In Demand

International Paper tackles packaging challenge.
by Jamie Popp
The demand for small, grippable, easy-to-open packaging is nothing new in retail circles. The countless beverage options in increasingly smaller sizes that exist on store shelves prove that convenience is paramount and tiny is in. But what about packaging in the foodservice arena?
Findings from a school milk pilot test performed by national dairy organizations during the past year identified key components of the way children consume milk.  Not surprisingly, kids prefer additional flavor variety and improved refrigerated displays for colder milk and more appeal.
The results prompted some dairy processors to look at alternative packaging features and schools to add additional cooler displays in order to find ways to increase consumption of milk in schools.
“Paper packaging has long been the optimal packaging solution for the school milk channel,” says Jeanette Havens, assistant marketing manager for beverage packaging at International Paper. “However, we knew that we could improve this great package by making it easier to open.”
Identifying the consumer need for enhanced opening features that are appealing to processors who are constantly looking for cost effective packaging solutions, International Paper’s beverage packaging business delivered.
The solution is the Eco-Pak Plus, a gabletop package with an enhanced opening feature that will be offered at schools this fall. This new development provides value to dairy processors because it satisfies the consumer demand for easy-to-use packaging that is cost effective.
With this new packaging, International Paper demonstrates that many things can still be done with paper packaging in order to increase school milk consumption, while adhering to schools’ budget parameters.
Team members at International Paper’s Product Development Center in Loveland, Ohio, and converting facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., developed the enhanced opening of the Eco-Pak Plus, based on testing done with children in schools in Ohio and a prominent dairy processor in the Northeast.
“Eco-Pak Plus is a unique opening feature designed for straw hole puncture. The patent-pending design is an embossed cross that allows for easier penetration without the risk of leaking,” says Stephanie Kuhar, assistant marketing manager, beverage packaging. “Our Evergreen N-8 Filling Machine is the preferred filler for this market, efficiently filling up to 340 cartons per minute (20,400 per hour).  Eco-Pak Plus is seamless to the filler and provides the processor the ability to address this consumer concern while maintaining their production efficiencies without increasing their material costs, thereby optimizing our school milk packaging solution.”
But it’s not only school milk channels that have jumped on the trend in new paper packaging; single-serve gabletop packaging solutions have made their way to mass merchandisers and traditional grocery channels as well. Juice companies such as Welch's and Tropicana have introduced single-serve multi-packs of easy-to-open gabletop packaged beverages to retail outlets nationwide. For example, Tropicana Healthy Kids juice is available in a multi-pack of six 8-ounce cartons. In addition, Welch’s recently launched a multi-pack of eight 6-ounce Micro-Pak cartons in Concord Grape and Strawberry Breeze juice drink flavors.
Eco-Pak multi-packs available in the retail environment are similar in shape to traditional school milk cartons, but have enhanced features such as high-quality graphics for shelf appeal, Tru Taste barrier boards for improved shelf life, perforated straw openings for added convenience and paperboard over-wraps that hold multiple servings in a six-pack format. The Micro-Pak, typically found in mass-merchandise and supercenter channels, provides all of the benefits of Eco-Pak cartons such as high-quality graphics and multi-pack offerings, but has several other innovative features such as a foil-patch straw hole for easier opening.
Havens attributes the success of Micro-Pak packaging in retail outlets to its product features. Including its robust Tru Taste Gold barrier boards, which protect the flavor and shelf life of the product. Additional features such as the carton’s stable pyramid bottom to prevent spilling, and its ability to fit conveniently in a cup holder are important for on-the-go drinkers. The process-print graphics capability makes the packaging more appealing to consumers, an option attractive to juice companies that are vying for more shelf attention.
Whether it’s the foil-patched straw opening on the Micro-Pak or the Eco-Pak Plus embossed opening on the Eco-Pak, consumers of all ages will benefit from the easier and portable packaging at school and home.
Jamie Popp is managing editor of Beverage Industry, published by Stagnito Communications.