Rounding the Next Bend
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Flexible packaging continues to offer convenience, safety and shelf appeal.
The evolution of flexible packaging continues with smart packaging, radio frequency identification and retort packaging.
For dairy products, flexible packaging ranges from thinner, stronger films to biodegradable films to on-the-go packages that are lightweight and recloseable.
“Dairy products pose no problem for packaging in flexible,” says Andrew Mykytiuk, editor in chief of Flexible Packaging, the magazine of the Flexible Packaging Association. “The beauty of flexible packaging is that it can be custom configured for virtually any application, be it milk in an aseptic pouch, which is popular in Canada, Europe and Asia, or be it yogurt packaged in a slim plastic tube.”
On-the-go products, especially portable snacks, are popular, says Terri Cubitt, market manager of cheese and dairy at Minneapolis-based Curwood Inc. “Because of this increasing trend, packaging that is easy to open, providing quick access to the product, is in high demand,” Cubitt says. “Curwood has been very active in developing films and technologies for on-the-go concepts. Convenience technologies — including Curwood’s EZ Peel®, EZ Peel/Re-Seal®,  FancyCut®, IntegraTear® and IntegraScore® — all function to make our packaging more consumer friendly.”
The use of more transparent polypropylene film in ice cream offers product visibility, a superior moisture barrier and resistance versus paper, says Jon Knight, director of the packaging, label and technical business for Treofan America, Winston-Salem, N.C.
“The switch from ‘paper-based’ ice cream tubs to polypropylene tubs with in-mold labels offers far superior graphics and additional marketing opportunities, as ‘plastic tubs’ are reused in the home,” Knight says.
Treofan has developed a full range of flexible solutions including white opaque, metallized and clear films for multi-lane novelty and single-lane sandwich machines; and five films for in-mold labels. The company, which manufactures polypropylene films for flexible packaging and in-mold labels for dairy applications, offers white opaque films for novelties and sandwiches and a transparent OPP developed specifically for multi-lane novelty machines.
Scholle Corp., Irvine, Calif., has developed a new line of low-acid webbed aseptic filling machines, including a new generation of high-speed web fillers and 10-head fresh and extended-shelf-life rotary fillers. The inventor of bag-in-box packaging, Scholle was the first to develop filling equipment for aseptic, fresh and ESL products.
“Our fully integrated manufacturing gives us the unique ability to control the quality and supply of our products,” says Paul Dean, commercial director of food at Scholle.
Aseptic bag-in-box packaging is combined with the convenience of a range of dispensing taps. “The technologies to support this trend are found in the area of aseptic filling and fitment design, which delivers products that can withstand the aseptic process while maintaining functionality. There has been an overall improvement in flexible packaging for the food industry from fresh to ESL and from ESL to aseptic,” Dean says.
Scholle’s new 800FT fitment offers tamper evidence combined with low-acid fill-dispense features and replaces a two-fitment bag, the market standard, with a one-fitment bag. “This innovative new product offers cost savings and increased value to both processors and end-users,” Dean says.
Bright Future
Smart packaging, which detects variable data such as time and temperature, give the retailer as well as the consumer information as to the product’s shelf life, Mykytiuk says.
Videojet Technologies’ DataFlex printer offers significant improvement over hot stamping and other thermal transfer products due to reduced downtime and increased reliability, superior cost efficiency and intuitive touchscreen user interface, says Doug Grady, product manager of North American thermal transfer overprinting at Videojet Technologies Inc., Wood Dale, Ill. “This printer helps customers achieve uptime peace of mind across many industries that use flexible packaging,” Grady says.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) has changed flexible packaging, Mykytiuk says. Previously, expensive labels had to affixed to the package, but now ink companies offer special conductive inks that allow the RFID tag to be printed in-line and at high speeds right on the package. “This is expected to lower cost by as much as 90 percent, making RFID viable for flexible packaging,” Mykytiuk says.
Shrink-film labels continue to dazzle the dairy industry as packaging displays vibrant color schemes. “Another popular use of flexible is shrink-film labels used to add bold colors and eye-catching shelf appeal to dairy products such as crème or milk sold in shaped PET bottles,” Mykytiuk says.
SleeveCo Inc. produces full-body decorative shrink-sleeve labels and stretch-sleeve polyethylene labels as well as stretch-sleeve application equipment. The Dawsonville, Ga.-based company recently rolled out a new high-speed stretch-sleeve applicator.
“We’ve tooled our facility with state-of-the-art narrow and medium web rotogravure printing presses. Our narrow and medium width presses allow us to affordably accommodate the private label-driven trend of increased SKUs,” says Brian Metzger, director of business development. “Specifically, we are able to offer award-winning rotogravure printed sleeves, with low upfront costs, short minimum runs and quick speed to market.”
Shrink-sleeve labels have grown 10 to 20 percent over the past few years, due to the advantage of this label to differentiate the product on the shelf, says Terry Copenhaver, marketing manager, Alcoa Flexible Packaging, Richmond, Va. “Shrink sleeves are the only label available that can achieve a 360-degree label from top to bottom on contoured containers. In addition to the high gloss of the labels, there are new ink technologies such as pearlescent inks, thermochromatic inks and inks that flip from one color to another when you move the container back and forth,” says Copenhaver, noting that Alcoa holds the long-term contract for Nestlé Nesquik products.
Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Seal-It Inc. offers full heat-shrinkable labels and tamper-evident bands for the dairy industry, including labels for the McDonald’s Milk Jug.
“We developed our own machinery and printing presses, both roto and flexo systems, that can accommodate the artwork and label,” says Sharon Lobel, president and chief executive officer. Seal-It has thermographic inks, which yield vibrant colors and options for fluorescent and metallic inks. The company’s graphics department will make a product sample showing the label “as it sits on the table,” Lobel says.
Going and Growing
Dairy processors want flexible packaging that is consistent and reliable, says Jim Mallon, vice president of sales and marketing at MRI Flexible Packaging, Newtown, Pa., which manufactures shrink labels and roll-on shrink labels.
Processors are looking for packaging that differentiates their products and offer the consumer value, using packaging to drive brands and grow the business. “There remains a strong trend toward developing convenient, on-the-go products,” Cubitt says. “Dairy processors want flexible packaging to convey a message to the consumer that their product is more convenient.”
Dean Foods’ Milk Chugs revolutionized the dairy industry, says Copenhaver, and since then the switch to plastic bottles with shrink labels has been nearly universal. “The dairy industry has made the move nearly across the board. Dairy processors realize that repackaging flavored milk, which has shelf appeal from the highly decorative label, will increase their sales.”
More and more, dairy products are moving toward plastic bottles and splashy graphics, Lobel says. “Paper and cardboard have been around for 60 years. This is the way of the future. More products are using more elaborate treatment,” she says.
High-quality graphics always attract consumers to buy, says Bob Scherer, vice president of CL&D Digital, Delafield, Wis. “A high-quality appearing package makes their product noticeable on the store shelf that the consumer likes and will continue to buy,” he says.
Metzger says the rise in demand for private label dairy products, as well as their need to be competitive with national brands, has prompted regional dairy processors “to run significantly more SKUs — and in more shapes and sizes. To accommodate this rise in SKUs, these dairies are asking their packaging suppliers for lower upfront costs, lower minimum order quantities, and much quicker speed to market.”
“Consumer demand for functionality and convenience is now being met with resealable single-serve packaging which fit in cup holders,” he says. “The next battlefield is bottle shapes and label graphics. Consumers are being swayed by ‘premium’ label graphics and bottle shapes.”
Seal-It can manipulate the design so it follows the curve of a bottle. “Nobody likes a straight bottle. If it has a curve, that’s what they want for the label,” Lobel says. “Consumers buy products that look appetizing. If you’re selling milk, then you want the label to look like it’s so appetizing, and then it’s a win-win situation. Paper cartons can’t give that off. Paper will not look like a portrait.”
Reclosable packaging that utilizes a zipper or resealable pouch is increasingly popular, says Grady. “Consumers want a cost-efficient, high-quality, and environmentally friendly package that generates minimal waste.”
What consumers want most from their packaging is convenience, Mykytiuk says. “The consumer demands convenience. The consumer wants the product to be in an easy-to-open package, and the consumer wants recloseability. In the past five years, innovations in press-to-close zippers, slider zippers and a wide array of fitments have made flexible packaging more consumer friendly than ever before,” he says.
Consumers demand fast, economical, portable snacks and meals, Cubitt agrees. “Products must be easy to prepare, and be used on the go,” she says. “As a result, flexible packaging must be easy to open and re-close.”
Copenhaver points to the growth in milk sales for McDonald’s as an excellent example. “Now, fast food companies are even realizing that consumers would prefer to purchase milk in a plastic bottle that fits in a cup holder vs. the carton,” Copenhaver says.
Extra Protection
No packaging discussion would be complete without a discussion of tamper evidence.
Mykytiuk says flexible packaging is tamper evident by its very nature. “You have to tear the package to open it, thereby putting any subsequent user on alert that it has been opened,” he says.
Scherer agrees: “If a package has a poor seal or a hole in the seal, the customer can reject it at the store.”
The Bioterrorism Act, due to take effect in December, will require that all packaging must be trackable and traceable. “While food safety has always been a primary concern for food manufacturers, 9/11 made it an even bigger concern,” Grady says. “Consequently, there is an increasing demand for tamper-evident closures. We will see accelerated safety innovations in flexible packaging due to the legislation.”
Convenience technologies like Curwood’s EZ Peel, EZ Peel/Re-Seal and IntegraScore not only provide easy access to the food product, they all function to assure the packages barrier is not compromised, Cubitt says. “Food safety is certainly a concern for consumers today and tamper-evident packaging can provide them peace of mind that their food product is protected,” she says.
Scholle packaging incorporates various tamper-evident closure options into products, Dean says. “The bag-in-box package gives consumers the added confidence that the inner package is completely encased by an outer container. The combination of a hermetically sealed bag in a durable outer container provides a strong packaging solution,” he says.
The very nature of bag-in-box provides added assurance of product integrity and its safety from contamination, Dean says. “One key attribute of interest is that the Scholle package is never open to the atmosphere, as it is a sealed system during filling and dispensing,” he says.
Metzger says SleeveCo is receiving more requests to extend its full-body shrink-sleeve labels up and over the closure. “This provides tamper evidency and/or additional tamper evidency,” he says. “The tamper-evident portion of the shrink sleeve is perforated to come off when the bottle is opened. The full-body sleeve remains.”
Tamper-evident bands are now a selling point, Lobel says. “They’re not only used for their intended purpose. If consumers are choosing between a product that doesn’t have a tamper-evident band and one that does, the most consumers will buy one with a band,” she says.
The more the tamper-evident band stands out, the better, Lobel says, and this can be achieved by matching the band to the product packaging. “You can get a combination in one, like a horizontal or vertical tamper-evident band around the neck of the package,” she says. “Like accessories to an outfit, you can coordinate it with the label.”
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.