A number of consumer-driven trends are wielding an impact on current rigid and flexible packaging within the dairy products arena. However, one of those trends — sustainability — appears to have the most weight. What’s more, that reality is not lost on dairy packaging suppliers.

“A major focus, if not the major focus, of rigid and flexible packaging suppliers is sustainability,” explains Mike Sachau, market development director for TC Transcontinental Packaging, which operates its U.S. headquarters in Chicago.

Sachau notes that there are multiple groups driving the sustainability trend.

“Consumers are asking more for sustainable products and packaging,” he says. “Retailers and brands are pushing to see these commercialized solutions. And as suppliers, we think it is the right thing to do for our industry and communities.”

Christine Duncan, marketing manager, flexibles and trays for Ossid, a brand of Cincinnati-headquartered ProMach, says consumers are selecting brands that more closely reflect their values in relation to environmental stewardship.

“That isn’t a new development, of course, but it’s one that continues to evolve and seems to be here to stay,” she says.

Younger consumers, in particular, are pushing for more sustainable packaging, notes Al Madonna, vice president of marketing for Cheer Pack N.A. LLC, West Bridgewater, Mass. He also points to the “Ellen MacArthur guidelines” (“The Circular Design Guide”) for waste reduction and attainment of a more circular economy as a sustainability driver.

Sustainability in action

So what makes a dairy package more sustainable? According to Ethan Crist, market development manager, food packaging for Klöckner Pentaplast, Gordonsville, Va., it begins with efforts to make that package recyclable in current eco-streams.

“The next step is creating packaging with a full eco lifecycle — the term often used in a circular economy,” he says. “Dairy processors will benefit from being able to make on-pack claims that their package is both recyclable and made from post-consumer recycled content. It’s a message that lines up with their stewardship of earth’s resources.”

In Crist’s view, plastic packaging already “has a great story to tell” when it comes to boosting the shelf life of dairy products (and other food products), lowering costs, and enhancing food safety. It can have a lower carbon footprint, too, when the full lifecycle is taken into consideration.

“We need to tell that story better, continue to take advantage of the benefit of plastics while doing our part to take care of the world,” he says “As one example, our work in reclaiming ocean plastics is a key part of that.”

Duncan points to the use of “green” films that are compostable and recyclable as an opportunity for dairy packaging. In fact, it’s an area in which ProMach’s Ossid, Matrix, and Bartelt brands have invested heavily.

“Some of the more recent trends of sustainable packaging include the demand for on-the-go convenience, food safety, less product waste, and reusable bags/pouches,” she says. “For example, Matrix machinery can run compostable and recycled films efficiently; they have a smaller footprint and use AutoPro programming technology — Morpheus Series — that aids in reducing waste and excess bags and changeovers by 50%.”

Those and other features allow the brand to help its customers achieve their sustainability goals, Duncan notes.

New and more sustainable

Some recently developed offerings from packaging suppliers are designed to help dairy and other food and beverages meet their sustainability goals.

For example, Klöckner Pentaplast’s kp MonoSeal (mono PET) film boasts lower sealing temperatures and faster seal times, Crist says, which reduce its carbon footprint.

“It’s a lighter-weight solution than traditional PET/PE films [that] allows processors to use longer rolls with less changeover time and less film over time,” he says. “It’s been proven to work on existing form, fill and seal equipment without needing major changeover or retrofit costs, saving capital expenditures and allowing producers to focus on making profitable products.”

For retail products, the film exhibits “excellent transparency and gloss,” Crist adds and delivers an extended shelf life and a lighter weight in both peelable and lock-seal options.

“It’s made with post-consumer recycled content, which is a fantastic on-pack message to proclaim,” he points out.

Klöckner Pentaplast also offers the kp Hotfill PET solution that allows processors to move from other plastics to PET. Crist notes that it’s a great solution for hot-fill products such as cheese dips.

“However, it’s not limited to hot-fill requirements,” he explains. “We’ve been able to help companies make a transition to a recyclable package, with recycled content, where sustainability options were previously hard to come by.”

For its part, TC Transcontinental is investing in innovative technology and processes aimed to help dairy processors on the packaging sustainability front, Sachau notes. The company has been rolling out a line of sustainable products for the dairy industry exclusively, as well as a line of crossover sustainability products for other segments that also find use in dairy. The offerings include vieVerte Compostable flexible packaging, packaging made from post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials, and more.

In the works from Cheer Pack N.A., meanwhile, is a first-of-its-kind fully commercial recycle-ready spouted pouch and cap for the North American market. Targeted for launch in the second quarter of this year, the CheerCircle offering can be filled on filling machines that are currently used for Cheer Pack spouted pouches, Madonna notes.

The company also plans to launch the first fully commercial PCR spouted pouch and cap in North America in 2022, he adds, noting that the pouch will contain PCR in not only the PET layer(s), but also in the sealant layer.

Beyond sustainability

Of course, sustainability is not the only trend within the dairy packaging arena. As Duncan notes, consumers are looking for convenient formats, smaller portions, and more.

“Popular styles of packaging for many dairy products include stand-up pouches, four-sided sachets, and stand-out designs with windows that display the products,” she says. “The use of a recloseable zipper, an easy-open/easy-close [feature] and options like tear notches, hanging and hole punching are a must.”

Supply chain shortages also are driving current dairy packaging trends. For example, some dairy processors are having difficulty securing enough rigid packaging, Duncan notes.

“In many cases, flexible packaging does offer a more convenient, sustainable alternative to rigid packaging,” she says. “For example, it takes less energy to produce squeezable packaging that’s used for products such as sour cream than it does for a rigid container. Plus, that sour cream housed in a squeezable package with a recloseable top tends to last longer because it has virtually no air.”

Labor shortages within the dairy processing space are also driving packaging trends. Rich Gardner, North America sales division manager for Polypack, Pinellas Park, Fla., says his company’s customers are asking about machinery solutions and improvements that can support both labor and material shortages.

“Polypack is focused on more machine versatility and ease of maintenance,” he notes.

ProMach’s Ossid, Matrix, and Bartelt brands also have developed packaging-related solutions to help address labor shortages. Designed for cheese and other dairy applications, Ossid’s new NextGen Weigh Price labeler brings a higher level of automation to dairy customers, Duncan says.

“After cheese has been packaged — such as vacuum skin-packed or, for example, cheese curds filled from a vertical form-fill-seal machine — the Nextgen Weigh Price labeler weighs and labels the passing product,” she explains. “It can handle up to 150 packages per minute.”

Using WYSIWYG label design, the labeler features an interface that allows end-users to get a view similar to the end result while the document is being created, Duncan explains. The machine also boasts a modular design that shortens lead and delivery times, and it is National Type Evaluation Program approved.