by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Advances in aseptic packaging continue as consumers
catch up with the technology.
Could this be the year of
aseptic? Will Americans finally accept that milk can be stored warm yet
Makers of aseptic packaging say the tide is turning as
today’s generation of parents – members of Generations X and Y
– grew up on shelf-stable juices and aseptic packaging and are fine
with buying aseptically packaged products for their kids.
So therein lies the greater challenge – getting
kids to drink milk.
Dairy Field talked
with three companies known for their aseptic achievements: Tetra Pak, SIG
Combibloc and International Dispensing Corp.
DF: Considering rising energy costs, have you seen any
advances in aseptic packaging?
Oliver Bittner, vice president, marketing, SIG
Combibloc, Chester, Pa.: Rising energy costs
are a key factor in the increase of aseptic carton packaging in various
segments. Especially retailers and companies active in the foodservice
segment have become to realize the benefits of aseptic carton packaging due
to the increased costs associated with transporting, storing and
loss/damage of refrigerated products. The benefits of aseptic packaging can
be immediately seen on the bottom line of processors, retailers and
foodservice customers in terms of improved shelf life, no refrigeration
costs and, consequently, significantly lower costs of spoiled/damaged
products. Refrigeration costs can amount to quite an expense for operators
as cooling is required throughout the entire value chain in production
sites, distribution warehouses, trucks and other transportation.
Greg Abbott, founder/chairman, chief executive
officer, International Dispensing Corp., New York: Aseptic processing and packaging are strategic technologies
that companies enter to differentiate themselves from others. The cost of
entry is significant, but the marketing pay-offs should be realized in a
very short period for time.
DF: What does the market look like for aseptic
Bittner: The American
marketplace for aseptic carton packaging is growing and its future looks
promising. Though the market is very different from our neighboring
country, Mexico, where aseptic products have a large share in all food and
beverage segments such as liquid dairy, non-carbonated soft drinks and
food, aseptic cartons in the U.S.A. can be found primarily in the
kids’ segment, aseptic food and foodservice applications.
Nonetheless, aseptic packaging has made significant advances with new
product introductions focusing on on-the-go applications and extending
aseptic packaging into the adult segment.
Abbott: The interest
in smaller aseptic BIB for retail and foodservice is booming. Products such
as orange juice, coffee creamers and drinks, and cooking stocks have found
their way onto the retail shelf or foodservice offerings in just the past
Suley Muratoglu, general manager, aseptic dairy,
coffee & tea, Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.: Aseptically packaged juice and drinks, broth, soups, nutritional
products or soy have been well accepted into mainstream household.
Aseptically packaged dairy products have also enjoyed very strong growth
rates as producers are launching more and more single-serve milk drinks
aiming to a consumer that is driven by convenience, taste and freshness. The organic single-serve aseptic
milk success has proven that this trend is here to stay. And we are
starting to see that the dairy industry is beginning to address
consumers’ needs to have milk and dairy beverages available to them
in various formats and venues.
DF: What is the future of aseptic packaging? Will
consumers finally embrace milk sold at ambient temperatures?
Muratoglu: Consumers are
already buying shelf-stable dairy products. Based on dollar sales per point
of distribution, reported by ACNielsen ScanTrack, six of the top 10
shelf-stable kids’ beverage SKUs are dairy products. It’s quite
interesting to observe that, once a dairy product is available in a
cost-efficient and convenient format at retail, it can match the sales
velocity of top-performing juice or juice drinks SKUs.
Parents of young kids, who are making the decision to
buy “milk in a box” today, were once the kids themselves, who
consumed juice and juice drinks from a box. Every single market research we
conducted with mainstream parents, confirms it. They are very familiar and
comfortable with aseptic carton package and with shelf-stable products. We
further observed that parents did not hesitate, nor were they confused, to
purchase single-serve milk by the case for their kids’ lunchbox at
club stores, while picking up the same product from the cooler when they
are ordering their coffee in the neighborhood coffee store.
Another good example to cite here is what Kroger is
doing with its most recent launch under Disney’s Magic Selection
line. They offer aseptic flavored milk for kids in multi-packs at the juice
aisle, the prime location at the store where parents do make their
“lunch box” purchases. It’s important to underline the
role relative price point plays in this very competitive market segment
where well over 6 billion single-serve beverages are sold each year. No
other packaging format but aseptic cartons can offer price competitiveness
for a single-serve dairy beverage if it is to compete in juice aisle.
Bittner: Aseptic products
in cartons are a well-established category that consumers know and rely on.
Consumers are aware of the benefits that aseptic packaging has to offer in
terms of product quality, convenience and long shelf life. At the moment,
consumers are more and more exposed to aseptic carton packaging and are
going through a learning curve. This process is currently enhanced due to
the fact that producers and brand manufacturers are developing new, trendy,
on-the-go products that score very high on convenience. This exposes new
target audiences to aseptic carton packaging.
drinking milk has not been a successful product in the U.S. to date,
primarily because the U.S. consumer is conditioned to refrigerated products
and has become accustomed to the taste in plastic jugs. The cost of aseptic
milk also inhibits its growth for traditional fluid milk opportunities. The
much bigger opportunities within the dairy industry are for more
value-added products such as drinkable yogurts, dairy-based coffee
beverages and soy milk. These are products that consumers are quite
comfortable buying in the shelf-stable aisle.
DF: Are dairy processors that use aseptic packaging
using and marketing it to its fullest potential?
Abbott: The easy
answer is no they are not. Marketing anything to its fullest potential
means making a product so enticing that the consumer believes they must
have it. The dairy processors to this point have taken existing products
and packaged it in Tetra, hoping the consumer will buy a shelf-stable
version of exactly what they can find in other parts of the store. To make
aseptic packaging more enticing, brands must develop and leverage entirely
new delivery systems – such as multiserve – for retail and
Muratoglu: There are a
number of brands that are doing a great job making their product available
and known by the consumer. But there is always room for improvement. One
thing that is important to reinforce is that where dairy products in
aseptic cartons are available, they sell very well. Their market share is
still small, though, which shows that there is a great opportunity here.
DF: Is fluid milk the primary use for aseptic
packaging? What are its other applications in dairy?
Abbott: Fluid milk is
a small part of the total. Practically all beverage types that can benefit
are being considered for aseptic packaging. The opportunities continue to
grow as new beverages and ready-to-eat products are developed.
Bittner: No, aseptic carton
packaging is used for quite an extensive range of liquid dairy products,
far exceeding plain fluid milk.
Examples of products where aseptic cartons play an
important role are: milk and juice blends, milk and fiber blends, breakfast
drinks, soy/rice/almond blends, milk with fruit particles, milk and tea
blends, drink yogurt, smoothies, and a variety of milks with functional
ingredients. But also creamers, beverage bases, desserts, toppings and
non-dairy applications are packed in aseptic cartons.
Muratoglu: There are a
number of other applications in dairy for aseptic. Some of the most
traditional dairy items such as whipped cream, heavy cream, half and half
and coffee creamers offer great opportunities in supply chain efficiencies
at foodservice and retail.
Aseptic technology offers great flexibility in
processing of sensitive ingredients. There is no technical hurdle in
offering great-tasting milk that you will add into your cereal in the
morning, knowing that it will help reduce your cholesterol intake because
it has added plant sterols in it.
Milk has great health equity associated with and
through aseptic technology. It can be a very effective carrier of many
products of high nutritional value that consumers today demand. To a large
extent, segmentation of the dairy category is well behind of other product
categories we became accustomed to.
DF: Has there been any significant move in the past
year toward aseptic milk breaking out of a niche market?
Bittner: In the past year,
there was a clear move toward a broader consumer acceptance toward aseptic
cartons. Also, from the market it can be seen that there is an increased
need for differentiation and product innovation. New product concepts such
as milk blends or functional milk drinks have a positive impact on overall
segment growth and profitability.
DF: What are the latest technology and trends in
packaging in the area of aseptic packaging?
Bittner: SIG Combibloc is
constantly improving aseptic carton systems by means of developing more
efficient filling lines. Efficiency has been increased significantly over
the past years by means of greater filling speed and low waste. Also,
quality control and filling line operations have become a lot easier due to
the standard installation of ECS software, which includes complete system
With respect to the aseptic carton sleeves, SIG
Combibloc has developed a wide range of formats and sizes that can be used
for a large variety of applications. Due to the flexibility of the SIG
Combibloc system different formats and different volumes can be filled on
the same machine with a changeover of only minutes. This gives dairy
producers the unique possibility of tailoring their production to their
brands and pro-actively respond to the needs of their customers.
Also, SIG Combibloc has developed a variety of
different opening systems, from flat spouts to screw caps, to bend and tear
solutions. Openings come in a variety of dimensions and colors and can be
applied on small, medium and large size products.
A recent innovation involves the CombiSmart. This is a
unique application for small size products targeting people on-the-go, but
can also easily be applied for products such as cooking sauces and creamers
due to its easy pouring characteristics.
packaging and associated improved filling speeds are driving the growth in
this business. IDC has introduced the truly innovative aseptic dispensing
option – The Answer and The Multiserve SafePak – a new aseptic
multi-serve packaging category that protects liquid food and beverages from
microorganisms and oxygen, allowing organic, perishable and
non-preservative products to retain freshness, quality, and taste without
refrigeration or power.
Muratoglu: The consumer
has always played a big role in our R&D, which meant to us it is all
about: taste, freshness and convenience. That’s why Tetra Pak has
been working to improve its aseptic technology to guarantee the best taste
and freshness and has also been developing new openings and format to
answer consumer’s need for convenience and on-the-go consumption.
DF: What do consumers want from aseptic packaging?
Bittner: The main need for
consumers today is convenience. With busy lifestyles and often on-the-go
consumption and little time for extensive meal preparation convenience is
the key trend for today’s marketplace. Aseptic carton packaging fits
this need perfectly. First of all, carton packs are easy to handle and easy
to store. This way items can be safely stocked in pantries, ready for use
when needed. But, due to its volume flexibility there are several
applications suitable for on-the-go consumption. Furthermore, the
variety of openings available guarantees easy pouring solutions while
taking care of consumer safety and product integrity.
DF: What are dairy processors asking for in aseptic
Muratoglu: Major food
companies and a group of dairy processors who focus their efforts around
branding and marketing of value-added products see aseptic as a major
opportunity to differentiate themselves from their own competition. They
observed the trends in organic milk or in broth or soups where aseptic
packaging has played a major role in changing the dynamics of these
segments. On the other hand, some dairy processors are more impacted by
ever-increasing pressures of high volume-low margin-consolidation
cycle. We believe adoption of aseptic packaging into dairy will continue to
speed up as more and more successful products are introduced into the
market. Over time it will become very obvious that aseptic will complement
a dairy’s offering rather than compete with it. The gallon jug is
here to stay, but with 99.9 percent retail penetration there is not much
room left to grow. On the other hand, only in less than 2 percent of the
usage occasions milk is available to kids, while they are away from home.
That is quite a few shelf-stable dairy products.
Bittner: Naturally, in
packing products into aseptic carton the prime considerations are product
safety and quality. Also, processors depend on the reliable and efficient
filling line with as little downtime as possible. Flexibility in the system
regarding packing different volumes and segments is also highly valued.
Finally, the overall consumer appeal needs to be excellent by means of
offering high convenience, innovative products and attractive packaging in
terms of format, spouts and graphics.
Abbott: New packages lead
to new opportunities. The key opportunity is in constantly improving
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and
a former managing editor of Dairy Field.
$OMN_artauthor="Shonda Talerico Dudlicek";?>