by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Advances in aseptic packaging continue as consumers catch up with the technology.
Could this be the year of aseptic? Will Americans finally accept that milk can be stored warm yet consumed cold?
Makers of aseptic packaging say the tide is turning as today’s generation of parents – members of Generations X and Y – grew up on shelf-stable juices and aseptic packaging and are fine with buying aseptically packaged products for their kids.
So therein lies the greater challenge – getting kids to drink milk.
Dairy Field talked with three companies known for their aseptic achievements: Tetra Pak, SIG Combibloc and International Dispensing Corp.
DF: Considering rising energy costs, have you seen any advances in aseptic packaging?
Oliver Bittner, vice president, marketing, SIG Combibloc, Chester, Pa.: Rising energy costs are a key factor in the increase of aseptic carton packaging in various segments. Especially retailers and companies active in the foodservice segment have become to realize the benefits of aseptic carton packaging due to the increased costs associated with transporting, storing and loss/damage of refrigerated products. The benefits of aseptic packaging can be immediately seen on the bottom line of processors, retailers and foodservice customers in terms of improved shelf life, no refrigeration costs and, consequently, significantly lower costs of spoiled/damaged products. Refrigeration costs can amount to quite an expense for operators as cooling is required throughout the entire value chain in production sites, distribution warehouses, trucks and other transportation.
Greg Abbott, founder/chairman, chief executive officer, International Dispensing Corp., New York: Aseptic processing and packaging are strategic technologies that companies enter to differentiate themselves from others. The cost of entry is significant, but the marketing pay-offs should be realized in a very short period for time.
DF: What does the market look like for aseptic packaging?
Bittner: The American marketplace for aseptic carton packaging is growing and its future looks promising. Though the market is very different from our neighboring country, Mexico, where aseptic products have a large share in all food and beverage segments such as liquid dairy, non-carbonated soft drinks and food, aseptic cartons in the U.S.A. can be found primarily in the kids’ segment, aseptic food and foodservice applications. Nonetheless, aseptic packaging has made significant advances with new product introductions focusing on on-the-go applications and extending aseptic packaging into the adult segment.
Abbott: The interest in smaller aseptic BIB for retail and foodservice is booming. Products such as orange juice, coffee creamers and drinks, and cooking stocks have found their way onto the retail shelf or foodservice offerings in just the past few months.
Suley Muratoglu, general manager, aseptic dairy, coffee & tea, Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.: Aseptically packaged juice and drinks, broth, soups, nutritional products or soy have been well accepted into mainstream household. Aseptically packaged dairy products have also enjoyed very strong growth rates as producers are launching more and more single-serve milk drinks aiming to a consumer that is driven by convenience, taste and freshness. The organic single-serve aseptic milk success has proven that this trend is here to stay. And we are starting to see that the dairy industry is beginning to address consumers’ needs to have milk and dairy beverages available to them in various formats and venues.
DF: What is the future of aseptic packaging? Will consumers finally embrace milk sold at ambient temperatures?
Muratoglu: Consumers are already buying shelf-stable dairy products. Based on dollar sales per point of distribution, reported by ACNielsen ScanTrack, six of the top 10 shelf-stable kids’ beverage SKUs are dairy products. It’s quite interesting to observe that, once a dairy product is available in a cost-efficient and convenient format at retail, it can match the sales velocity of top-performing juice or juice drinks SKUs.
Parents of young kids, who are making the decision to buy “milk in a box” today, were once the kids themselves, who consumed juice and juice drinks from a box. Every single market research we conducted with mainstream parents, confirms it. They are very familiar and comfortable with aseptic carton package and with shelf-stable products. We further observed that parents did not hesitate, nor were they confused, to purchase single-serve milk by the case for their kids’ lunchbox at club stores, while picking up the same product from the cooler when they are ordering their coffee in the neighborhood coffee store.
Another good example to cite here is what Kroger is doing with its most recent launch under Disney’s Magic Selection line. They offer aseptic flavored milk for kids in multi-packs at the juice aisle, the prime location at the store where parents do make their “lunch box” purchases. It’s important to underline the role relative price point plays in this very competitive market segment where well over 6 billion single-serve beverages are sold each year. No other packaging format but aseptic cartons can offer price competitiveness for a single-serve dairy beverage if it is to compete in juice aisle.
Bittner: Aseptic products in cartons are a well-established category that consumers know and rely on. Consumers are aware of the benefits that aseptic packaging has to offer in terms of product quality, convenience and long shelf life. At the moment, consumers are more and more exposed to aseptic carton packaging and are going through a learning curve. This process is currently enhanced due to the fact that producers and brand manufacturers are developing new, trendy, on-the-go products that score very high on convenience. This exposes new target audiences to aseptic carton packaging.
Abbott: Aseptic drinking milk has not been a successful product in the U.S. to date, primarily because the U.S. consumer is conditioned to refrigerated products and has become accustomed to the taste in plastic jugs. The cost of aseptic milk also inhibits its growth for traditional fluid milk opportunities. The much bigger opportunities within the dairy industry are for more value-added products such as drinkable yogurts, dairy-based coffee beverages and soy milk. These are products that consumers are quite comfortable buying in the shelf-stable aisle.
DF: Are dairy processors that use aseptic packaging using and marketing it to its fullest potential?
Abbott: The easy answer is no they are not. Marketing anything to its fullest potential means making a product so enticing that the consumer believes they must have it. The dairy processors to this point have taken existing products and packaged it in Tetra, hoping the consumer will buy a shelf-stable version of exactly what they can find in other parts of the store. To make aseptic packaging more enticing, brands must develop and leverage entirely new delivery systems – such as multiserve – for retail and foodservice.
Muratoglu: There are a number of brands that are doing a great job making their product available and known by the consumer. But there is always room for improvement. One thing that is important to reinforce is that where dairy products in aseptic cartons are available, they sell very well. Their market share is still small, though, which shows that there is a great opportunity here.
DF: Is fluid milk the primary use for aseptic packaging? What are its other applications in dairy?
Abbott: Fluid milk is a small part of the total. Practically all beverage types that can benefit are being considered for aseptic packaging. The opportunities continue to grow as new beverages and ready-to-eat products are developed.
Bittner: No, aseptic carton packaging is used for quite an extensive range of liquid dairy products, far exceeding plain fluid milk.
Examples of products where aseptic cartons play an important role are: milk and juice blends, milk and fiber blends, breakfast drinks, soy/rice/almond blends, milk with fruit particles, milk and tea blends, drink yogurt, smoothies, and a variety of milks with functional ingredients. But also creamers, beverage bases, desserts, toppings and non-dairy applications are packed in aseptic cartons.
Muratoglu: There are a number of other applications in dairy for aseptic. Some of the most traditional dairy items such as whipped cream, heavy cream, half and half and coffee creamers offer great opportunities in supply chain efficiencies at foodservice and retail.
Aseptic technology offers great flexibility in processing of sensitive ingredients. There is no technical hurdle in offering great-tasting milk that you will add into your cereal in the morning, knowing that it will help reduce your cholesterol intake because it has added plant sterols in it.
Milk has great health equity associated with and through aseptic technology. It can be a very effective carrier of many products of high nutritional value that consumers today demand. To a large extent, segmentation of the dairy category is well behind of other product categories we became accustomed to.
DF: Has there been any significant move in the past year toward aseptic milk breaking out of a niche market?
Bittner: In the past year, there was a clear move toward a broader consumer acceptance toward aseptic cartons. Also, from the market it can be seen that there is an increased need for differentiation and product innovation. New product concepts such as milk blends or functional milk drinks have a positive impact on overall segment growth and profitability.
DF: What are the latest technology and trends in packaging in the area of aseptic packaging?
Bittner: SIG Combibloc is constantly improving aseptic carton systems by means of developing more efficient filling lines. Efficiency has been increased significantly over the past years by means of greater filling speed and low waste. Also, quality control and filling line operations have become a lot easier due to the standard installation of ECS software, which includes complete system monitoring.
With respect to the aseptic carton sleeves, SIG Combibloc has developed a wide range of formats and sizes that can be used for a large variety of applications. Due to the flexibility of the SIG Combibloc system different formats and different volumes can be filled on the same machine with a changeover of only minutes. This gives dairy producers the unique possibility of tailoring their production to their brands and pro-actively respond to the needs of their customers.
Also, SIG Combibloc has developed a variety of different opening systems, from flat spouts to screw caps, to bend and tear solutions. Openings come in a variety of dimensions and colors and can be applied on small, medium and large size products.
A recent innovation involves the CombiSmart. This is a unique application for small size products targeting people on-the-go, but can also easily be applied for products such as cooking sauces and creamers due to its easy pouring characteristics.
Abbott: Flexible packaging and associated improved filling speeds are driving the growth in this business. IDC has introduced the truly innovative aseptic dispensing option – The Answer and The Multiserve SafePak – a new aseptic multi-serve packaging category that protects liquid food and beverages from microorganisms and oxygen, allowing organic, perishable and non-preservative products to retain freshness, quality, and taste without refrigeration or power.
Muratoglu: The consumer has always played a big role in our R&D, which meant to us it is all about: taste, freshness and convenience. That’s why Tetra Pak has been working to improve its aseptic technology to guarantee the best taste and freshness and has also been developing new openings and format to answer consumer’s need for convenience and on-the-go consumption.
DF: What do consumers want from aseptic packaging?
Bittner: The main need for consumers today is convenience. With busy lifestyles and often on-the-go consumption and little time for extensive meal preparation convenience is the key trend for today’s marketplace. Aseptic carton packaging fits this need perfectly. First of all, carton packs are easy to handle and easy to store. This way items can be safely stocked in pantries, ready for use when needed. But, due to its volume flexibility there are several applications suitable for on-the-go consumption. Furthermore, the variety of openings available guarantees easy pouring solutions while taking care of consumer safety and product integrity.
DF: What are dairy processors asking for in aseptic packaging?
Muratoglu: Major food companies and a group of dairy processors who focus their efforts around branding and marketing of value-added products see aseptic as a major opportunity to differentiate themselves from their own competition. They observed the trends in organic milk or in broth or soups where aseptic packaging has played a major role in changing the dynamics of these segments. On the other hand, some dairy processors are more impacted by ever-increasing pressures of high volume-low margin-consolidation cycle. We believe adoption of aseptic packaging into dairy will continue to speed up as more and more successful products are introduced into the market. Over time it will become very obvious that aseptic will complement a dairy’s offering rather than compete with it. The gallon jug is here to stay, but with 99.9 percent retail penetration there is not much room left to grow. On the other hand, only in less than 2 percent of the usage occasions milk is available to kids, while they are away from home. That is quite a few shelf-stable dairy products.
Bittner: Naturally, in packing products into aseptic carton the prime considerations are product safety and quality. Also, processors depend on the reliable and efficient filling line with as little downtime as possible. Flexibility in the system regarding packing different volumes and segments is also highly valued. Finally, the overall consumer appeal needs to be excellent by means of offering high convenience, innovative products and attractive packaging in terms of format, spouts and graphics.
Abbott: New packages lead to new opportunities. The key opportunity is in constantly improving efficiencies.
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.$OMN_arttitle="Warming Trend?";?> $OMN_artauthor="Shonda Talerico Dudlicek";?>