On-The-Go Demands
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Packaging makers are answering the call for convenience and portability in dairy products.
Children are the future of portable packaging. Adults may cringe at squeezing chocolate pudding out of a tube and into their mouths. Older folks might balk at drinking yogurt from a bottle. But the kids love it.
In today’s fast-paced society, when everyone is on the go, food needs to be convenient and easy to tote from car to soccer practice, to school and work. For dairy products to compete with soda and snacks, portable packaging is vital.
Some of the latest trends in portable packaging include ready-to-consume, single-serve bottles, plus handles and single- and multipack bottle carriers, making it easier to transport those smaller servings.
“I think that ready-to-eat is the trend with the most momentum,” says John Eklund, marketing director, Roberts PolyPro, Charlotte, N.C. “In thinking back to what I ate for lunch today, it was Campbell’s Chunky Soup that came in a microwaveable bowl. It’s all about convenience and it seems consumers are willing to pay a premium for it — I know I did for the Chunky Soups that I can just heat and eat. In browsing the shelves at the grocery store, I think there are more single and ready-to-eat products than ever before.”
Other products include extended-shelf-life and aseptic products in single-serve containers sold at convenience stores and multipacks at club stores.
Grab and Go
With more consumers buying in bulk, products need handles to make it easier to bring them home.
PakTech handles were developed to increase portability of multiple large bottles, including the TwinPak handle to help consumers tote two gallon bottles of milk with one hand. “Recently, the single-serve milk market has been increasing, and PakTech has developed several multipack handle options for smaller, portable milk bottles,” says Amie Thomas, marketing manager, PakTech, Eugene, Ore.
In its ethnographic consumer research, MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems found that consumers are most concerned with portability, space management and accessibility. “Yet most secondary packages on the market today don’t have a handle on them, not do they fit conveniently in the refrigerator,” says Paul Spitale, senior project manager of worldwide technology at the Atlanta-based company.
MeadWestvaco’s FlexiTech™ packaging system for pouches keeps its target market — children age 8 to 12 — in mind.
The company’s multipack has a consumer-friendly handle. Its opening feature is child-friendly, making it easier to dispense product. The FlexiTech carton design is adaptable to almost any pouch style, and its corresponding packaging equipment can handle speeds up to 600 pouches per minute or 720 pouches per minute with a surge.
Spitale says dairy processors are asking for innovative flexible packaging solutions. “Processors know that pouches are an emerging format. Therefore, that’s the leading-edge packaging solution we are actively developing and marking today,” he says. “But we also distinguish ourselves as a multipack supplier for all other primary containers, including cups and single-serve bottles.”
Pouch products will be useful in dairy applications like drinkable yogurt, Spitale says.
“Our research found that pouch products are frequently an on-the-go beverage or snack, and moms are taking these products to soccer practices or parties for kids,” he says. “We rolled up all the pouch research findings, developed innovative carton features based on consumer data and incorporated these into FlexiTech, a very competitive paperboard alternative.”
Single-serve plastic milk bottles have been on the rise for a number of years, now overtaking the traditional gabletop milk cartons in schools. “Kids have always liked single-serve convenience and for the longest time the only place they got it with milk was at schools,” Eklund says. “Then they came out with single-serve milk in plastic bottles in the stores. Parents were reluctant to buy because of the price point, but the kids loved it. I think affordable single serve is going to be big for dairy. Our multipack carriers are the perfect companion for this trend because we can bundle bottles together with a nice handle.”
Roberts PolyPro offers single and multipack bottle carriers for the beverage industry and the application equipment needed to apply them at a range of speeds. The North Carolina-based company also makes folding utensils that can be packaged with ready-to-eat products.
Dairy processors are looking for better ways to package reclosable and resealable plastic bottles and containers. “Consumers demand easy-to-use packaging, and the dairy field has had to change to keep up with this demand,” Thomas says. “For example, milk companies have changed from gabletop single-serve milk cartons to more attractive, user-friendly and portable plastic bottles. The technology involved with this change was challenging, due to food safety and processing plant issues. PakTech has also responded by creating new packaging solutions and high-tech application equipment to keep up with the transformation.” The company offers multipack and bale handle solutions, along with high-speed applicators.
Convenience and portability are high priorities for consumers, says Judy Zeigler, marketing services manager, Evergreen Packaging Equipment, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Society has become much more fast-paced in recent years, and on-the-go consumption of beverages and food has increased simultaneously. Flavored, formulated and ‘good-for-you’ products are evolving the quickest. Processors are looking for longer shelf life, which can broaden their distribution area and also lessen returns. They also want high-speed machines that offer quick changeover, and more flexibility in package handling.”
Rigid Thinking
Evergreen, a unit of International Paper, offers filling equipment for paper gabletop cartons for dairy and juice. The company also offers a complete line of bottle fillers, cup fillers and associated secondary packaging. International Paper manufactures gabletop carton blanks for milk and juice.
In portable packaging, its latest developments are the Micro Pak carton and EMP-1 packaging machine, which fills and seals this new single-serve carton at speeds up to 8,400 cartons per hour. Complete with an easy-entry straw hole, this compact gabletop carton fits into car drink holders as well as backpacks, handbags and brief cases.
International Paper also makes the Eco-Pak Plus, which has a patent-pending embossed cross opening designed for easier straw puncture and less leaking. The Eco-Pak Plus is used primarily in foodservice and school lunch programs.
On-the-go consumers need food in innovative packaging that follows them wherever they go. “I think consumers are demanding that it be ready to go right out of the box,” Eklund says. “The single-serving boxes of cereals were good, but when they added the milk in the same box it became a great idea — only it was poorly executed because people couldn’t get used to the notion of putting warm milk on cereal. It was a step in the right direction though.”
The industry’s path from rigid portable packaging to flexible packaging may be reversing itself based on our driving habits, according to Stan Zelesnik, director of education at the Naperville, Ill.-based Institute of Packaging Professionals. “There’s been a huge movement from rigid and semi-rigid packaging to flexible packaging. The SUV is a very interesting phenomenon, with all those cupholders,” he says. “We’re finding that the SUV cupholders are better suited for rigid. There are real benefits to the rigid packaging because they stand in cupholders. They’re convenient and portable and you can put anything in it.”
And, Zelesnik says, children are the future of portable packaging because they’re used to grabbing containers in their small hands. Squeezable pudding pouches may be waning for adults, but kids don’t mind interacting with their food or its packaging. And children are one of the largest consumer groups of drinkable yogurts, which have grown in popularity in recent years.
Standing Out
Consumers looking to grab a beverage and go logically will reach for the product that screams at them from the shelf. That’s where labeling comes in, say the folks at Dawsonville, Ga.-based SleeveCo, manufacturer and printer of shrink-sleeve labels and provider of graphic services.
SleeveCo has invested in state-of-the-art narrow web rotogravure printing presses that allow shorter minimum runs, “a perfect fit for a dairy’s growing stable of single-serve SKUs,” says Brian Metzger, director of business development.
“In an effort to differentiate, we are seeing more creative bottle shapes and sizes, and considerably more color and pop on the labels,” he says. “With the dairy and other drink sectors competing so heavily for single-serve shelf space, the consumer has more choices to make than ever. Consumers, particularly the younger demographics, will skip past packaging that hasn’t kept up with the times. Frankly, the single-serve milk packaging that produced such wildly successful results in the mid- to late-’90s is looking very tired next to the new single-serve packaging.”  
According to Metzger, independent and regional dairies are asking for help to spice up their packaging. “They know that to keep their own brands competitive, they must evolve their packaging.”
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.