Firmly in Place

Rigid packaging stands up to consumer and product demands.
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
The greatest benefit of rigid packaging may be realized after the product is consumed — brand recognition, as many retail packages are later used for home storage.
But there are other advantages to rigid packaging for dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, milk and ice cream.
“Rigid packaging stands alone on supermarket shelves,” says Bob Barrett, president of Toronto-based Polytainers Inc. “Products in rigid packaging have integrity and require no secondary packaging, no sleeves or boxes. They are self-contained and hermetically sealed for freshness. They have a great shelf life are convenient for both the retailer and the consumer.”
Some examples of rigid packaging developed for the dairy industry include yogurt and cottage cheese cups with Mylar and foil seals and plastic tops; single-serve bottles for milk and drinkable yogurts and smoothies; scrounds for ice cream; and blow-molded milk gallons.
With rigid packaging, products have predictable billboard space, says Beth Romano, product manager at Huhtamaki Americas, DeSoto, Kan. “Secondary packaging can be minimized,” she says, “and it has packaging that holds up through the life cycle of the product.”
Huhtamaki offers plastic and paperboard rigid packaging, capabilities like injection molding, thermoforming and convolute wrap and custom-design teams, integrated material solutions and full graphics management.
Graphics are also important to consumers and must be bold and eye-catching in order to compete. “The dairy case has become a very crowded place,” Barrett says. “Consumers are looking for convenience, of course, and increasingly, they’re looking to dairy products for their health and nutrition benefits as well. The new dietary guidelines and growing concerns regarding obesity will only accelerate the growth of the category. In addition, new flavors and varieties are proliferating, appealing to kids and other consumer groups. It’s all resulted in a heightened need for product differentiation on supermarket shelves.  At Polytainers we call this ‘buy-me appeal’ — the product and the package’s ability to reach out and say to the consumer, ‘Pick me up and put me in your cart.’”
Polytainers’ packaging “is colorful, its designs are sophisticated, and its printing quality is state-of-the-art, best-in-class,” Barrett says. “There’s as much art as science to putting ink on plastic and producing the highest quality graphics.”
Consumers appreciate well-thought-out rigid package designs, Romano says. “The shape fits their hand, promotes easy pour, fits in car holder, helps child use the product, is easy to eat on the go and comes in fun and unique shapes with bright, eye-catching graphics,” she says.
Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics offers a no-cost in-house design center to take a concept to reality. “Dairy processors are asking for specialized packaging that distinguishes them from the competition,” says Michelle Schmitt, container marketing analyst at Berry Plastics. “Many customers use outside design firms that may create great designs, but are unable to be molded. Berry not only understands the packaging that the dairy market needs, but also the importance of speed to market.”
Schmitt says in-mold decorating, popular in Europe, is becoming more common in the United States. Berry Plastics is a manufacturer of injection-molded and thermoformed containers, which also fill another demand for lightweight packaging. Berry offers a line of clear, non-round thermoformed packaging in 8-, 12-, 16- and 32-ounce sizes and has an extensive line of dairy packaging ranging from 4 to 195 ounces. Products are available in high-density polyethylene and polypropylene suitable food, dairy, frozen desserts and other applications.
Consumer Needs
Whatever the product, consumers want rigid packaging that will stand up to the most basic demands, storage and consumption.
“They continue to demand the highest functional performance out of their dairy packages — durability without excess, secure reseal-ability, scoop-ability in family sized containers and attractive clearly labeled graphics,” says Steve Rosse, director of marketing for Highland Park, Ill.-based Solo Cup Co.’s packaging division. Solo is a broad-line supplier of rigid paper, thermoformed plastic, injection-molded plastic and foam packaging to international dairy and food manufacturing markets. Its trademark Flex-E-Fill® filling machine is known for its flexibility and efficient footprint. Solo has also reengineered aspects of its AutoPak fillers to improve operational efficiency.
“Consumer needs have not changed much in recent years,” Rosse says. “Trends toward portability, space efficiency and convenience continue to dominate what is new.”
Consumers are demanding increases in barrier properties, such as ultraviolet light, oxygen and moisture, says Jason Schultz, marketing specialist at Placon Corp. The Madison, Wis.-based manufacturer specializes in rigid thermoforming packaging and offers design, precision-based production platforms and state-of-the-art printing capabilities. Schultz adds that there’s been an increase in inquiries of dosing, dispensing and portability issues.
Ensuring food safety has long been an issue with consumers and dairy processors, and this tamper-evidence trend is also recognized by rigid packagers.  
“More than just a tamper-evident package on the shelf, we feel that processors are looking for manufacturing safety and traceability. A tamper-evident package might appeal to a consumer who wants to ensure food safety for their family, but a thorough quality process carried out by the packaging manufacturer is what helps the processor create a truly safe product,” Rosse says. “They need to know that during every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to distribution, warehousing to delivery, their package is protected from outside contamination.”
Berry’s Schmitt sees a growing demand for tamper-resistant packaging, including solutions to secondary operations such as tamper bands or heat seals. “One solution, our ImedgeTM Squares, provide protection with a break tab on the container and the crisp, vibrant graphics of in-mold labels,” Schmitt says. These containers are available in 8-, 12-, 16- and 48-ounce sizes.
Berry Plastics also offers a line of 38 mm milk closures. “The compression-lined closure, the ‘Intelligent Cap,’ creates a package system of tamper resistance with the blow molded bottle. The forgiving seal provides savings for dairies,” Schmitt says.  
Schultz says he sees dairy processors requesting tamper-evident technology being a part of the primary package forming process. “Perforations around the outside of lids can’t be opened unless perforated seal is broken, indicating tampered product,” he says, noting that new tamper-evident processes are in development at Placon.
Huhtamaki’s Romano adds she’s seen more scanning of UPC and 2D matrix codes on packaging materials at manufacture and on filling lines to ensure no labeling mix around allergens.
Strategic Partnering
The need for lightweight containers has never been greater than it is today, with raw material prices on the rise. Resin prices have increased almost 50 percent, up 25 percent higher than ever before, says Barrett of Polytainers. “As a result, lightweighting continues to be important, for example, producing high-quality, strong and durable packaging using less raw material. Our dairy processor customers are also demanding shorter lead times and reduced run quantities. It requires us to be a ‘lean manufacturer,’ offering a higher level of service, quicker turnaround, responding to customer needs instantaneously.”
Barrett also says changing labeling requirements led to a built-in obsolescence in packaging. “And no one wants 3 to 4 months of inventory sitting around,” he says. “The feedback we get from our customers, many of whom are private label manufacturers, is that they’re looking for more than a supplier, but a partner who can help with overall logistics and supply chain management.  We strive to be that strategic partner.”
Solo’s Rosse says dairy processors are working diligently to keep up with the increasing demands of the consumer for customization. “This translates into higher demands on rigid-packaging suppliers to provide greater flexibility and quicker response to changing production schedules and shorter run lengths. Reduced ounce capacity projects have dominated the activities of the past year and with raw material and ingredients costs continuing to rise, we expect more of these types of projects,” he says.
Even though flexible packaging is getting its share of attention, our driving habits require rigid packaging, says 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 as we move from rigid to semi-rigid packaging to flexible, they bump into each other. And we’re finding that the SUV cupholders are better suited for rigid and so we’ve gone back to that to help SUV users,” Zelesnik says. “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.”  
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.