Flexible Packaging Flexes its Muscles

28 February 2007 (Last Updated February 28th, 2007 18:30)

The packaging industry is finding that flexible packaging offers numerous advantages over more traditional formats. Dennis Calamusa, president of AlliedFlex, says the possibilities are endless.

Flexible Packaging Flexes its Muscles

Success in today's packaging market is a combination of looking good on the shelf and creating a positive, memorable experience for the consumer. A successful design must stand out. It has to stimulate sales volumes of flat or mature product-growth categories. The package is the silent salesman and it must not only grab the busy consumer's attention but also scream out 'buy me!'

Flexible packaging is a new format that is already meeting these objectives and offering many additional benefits. The material costs can be lower than more traditional methods, particularly rigid packaging. It also offers logistic advantages.

"Food packaging suppliers must continuously innovate in order to survive and expand."

This is becoming more attractive as the rising cost of transportation impacts on the total per package cost due to rising fuel prices. This is particularly notable when compared with alternative packaging, including bottles, can, jars, composite or spiral cans.

To get the most out of a flexible package design, it must be 'achievable' in production, distribution and retail. When these objectives can all be met, the package designer and marketer have created magic.

LEADER OF THE PACK

The days of following the leader are over. Package designers and entrepreneurial marketers are breaking from tradition and designing packaging for a new type of consumer.

The consumer of today lives in a fast-paced world that is dramatically different from just a decade ago. Everyone is looking towards the future, and for products and packages that can accommodate their busy lifestyles.

To meet their needs, exciting visual and functional features are being integrated in new pouch packaging designs to add consumer convenience, build brand identity and address the 'product -> package -> consumer' formula.

There are numerous flexible package formats and packaging machinery options available, including pre-made pouches, which can be filled and sealed, or installing machinery to produce flexible packages on-line from pre-printed rollstock.

'Form, fill and seal' is typically the lower cost per package approach; however, the investment and operator skill required is higher than the 'fill-seal' method. A variety of factors will determine the best route to choose, including capital budget, core competency or skill level of personnel, production volume, fill volumes and frequency of package size changeover.

EASY-TO-USE PACKAGING

Flexible packaging offers numerous advantages to the consumer, making it attractive and thus helping the products sell.

"The niche segment for flexible pouches is experiencing strong growth."

By incorporating a zip lock, packages can be reclosed, while the addition of a spout makes dispensing much simpler. This ability to add convenience and functionality is having a dramatic impact on flexible packaging design.

Consumers appreciate the convenience, as seen by repeat sales and increased brand loyalty. Many new and improved features are adding to the design possibilities.

The addition of spouts gives the designer and marketer the opportunity to customise a solution-specific approach to dispensing a liquid or semi-viscous product from a flexible pouch package. The flexible characteristics of the pouch also mean it can be squeezed to dispense a product.

The problem of package introduction, which is half the challenge of any new product, is avoided, as the spout is a familiar feature to consumers and they are willing to embrace this innovation.

Spouts are becoming popular in packaging for a wide range of products, including beverages, condiments, healthcare and beauty. Designers and marketers are using spouts as part of the design and functionality of their packaging to appeal to a broad cross-section of consumers.

Spouts are available in many different styles and configurations, along with closure designs that can also offer tamper-evidence and child-resistance features. Package shape in conjunction with colourful graphics, customised barrier properties and multiple size options all add to the creative possibilities.

"Retort packaging offers a substantial advantage in the form of shelf sustainability."

CONVENIENCE FOOD

Many companies are looking to retort pouch technology as a way to reinvent products that were previously sold in a metal can or other form of rigid packaging. Shelf-stable convenience products, including cooked rice, sauces, seafood, meats and speciality prepared meals, are showing up on the retail shelf. Mainly driven by convenience, these products are being aimed at busy consumers who do not have the time to cook.

Such pouches can be supplied in foil or clear laminations. The non-foil varieties are particularly suitable for microwaves.

The pouches are filled, sealed and then batch retorted, which is a thermal process that sterilises the product and package, making it shelf stable in a similar way to a metal can or glass jar.

The flexible pouch is thinner and a better heat conductor, making the process time shorter and the processing temperature lower, which ensures the food tastes better.

Retort pouches can also be designed with tear notches and laser scoring for safe and easy opening. It is also possible to punch holes into the top of the pouch to create attractive in-store displays.

SLIMMING DOWN

A new slender pouch format is beginning to make inroads in the US and European markets. Consumer product companies are adopting the stick pack as one more packaging innovation tool to provide convenience and better position new products.

One of the most innovative stick pack applications has been the introduction of single-serve powdered beverage concentrates. These products are being positioned as convenient grab-and-go packs that can transform any bottle of water into a flavoured drink.

"Retort packaging is particularly suited to food products that require an extended shelf life."

The perfectly measured product is simply added to a 16oz–20oz bottle of water, creating an instant, refreshing and convenient custom beverage. The slender profile of the package and its easy-to-open tear notch makes dispensing the powder into the narrow neck of a bottle simple.

This category is poised to explode, as bottled water already represents one of the most popular beverage choices, second in popularity only to carbonated beverages.

The packaging machinery uses a multi-lane VFFS platform with between four and 20 lanes producing hundreds of stick packs a minute from a single roll of pre-printed rollstock. The material is split into multiple lanes in registration, formed, filled and sealed.

Packaging substrates include paper, poly and foil, as well as more complex barrier laminations. Fillers include volumetric cups, multi-head servo augers or pumping systems, depending on specific product handling characteristics.

FLEXIBLE FUTURE

Many contract packagers are investing in new flexible machinery and systems, and can offer trials of these new flexible packaging formats through an initial test market customer offering before moving to a national rollout. The key is to get started and take one step at a time as you move forwards.

The industry will continue to see new flexible packaging formats being introduced, and this new format will penetrate a multitude of markets and product applications.

However, the degree of continued growth will be determined by consumer acceptance, marketability and the ultimate cost of technology implementation.