
Health and Safety
The increasing importance focused on shelf life and
food safety is a trend shared by both paper and plastic.
“The focus on high hygiene and food safety has
pushed the market into more sophisticated packaging machines that control
the environment around the filling process,” Rooney says. “On
the packaging side, the trends are for higher barrier properties to be able
to retain the nutritive value of the product over longer distribution
cycles. Barrier structures are continually being developed and
Consumers want to take their dairy products with them,
and processors are able to fill their needs with portable packaging.
Portability and resealability is the clear advantage for plastic bottles,
“With more and more people on the go, people
want to be able to take their beverage with them, take a sip and be able to
reclose the package,” he says. “The demand for a package that
meets these needs has been there for quite some time, it was just waiting
for the technology to catch up.”
And food integrity is equally important to consumers
and processors. “Tamper evidence in both paper and plastic packaging,
ease of handling, opening and reclosing have always been, and will continue
to be, preferences of our customers,” Rooney says.
Rocheleau’s company is seeing continued growth
in single-serve packaging in HDPE bottles and unique shapes and sizes with
creative high-end labeling like shrink-sleeve labeling. “Attractive,
resealable, cost-effective and convenient, HDPE bottles have a marketing
advantage in certain areas over paper or PET bottles,” he says.
Dairy processors are requesting consumer-friendly
products featuring shelf-stable packaging and high-end graphics.
“Dairy processors are looking for a plastic bottle that can run on
the same lines as their metal cans or glass bottles so as to minimize their
investment, yet provide them with an alternative package to offer to
customers demanding plastic bottles,” Hoeper says.
One of the newest battlegrounds is in packaging school
milk. Recent studies have suggested school milk sells better in plastic
single-serve bottles because there’s greater opportunity for graphics
and they’re easier to reclose.
Rocheleau Tool and Die, a third-generation
family-owned company, will be introducing its new 10-cavity machine for
8-ounce school milk bottles at this fall’s Worldwide Food Expo in
Chicago. The company manufactures reciprocating screw extrusion
blow-molding machinery for HDPE dairy containers, with a strong focus on
“There is a lot of consumer pressure to move to
plastic,” Rocheleau says. “New bottle designs, labeling and
capping help make the cost of plastic very competitive with paper cartons.
Beta sites have been very successful showing increased consumption. New
bottle designs allow better utilization of dairy crate for reduced shipping
cost and storage cost to the school.”
The demand for high-quality milk cartons is strong and
growing, Aaby says. “Our solution to the school milk program is
having the lowest cost option. School milk cartons can be printed with high
graphics and caps applied to match the options provided by plastic,”
Rooney agrees. “One
of the major obstacles to school milk in bottles is the significant
additional cost to accomplish this. This extra cost is not recoverable by
the producer in price increases due to the bid nature of school milk
business. We have seen a lot of talk, but no major switch to bottles in
school milk to date,” he says.
Rooney concludes: “We also believe if school
milk, in paper gable-top cartons, was offered in multiple flavors, and at a
colder temperature, sales would incrementally increase, just as the study
shows for plastic single-serve bottles.”
Alcan’s Hoeper puts it simply: “There has
been a significant rise in dairy processors asking for plastic. If I was a
paperboard manufacturer supplying single-serve dairy-based beverages, I
would be worried.” m
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance
journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.
For Some, Glass Is the Clear Choice
Milk in glass bottles may bring back childhood
memories of the friendly neighborhood milkman, but today’s packagers
say glass bottles have carved out an important niche in dairy packaging.
One such packager, Stanpac Inc., offers a full line of
refillable glass packaging for the dairy industry. In fact, the Canadian
company recently introduced a 32-ounce non-refillable glass bottle
that’s gaining momentum in the dairy industry.
“We notice an ever-increasing demand for our
products,” says Murray Bain, vice president of marketing.
“Small to mid-size dairies find that glass containers give them an
edge over their competition. They are set apart by the package. The taste
of the product, the feel of the container, the nostalgic appeal, and the
environmental benefits of glass are features that consumers reach
Stanpac’s newest product, a 32-ounce
non-refillable One Trip glass container, is intended for dairies that wish
to add a premium line to their product mix.
“Dairies that already use glass are also adding
the One Trip to their product line to get their products into regions
outside of their distribution area and into markets where the refillable
system isn’t practical. The same great look and taste are experienced
with the One Trip as with the refillable,” Bain says. “Dairies
are also using this packaging for special products such as holiday eggnog
and flavored milks.”
Stanpac offers 8-ounce to 64-ounce bottles;
injection-molded tamper-evident closures; crimp-on foil closures, plastic
cases and wire carriers; and capping equipment. The company, based in
Smithville, Ontario, also helps dairy processors find suitable equipment
and information about packaging milk in glass.
“Overall, glass overwhelmingly provides the
essence of premium and quality for dairy products,” Bain says,
steering clear of the materials battle. “We will stay out of this
argument and let the paper and plastic guys fight it out. We will stick to
providing our customers with the premium package for a specific segment of
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