Innovative packaging materials and concepts give new and established products greater functionality, sustainability, shelf life and shelf impact. In fact, packaging often achieves more than one of these goals.
Busy consumers love products that make their lives easier such as pre-measured mixes and ingredients, heat- or cook-in packaging and easy opening, pouring and reclosure.
The convenience of water-soluble drop-in “pods” gaining market share in the dishwasher and laundry detergent category has arrived in the food industry with the introduction of a taste- and odor-free Vivos food-grade, water-soluble film from MonoSol. Ideal for single-serving mixes or food/beverage ingredients for the kitchen or food processor, the dissolvable pods deliver functional and environmental advantages. The film, which offers good oxygen barrier and mechanical properties, replaces traditional primary packaging and eliminates associated waste because when exposed to hot or cold liquids, it dissolves into the product to be consumed. “You literally eat the package,” says Sumeet Kumar, senior manager, technical marketing at MonoSol. In addition, the pre-measured contents minimize handling and eliminate measurement errors, ensuring recipe consistency and portion control. Dual-web Hydroforma form-fill-seal machines from Cloud Packaging Systems handle liquid, single-powder or dual-powder fills.
Lundberg Family Farms has added easy opening and reclosing to its organic and eco-farmed rice packaging by replacing two-pound lay-flat pouches with polyethylene (PE)-based EZ-Close packages from Peel Plastics. The stand-up bags reclose via Press-Lok hook-to-hook closure technology from Velcro, the first use of this material for a food product. Consumers “will appreciate the ease and convenience of a reclosable, stand-up bag,” predicts Grant Lundberg, chief executive officer of Lundberg Family Farms. The flat-bottom design also is easier for retailers to shelve and display. Plus, it provides the opportunity to add one-pound stock keeping units to the Lundberg lineup. The closure material is heat-sealed in place on the same equipment used to apply press-to-close zipper profiles.
A self-heating, fitmented PE-based pouch is being used by Abramo of Zwevegem, Belgium, for five flavors of H’eat It soup. The pouch-within-a-pouch from ScaldoPack sprl, Dottignies, Belgium and available from Takigawi Corp., Mississauga, Ontario, a licensee of the technology, warms 220ml of soup to 35C˚ within five minutes. The outer pouch holds the product; the inner pouch contains a nontoxic quicklime-based heating mechanism. Activation occurs by pushing a button on the front of the pouch. A self-chilling design relies on the same dual-pouch configuration with nontoxic cooling salts instead of quicklime inside the inner pouch.
Fitments and closures add convenience to pouches. For example, Dutch juice maker Roosvicee selected a Clean Valve fitment and tamper-evident (TE) cap from IPN Group for single-serving (200ml) stand-up pouches of aseptic fruit juice. The 5mm-diameter Clean Valve fitment, available from IPN USA Corp., functions like a straw and releases product when sipped, but prevents leakage if the pouch falls over or is squeezed. The TE cap keeps the spout clean and opens easily via a grippable, knurled surface. On initial opening, the rotation of the cap activates a mechanism that pierces the pouch.
Another TE closure design, available from IPN USA, offers child resistance and is compatible with several spout fitments. Particularly well-suited for foods and beverages for young children, the Clover choke-proof cap is sized to be too big for a toddler to swallow. Injection-molded in polypropylene (PP) for retort applications and PE for hot-filled products, the clover shape is not only easy to grip but also can serve as a base for the pouch.
Packaging helps food processors be more sustainable via lightweighting, renewable content and post-consumer-recycled (PCR) content. Whatever sustainability-enhancing measures are taken, “education is a big part of any sustainable product,” says Julie Bennett, market manager, sustainable products for Innovia Films, the supplier of NatureFlex cellulose film. “You can’t just sell it and assume everyone understands.”
Lightweighting involves source reduction, replacing heavier materials with lighter alternatives or downgauging existing material(s). One popular tactic is to replace corrugated shippers, trays and pads with film. Danish brewer Carlsberg has embraced the all-film concept with the FullyEnclosed FilmPack, which depends on printed low-density polyethylene shrink film from CEISA, a French firm with a growing presence in the US, and Innopack Kisters shrink bundling equipment from KHS. The resulting 24-count multipack eliminates the bull’s-eyes (side openings) found on traditional shrink bundles and prevents cans or bottles from shifting in transit. KHS can retrofit any of its shrink bundling machines to produce the FullyEnclosed FilmPack. Options include a handle applicator or film perforator to create an easy-open tear strip or prevent condensation.
Replacements for heavier, rigid containers include the Viscopack from Printpack and the flexible Smart Bottle from Smart Bottle, Inc. Pillow pouches from eight ounces to two gallons rely on high- or medium-barrier PerformX coextruded polyolefin film from Printpack. Forming, filling and sealing occur on Printpack’s servo-controlled, continuous-motion Viscopack System 3.0 machine. Rated at up to 60 one-gallon hot or cold liquid fills per minute, the machine also can handle dry products, add easy-open tear notches and operate in intermittent motion to apply reclosable fitments. Plans call for fine-tuning the machine to form, fill and seal retort pouches.
The fitmented, flat-bottom Smart Bottle provides stable pouring via die-cut handles on the top and bottom. Smart Bottle sizes range from 0.5 to 5.28 gallons with fitments from 10 to 110 millimeters in diameter. Closure options include sports spout, threaded and snap-on styles. Seal and sidewall strength is sufficient to contain carbonation. Kraft Foods offers foodservice salad dressing in a one-gallon Smart Bottle design it calls the Kraft YES Pack. The winner of a Silver Award in the 24th DuPont Awards competition in 2012, the YES Pack improves yields up to 99 percent compared to dressing in rigid gallon jugs. In addition, the YES Pack consumes 50 percent less energy and 60 percent less plastic, while reducing transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions 70 percent due to higher unit counts for both in- and outbound shipments.
Film for flexible packaging is lighter too. Thinner Amcor Light laminates from Amcor Flexibles cut packaging weight and a cradle-to-gate carbon footprint by up to one-third compared to standard films. With more material per roll, the downgauged films increase efficiency on the packaging line as well as in transportation and storage. The main families are OPA Light films, a replacement for traditional oriented polyamide (OPA)/PE, and OPET Light films, an alternative to oriented polyethylene terephthalate (OPET)/PE. Designed for flowpack and lidding applications for ready-to-eat meats and dairy products, the films feature a proprietary sealant layer and combine high clarity with the rigidity and functional properties of PE-based films that are up to 70 percent thicker. Standard constructions feature a 35-micron sealant layer, but sealant thicknesses up to 60 microns can be specified.
San Michele Terre Ducali, a supplier of cured meats based in Parma, Italy, selected Amcor Light film for a new panini line. The decision was easy, according to Giulio Gherri, chief executive officer of San Michele Terre Ducali, because it builds on the success of an Amcor Light lid, treated with a transparent Amcor Ceramis high-barrier coating, which won the Best Packaging Award in 2011 at CIBUS, an international food exhibition held biennially in Parma, Italy. “High-quality packaging and sustainability are key to our success, and that’s why we chose Amcor Light [film] for our product range,” says Gherri. “The high clarity of the pack ensures enhanced product appeal.”
Perhaps the highest level of source reduction can be achieved with edible packaging like the pods described earlier or a concept from WikiCell Designs Inc., which has been demonstrated with ice cream, yogurt, cheeses and beverages such as coffee, cocktails and juices. “We’ve developed a technology that envelopes foods and beverages in natural, edible packages and is very similar to how nature packages fruits and vegetables,” explains WikiCell inventor David Edwards, professor at Harvard University and founder of ArtScience Labs. “But unlike the skin of a grape or orange, we can deliver flavors, other food products and even nutritional elements with our ‘wrapper,’ enhancing the eating experience quite significantly.” The idea won a Special Jury Award for Innovation in 2012 at SIAL Paris, a global food industry conference. First commercial products should debut during 2013 at the WikiBar in Paris, France.
Another sustainability-building tactic, renewable content, is receiving increasing attention because the plant-based sources like wood, corn and sugar cane can be replaced in an infinite harvest/replanting cycle. Familiar renewable packaging materials include wood-fiber-based corrugated cases, paperboard folding cartons and Innovia’s NatureFlex cellulose film. The NatureFlex film exhibits the best moisture barrier of any bioplastic material and can be laminated to paper or other bioplastics like polylactic acid. Metallization can further enhance barrier properties without affecting biodegradability. Some structures also meet ASTM D6400 standards for compostability.
Plant-based feedstocks are slowly capturing market share from petroleum-based for production of polymers like polyethylene terephthalate (PET). For example, Bio-PET rollstock from Clear Lam Packaging, Inc. consists of about 30 percent renewable content because the monoethylene glycol used by Toyota Tsusho Corp. to make the resin is derived from sugarcane-based bioethanol. Available since December 2012, the material works as a drop-in replacement on form-fill-seal equipment and recycles with standard PET.
Adding or increasing PCR content is another way to improve sustainability profiles. Common in glass and aluminum containers, PCR content is becoming more prevalent in rigid and flexible PET packaging. For example, Klöckner Pentaplast Group, which operates its own PET bottle recycling operation, now offers a thermoformable Pentaform SmartCycle film with 100 percent PCR content. The food-grade film complies with FDA regulations for direct food contact. Other SmartCycle grades contain 25 percent or 50 percent PCR levels. All PCR content claims for the SmartCycle films are certified by NSF International.
More shelf life
Food-grade VerdeCoat biopolymer barrier coatings from Mantrose-Haeuser Co., Inc. impart moisture and oxygen barrier properties as well as grease and chemical resistance to packaging materials based on starch, cellulose, molded fiber, bagasse (sugarcane waste), palm fiber, paper/paperboard and polylactic acid. The patent-pending coatings are certified as compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute and confirmed as repulpable and recyclable in testing by Western Michigan University.
Today, it’s also possible to improve barrier properties via in-mold labeling, a technology that merges production and decoration of thin-wall containers. The label is placed in the container-making mold and fuses with the packaging material. Since the label and container are one piece, labels are scratch resistant and can’t fall off. Other benefits include high print quality, decoration of all sides of the container with a single label, enhanced recyclability since the label and container are the same material and elimination of labeling on the packaging line.
Drukkerij (Printing Company) Verstraete, an in-mold labeling specialist owned by Constantia Flexibles and headquartered in Maldegem, Belgium, converts in-mold labels that serve as a barrier to oxygen or light. To achieve the barrier, the label must provide 100 percent coverage of the container, which also must be sealable. Options include white or transparent label material with an oxygen transmission rate as low as 0.5 cc/m²/day (at 23°C with 65 percent relative humidity, 100 percent oxygen). Verstraete’s light barrier labels consist of an 80-micron white cast film with a light-blocking layer to achieve 99 percent opacity.
An oxygen scavenger and ultraviolet (UV) additive extends the shelf life of Skinnyminis, a four-pack of Skinnygirl Margarita pre-mixed cocktails in single-serving, 200ml PET containers from Amcor Rigid Plastics. The scavenger prevents oxygen ingress while the UV additive blocks light transmission and preserves product color. Previously available only in 750ml glass bottles, Skinnygirl Margarita is one of the most popular Skinnygirl Cocktails from Beam Inc. “For us, the size extension made sense due to PET’s value and because consumers asked for the product,” says Megan Frank, brand director, Skinnygirl Cocktails at Beam. “In the single-serve size, unbreakable and portable PET bottles provide an entrée into new venues that do not allow glass because of the potential for breakage, opening up new sales opportunities [in places like Yankee Stadium].” The custom container ranks as one of the first 200ml barrier PET bottles for the spirits industry and maintains the premium brand image of the larger glass container. The slender, long-neck PET bottle withstands 200 pounds of top-load force for application of aluminum roll-on, pilfer-proof closures from Amcor Flexible Capsules.
The shelf life of a ready meal consisting of a raw meat, a vegetable and a carbohydrate in a cook-in, three-compartment amorphous PET tray depends on a lidstock with three barrier levels. The high-clarity, anti-fog film from KM Packaging Services Ltd. consists of a custom polymer blend and features an oxygen barrier over the protein and laser-generated perforations tailored to the respiration levels of the vegetable and carbohydrate. Gas-flushing of the protein compartment and superior seal integrity further protect shelf life. Careful control ensures lidstock is precisely registered and sealed in place on the tray. A watch strap sleeve completes the package.
A printed, peelable, micro-perfed lidstock serves as a lighter, resealable alternative to rigid, preformed lids. Hole size is tailored to the respiration rate of the product to maximize shelf life. The heat-sealable, multilayer lidstock is available in a variety of structures and can incorporate a TE element so initial opening creates a visible break in the graphics.
Retrofittable perforating mechanisms from Stewarts of America can be mounted onto laminating, pouch-making and form-fill-seal equipment to customize material with nano (less than 100 microns), micro (100 microns to 1mm) or macro (greater than 1mm) holes to achieve specific water vapor and oxygen transmission rates or to allow steam to escape. A carousel system protects perforating pins from damage and expedites changeover to different hole sizes.
More shelf impact
Metallic effects are one way to increase shelf impact. Although frequently created with foil or metallized substrates, metallic inks can provide a lower cost, more efficient alternative because the metallic effect can be applied during the printing process. Compatible with rotogravure or flexographic presses, Mirrogold inks from Eckart impart a golden mirror effect.
While metallized film provides shelf impact, it can preclude use of metal detectors on the packaging line. However, the non-continuous metallized surface of pattern-metallized MetDetect film from Vast Films Ltd. makes it transparent to radio frequency waves. As a result, metal detectors can identify foreign objects as small as 0.8mm in pouches made of MetDetect film or MetDetect film/paperboard cartons. Anticounterfeiting features can be added via custom patterns and/or microprinting.
Conformable FLEXPrime polyolefin and polypropylene (PP) label materials from Acucote Inc. adhere to curved and irregular shapes. Designed to be converted into pressure-sensitive labels for squeezable containers for products like condiments, the materials offer superior print-receptive top coatings, excellent hot/cold moisture resistance, hot- and cold-foil stamp compatibility and enhanced die-cuttability. One member of the FLEXPrime family, a 2-mil Clear High Gloss TC Flex polyolefin blend, provides a “no-label” look, low elongation and excellent print registration control. A 2.2-mil White Gloss TC Flex PP also provides excellent print registration control and is highly cavitated to maximize its suppleness. Heavier 3.2-mil polyolefin materials combine chemical resistance with durability.
The 360° billboard and vibrant graphics of shrink labels appeal to brand owners and consumers alike. However, when applied to PET bottles, shrink labels can become a contaminant in the recycling stream and reduce the quality of recycled PET. With a density less than 1.0 g/cc, Label-Lyte 50TD200 polyolefin-based film from ExxonMobil Chemical floats during the recycling process while the PET sinks, simplifying the separation process. Floatable label materials are recommended by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers in its Sleeve Label Substrate for PET Bottles Critical Guidance Document.
A premium image is reflected by the high-print quality and superior dead-fold characteristics of Printkote double clay-coated solid bleached sulfate (SBS), making the renewable material well-suited for luxury chocolates and confectionery. In fact, all Printkote grades from MeadWestvaco’s Covington, VA mill have successfully completed sensory testing by Fraunhofer, a research organization in Germany. The testing, performed in accordance with the European Committee for Standardization’s EN 1230-2, confirms the paperboard protects product quality without taint or odor transfer. European brand owners and converters depend on the sensory analysis, known as the Robinson Test, when specifying materials and often confirm results when material is received and after printing and/or converting to make sure values have not changed.
The hybrid Zipbox, developed by T.H.E.M., differentiates product on the shelf with its poly-coated paperboard carton/film header equipped with a Zip-Pak Press-to-Close zipper. Currently in use by U.S. Sugar for its Plantation brand, the zippered carton offers easy opening and reclosure and serves as an alternative to stand-up pouches, canisters and pouch-in-carton packaging destined for the dry grocery and frozen food aisles. A filling line, developed in conjunction with Hartness International, runs at 100+ per minute.
For more information:
Sumeet Kumar, MonoSol, 219-762-3165, ext. 411, email@example.com
Will Troost, Peel Plastics, 905-456-4041, firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Lerra, Velcro, 603-222-4802
Harald Saelens, ScaldoPack, 32 56 23 000, email@example.com
Luis De la Mora, IPN Group, 770-631-2626, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Bennett, Innovia Films, 770-818-3022, email@example.com
David Haig, CEISA, 44 78 41 58 98 92, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Rogers, Printpack, 952-893-4063, email@example.com
Ken Wilkes, Smart Bottle, 828-348-0292, firstname.lastname@example.org
Philippe Scherrer, Amcor Flexibles, 46 70 299 32 56, email@example.com
Robert Connelly, WikiCells Designs Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Foster, Clear Lam Packaging, 847-439-8570, email@example.com
Jeff Corbett, Mantrose-Haeuser Co., 203-454-1800, ext. 248, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dieter Maes, Drukkerij (Printing Company) Verstraete, 32 50 301 345, email@example.com
Yi Jiang, Amcor Rigid Plastics, 734-482-4013, firstname.lastname@example.org
Graham Holding, KM Packaging Services, 44 (0) 1832 274 944, email@example.com
Neil Hersh, Eckart, 440-954-7612, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wolfgang Decker, Vast Films, 724-827-8827, email@example.com
Melissa Walsh, Acucote Inc., 336-578-1800, ext. 226
Terry Jensen, ExxonMobil Chemical, 315-966-1418, firstname.lastname@example.org
Douglas Reid, MeadWestvaco, 804-444-7909, email@example.com
Steve Belko, T.H.E.M., 856-452-3547, firstname.lastname@example.org