Dairy processors are revamping their packaging options to cater to the more environmentally friendly, always-on-the-go consumer.

Consumers vying for milk in easy open-and-close containers need look no further. Same for those shoppers in search of cheese that comes in earth-friendly bags or teas in recyclable bottles.

That’s because the dairy industry is undergoing a makeover, one that serves up better-for-you products in better-for-the-earth packaging.

The demand for converted flexible packaging solutions, for instance, is projected to climb to $930 million in 2013, according to a study conducted by the Cleveland-based Freedonia Group.

Companies like Tillamook County Creamery Association have already tackled this facelift by changing its shingle packages from a rigid plastic container to a flexible package that is less harmful to the environment, says Jay Allison, vice president of sales and marketing for the Tillamook, Ore.-based cheese manufacturer.

“Starting in late May, this package will be even more environmentally friendly,” he says. “We will be decreasing the length of this package by three-quarters of an inch, which will allow us to prevent more than 21,000 feet of packaging film from entering landfills annually.”

Kraft Foods shredded its old design for a more refreshing look, which is now featured in nearly 15 different cheese formats, according to a company press release. Designed to better showcase the fresh-off-the-block natural cheese, the new packaging contains more white space and lower-case lettering to better stand out on the shelf, according to a company press release.

Multipack offerings also continue to be popular, especially for spoonable yogurts and ice cream novelties, according to the Paperboard Packaging Alliance, “Manufacturers shifted to smaller pack sizes, and yogurt products continue to see volume sales growth,” says the Washington, D.C.-based organization. “Consumers continued to be interested in the environmental aspects of packaging, the ability to recycle and to reduce the overall quantity of packaging materials.”

For example, yogurt in tube-shaped sticks has presented favorable opportunities for pouches, the study says. Likewise, pillow pouches have replaced coated paper wraps, thus offering increased shelf life, enhancing freshness and reducing the risk of tampering.

When it comes to school milk, several dairy processors are transitioning from traditional 8-ounce gable-top paperboard cartons to more stylized, rigid, plastic containers, says Charles Yuska, president and chief executive officer of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, Arlington, Va.

Cheese producers also have adopted rigid plastic packaging with snap-close lids for sliced cheese, he says.

“This approach eliminates the need for individual film wrapping, as slices are staggered before filling and then placed in the rigid tray,” Yuska notes. “The trays can be back-flushed and vacuum sealed for a longer shelf life.

Other converted flexible packaging options include laminated paper and film wraps designed for butter, margarine, cream cheese and ice cream novelties, the Freedonia report says.

Beverage revolution

Of all of the dairy-related segments, though, non-dairy beverages are seeing the greatest changes. According to the Freedonia study, larger single-serving bottles, such as half-liters and 20- and 24-ounce containers, will continue to increase, while the demand for smaller single-serving options – 12 ounces or less – will grow more rapidly, the study says.

That’s why Uncle Matt’s Organic launched a new 6-ounce refrigerated orange juice box, says Matt McLean, CEO for the Clermont, Fla.-based juice brand.

“We are differentiating our product line to be more diverse and to satisfy consumer needs,” he says. “Also, by introducing a much smaller size, it gives new consumers a more affordable price-point to try our products without having to buy 59 ounces at their first purchase.”

Each carton features a mini gable-top cardboard design with an attached straw and can be sold individually or in multipacks.

For its part, Fiji Water launched Mini & Mobile, a new six-pack of 330-milliliter bottles ideal for lunchboxes, parties, hikes, bike riding and other on-the-go activities. In addition, Fiji joined 1% for the Planet, a global alliance of companies that donate at least 1% of their sales toward improving sustainability, according to a company press release.

While some bottles are shrinking in size, others are diminishing in weight.

“Bottled water containers in PET resin have undergone a serious lightweighting in the past eight years, reducing their weight by 32%. This is the equivalent to eliminating one out of three bottles. Caps, labels and even shipping cartons have been reduced,” says Tom Lauria, vice president of International Bottled Water Association, Alexandria, Va. “In recycling, bottled water containers now sit on top of the recycling charts at 30.9%.”

Even tea makers are getting into the action by transforming their current lines into more earth-friendly applications.

Inko’s White Tea, for instance, opts for placing its products in 12-ounce aluminum cans, says Andy Schamisso, founder and president of the New York-based company.

“We chose aluminum cans predominantly because they are the least expensive portable beverage container, they lend themselves perfectly to the many varieties of vending machines and [contain] positive environmental aspects regarding weight and recycling,” he says.

Packaging for the future

Overall, dairy processors maintain the same goals in packaging as their counterparts in other industry segments, Yuska says. “Improving sustainability – without sacrificing product protection – is top of mind,” he adds.

That’s why several processors continue to revamp their packaging applications while planning for a greener future.

“The economy and the environment are both playing a greater role in packaging decisions than they have historically,” says Gary Hemphill, managing director for Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York-based research and consulting firm dedicated to the beverage industry. “Companies are working to lightweight their packages by reducing the amount of materials used to produce them. This is not only an environmentally friendly endeavor but also saves many dollars.”

The key is to create packaging that better integrates into consumers’ lifestyles, Yuska says. “Societal trends [that are] currently driving packaging decisions include an increasingly mobile society, a growing number of smaller households and a rising interest in portion-controlled options,” he adds.

On the other hand, using reprocessed dairy materials can bring its collection of setbacks, says Bob Klimko, technical chairman for Reusable Packaging Association, Arlington, Va., and director of marketing, food and beverage and director of sustainability for Orbis Corp., Oconomowoc, Wis.

“While the primary type of material used in the reusable dairy transport business is high-density polyethylene, some reprocessed material can be used if tested versus performance,” he says. “It is important to be cautious in the use of reprocessed material especially in segments like fluid milk due to the overall weight of the unit package. A standard battery of tests from the packaging testing world can ensure compliance with required performance requirements.”

In addition, transport packaging must adapt to match the ever-changing trends within the dairy market, Klimko says. “The whole area of light weighting packaging is very important to consider for the reusable industry,” he says. “This potential innovation must be developed with an understanding of the performance and application requirements throughout the dairy supply chain. This holistic view will ensure effective innovation.”

Thanks to the dairy industry’s new look, consumers also can do their part in making a greener, more sustainable future.

Sidebar: IDFA, Members Meet to Combat Plastic Container Theft

Representatives from IDFA and several member companies joined forces for a cross-industry coalition meeting created to combat the loss of milk crates, bakery trays, beverage shells and other recyclable assets.

The Joint Industry Returnable Asset Management Committee, which was sponsored by Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Rehrig Pacific Co., an international manufacturer of reusable plastic pallets and crates for handling and transporting commercial products, drew more than 60 people with wide ranges of corporate responsibility, including distribution, procurement, purchasing, communications, government affairs, security and sales.

To provide the dairy industry perspective, John Wilhelm, director of purchasing for Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc., joined colleagues from Sara Lee and H&S Bakery in a dynamic panel discussion. Each provided a snapshot of the savings their companies had achieved once they implemented targeted plans and made plastic asset management a company-wide priority.

Attendees represented a variety of companies, including Dean Foods and Guida’s Milk & Ice Cream, as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Bakers Association, the Reusable Packaging Association and BNP Media, the parent company of Dairy Foods.

Sidebar: The Responsible Package

The paper-based packaging industry provides versatile packaging solutions to the dairy industry to keep products fresh and safe, says Peter Heist, chairman of Paperboard Packaging Alliance, Washington D.C., and vice president of Memphis-based International Paper.

“With today’s heightened awareness of sustainability, it’s important to remember that paper-based packages come from an infinitely renewable resource and are highly recyclable, helping the dairy industry address a growing demand for safe, fresh and environmentally friendly products,” he says.

That’s why the PPA and the Corrugated Packaging Alliance, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., launched The Responsible Package, an industry-wide campaign to promote versatile and sustainable paper-based packaging solutions.

Designed to raise awareness of the industry’s sustainable practices, the initiative also touts the renewability of forest products.

“Manufacturers shifted to smaller pack sizes and yogurt products continue to see volume sales growth,” PPA says. “Consumers continued to be interested in the environmental aspects of packaging, the ability to recycle and to reduce the overall quantity of packaging materials.”

Sidebar: Beyond the package

Contributed by Gail Barnes

Packaging is critical to milk marketing. It not only protects milk from contamination and preserves product quality, but also conveys the processor’s marketing message and product nutritional information. It also must be in sync with changes in consumer lifestyle and satisfy current environmental concerns and legislation - all while being cost efficient for the processor.

New, improved and more sustainable packaging formats can offer long-term cost reductions, mainly from material and energy savings. Sustainable packaging also provides an opportunity for dairy industry innovation by expanding the diversity of packaging alternatives in the dairy case. These innovations will attract retailers as well as the increasing number of consumers who are conscious of the environmental impact of their purchases.

The environmental impact of packaged milk is about more than just the container. It includes the complete dairy delivery system, spanning the production of the packaging material through processing to product consumption and disposal of the package by the consumer.

As part of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is conducting a life-cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions for white and value-added milks and coffee creamers across usage occasions (in-home and on-the-go), pack sizes (gallon configurations to single-serve) and methods of distribution (chilled and ambient).

This LCA will be complete in 2011. The data will equip milk processors, packaging material manufacturers and retailers with science-based information that will help them make informed decisions with regard to innovation and alternatives to reducing GHG emissions in milk processing and packaging.

For more information on the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment, visitwww.usdairy.com/sustainability.

Gail Barnes is vice president of technology and packaging for Rosemont, Ill.-based Dairy Management Inc.

Sidebar: PepsiCo's push for a promising tomorrow

It’s been nearly a year since PepsiCo and Carbon Trust, a U.K.-based not-for-profit organization created to lower worldwide carbon footprints, launched a pilot program designed to measure the carbon trail of Tropicana Pure Premium’s lifecycle, says Andrew Hartshorn, senior marketing manager for the Chicago-based juice company.

“[We] discovered that the largest single source of carbon emissions was fertilizer use in the orange-growing process,” he says. “To tackle this issue head-on, we are working with one of our growers – SMR Farms in Bradenton, Fla. – to experiment with and test multiple creative approaches using reduced-carbon fertilizers.”

If the pilot is successful, Hartshorn says, Tropicana Pure Premium’s total carbon footprint will decrease 15 to 17%. “In addition, our findings could have a dramatic impact on the broader agricultural landscape for orange growers and producers of other agricultural products,” he notes.

Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo also teamed up with Waste Management to install at least 3,000 kiosks in various high-traffic areas to urge consumers to recycle plastic and aluminum bottles, a company press release says. These vending machine-type kiosks, called the Dream Machine, allow users to recycle while accumulating rewards points, which can later be used for travel, movie tickets and other purchases.

According to the company, users swipe a key card, follow the touch-screen instructions, scan the barcode of the can or bottle and then place it into the appropriate chute. The kiosk then spits out a receipt, which details the rewards points.