Packaging material trends
September 23, 2016
by Lynn Petrak
Closure materials are also designed around convenience and ease of use.
Packaging is all that stands between a finished product and the end user. For increasingly discerning and demanding consumers, these materials do more than just protect food starting at production all the way to sale — they can spur interest and purchases.
Innovations in materials have steadily changed the literal and figurative face of bakery and snack packaging. Given the breadth of products in today’s marketplace, package types run the proverbial gamut, as manufacturers weigh the priorities for their respective products and positioning. From single-serve, to stand-up resealable pouches to sustainable cupcake containers, the variety in packaging materials reflects concurrent advances in technology and fresh approaches to consumer marketing.
Trevor Wilcox, sales executive, US market, for LeMatic, Inc. and Citamel Packaging, said that breakthroughs in packaging material types and applications are spurred by several ongoing trends such as sustainability, ease of use, portion control, security, clarity and customization, among others. “I would say it’s a mix of all of these factors, depending on customers’ needs and expectations,” he remarked.
At the same time, Mr. Wilcox noted, manufacturers often need to do more with less in their own operations, to keep a lid on production costs and maximize efficiencies. “They want to make sure that the film will perform effectively through the packaging equipment and throughout their process. Knowing, for example, if the film makeup needs to have high-puncture strength for products that have sharp edges, or if a film needs to have additives for freezer applications to protect the product is important,” he observed, adding that the company offers expertise on the equipment side with LeMatic and on the packaging materials side with its partnership with Citamel Packaging.
Likewise, Clay Miller, sales engineer at Burford Corp., emphasized the ongoing importance of cost and efficiency. “Savings, savings, savings,” he said of customer feedback. “There are definitely opportunities to save money by changing materials. Lower-cost consumables play a big part in the decision-making of our customers.”
The use of better — and more diverse — packaging materials is likely to continue, according to the most recent Food Packaging Trends and Advances Study conducted by PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies. Respondents projected that the US food packaging market will grow around 2.9% through 2022, to top $31.7 billion, with the snack food segment expected to “outperform” other categories.
Another study, the Plastics Industry Trends survey created by Plastics News, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers and DuPont Performance Polymers, revealed that 40% of industry respondents said that role of materials suppliers is increasing in importance.
Packaging suppliers are working on new materials and technologies constantly for current and future use in bakery and snack applications. “We’re seeing ultrasonic sealing with films and have installed several lines using ultrasonic sealing that give a better seal integrity with thicker barrier films. It’s in pharmaceutical now, and while it isn’t there yet for bakery, there is interest,” said Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing at Cavanna Packaging USA.
Easy does it
As in the past several years, convenience remains a key driver in the way packaging materials are developed and used for food products, including bakery and snack items. What has evolved is the definition of convenience by end users, as the term can encompass ease of use, shelf life, portion size and storage, and disposal, among other attributes.
In its latest study on flexible packaging, PMMI reported that the use of bags and pouches has grown 3.5% since 2012, largely due to interest in convenience among consumers and a desire for lower costs among manufacturers.
The veritable explosion of stand-up resealable pouch packaging for smaller or single servings underscores the perennial push for convenience. Another indication of the importance of convenience is the creation of snack packs that can fit into cup holders in vehicles or other seats.
Indeed, the baking and snack industries are replete with examples of convenience-driven packaging material innovations. For instance, Multivac, Inc. offers Mylar BAKE and Mylar COOK films that allow people to prepare products in the cooking vessel. “The consumer purchases the product, takes it home and stores it as necessary. When it is time to cook the product, it simply needs to be placed into the oven. There is no need to remove the product from the original packaging,” explained Marty Mothersbaugh, marketing coordinator, adding that the dual-ovenable films can be placed in conventional or microwave ovens.
Beyond ease of use, the Mylar BAKE offers other benefits related to quality. “Since the product is cooked inside the packaging, the overall flavor and moisture is retained. Another key benefit is the reduction in spices. Since there is little to no evaporation, spices are not lost during cooking. This is a cost savings for companies utilizing the Mylar BAKE film,” Mr. Mothersbaugh said.
Likewise, convenience is the focus of the R&D teams at Bemis Co., which offers SmartTack EZ Peel Reseal resealable packaging for freshness, longer shelf life and ease of use. Bemis has enhanced opening technology with its IntegraScore and laser score technologies, and introduced bMET flown films that replace metallized films like OPET and OPP and foil used in pre-made pouches and form/fill/seal packages.
In August, Nova Chemicals announced the development of a versatile all-polyethylene (PE) multi-layer structure design for stand-up pouches. The pouch offers a stronger moisture barrier performance, can be co-extruded or PE-laminated for surface or reverse printing, and is compatible with recloseable zippers.
Sealed Air Corp.’s Food Care division delivers on convenience for customers with Cryovac’s Multi-Seal FlexLOK package that eliminates the need for knives or scissors for opening and can be used with semi-rigid or flexible formatting web or pre-made trays. The Multi-Seal FlexLOK can be run on standard or modified atmosphere vacuum packaging equipment.
Closure materials are also designed around convenience and ease of use. Bedford Industries, Inc. offers Peel and Stick recloseable features in a variety of lengths and colors, with a Clean Edge adhesive. “The Clean Edge is a pressure-sensitive adhesive that holds on the product the same with less maintenance on the machine,” explained Beth Radloff, marketing specialist, adding that no hot melt is required, either.
While closures are designed to be convenient, those packaging elements must also deliver on security, added Mr. Miller of Burford. “Security is definitely driving the tamper evident market, and the Tamper Evident Tape Closure System continues to gain momentum in certain areas,” he said, adding that the system is designed to run on modern high-speed packaging line and allows for printing directly on the tape closure for “best by” dates or other product data.
Mylar films allow consumers to cook or bake product inside the cooking vessel.
Another example of how marketplace demands are shaping manufacturers’ choice of packaging materials is the emergence of more packages that allow for extended shelf life.
“One of the main priorities during the bagging process is a high quality of seal integrity, as this directly affects the shelf life of the product,” said Bob Fritz, chief business development officer, TNA, “in particular, during modified atmosphere packaging [MAP] where the bag needs to be 100% air tight.”
The bakery segment has seen several recent MAP improvements. Mr. Mothersbaugh reported that MAP for gluten-free products is a notable trend. “With modified atmosphere, our customers enjoy many benefits, such as extended shelf life, zero cross contamination and shelf stability,” he said of Multivac’s MAP offerings.
Cryovac also provides MAP choices for baked goods to extend shelf life beyond 40 days. Its MAP options, available in a variety of sizes and gauges, work particularly well with preservative-free, whole grain, gluten-free and organic bakery items.
Atmosphere is one thing — ambiance is another. To that end, packaging materials can create or boost a brand by allowing a product to be showcased in the best possible way. In its survey, PMMI found that packaging engineers reported a strong demand for “clear and clean” packaging materials that enable the food product to be shown.
Lindar Corp. supplies containers that enhance the look of bakery products with a freshness seal to extend shelf life. The containers, which include clamshell, cupcake and pound cake packages, are available in PETE or INGEO PLA materials and can be used on automated equipment. More recently, Lindar added a three-row pound cake container for one of its retail customers, featuring an incline at the bottom to better display the cake slices.
Other recent innovations focus on clarity and presentation as well. Tray-Pak Corp. uses Milliken & Co.’s advanced glass-like, heat-resistant NX UltraClear polypropylene on several new package designs for hot and cold food. The containers enhance the visual appeal of a variety of products, including bakery.
At Multivac, the Mylar BAKE product improves clarity because it is a transparent film. “This is a breakthrough for the ovenable films, which have traditionally been cloudy in appearance, decreasing visibility of the product in the film,” Mr. Mothersbaugh noted.
Efficiency is a critical factor for packaging operations, and that goes for materials too.
One of the biggest influencers in the development and use of packaging materials these days is sustainability, whether it’s tied to reduced materials, biodegradable features, recyclability or other elements.
Sustainability was cited in PMMI’s industry survey on packaging material trends, with “almost all” respondents agreeing that the use of recycled materials in packaging is growing and will continue to grow when possible. Although nearly 80% of respondents are interested in biodegradable packaging, not as many are sure that consumers are ready for it at this time, due to perceptions about safety and cost.
A variety of eco-friendlier packaging materials have emerged in recent years. This summer, Dow Packaging, introduced RecycleReady technology that helps manufacturers create flexible packaging with features of multi-material or layered materials and can be recycled through existing PE film recycle streams. Dow offers RecycleReady in low barrier, improved barrier, advanced barrier, improved stiffness and improve processing formats.
LeMatic has focused on sustainability features as well, according to Mr. Wilcox, who cited advancements in co-extruded or multilayered polyethylene films. “Improvements have been made through the years to down-gauge and reduce material weight by using innovative polymer materials, allowing extruders to create thinner films without sacrificing strength,” he reported, adding, “Citamel recognizes that companies are continuing to become more responsible when it comes to sustainability, so we are working toward the development of a film that is biodegradable and compostable through the use of bio based polymers.”
In addition to clarity, Nova Chemical’s new multi-layer PE film structure is compatible with #2 HDPE recycling streams, which is a departure from most-stand up pouch packaging that’s made from mixed materials.
Closures also reflect the move toward a smaller environmental footprint. Kwik Lok Corp. offers a bag closure that was created to be reused and recycled and is made without additives.
Color, customization and interaction
Some packaging materials are more than meet the eye, but what meets consumers’ eyes these days is important, too. Snack and bakery manufacturers use materials to engage their consumers in a visual way.
At Bedford, Ms. Radloff said the company’s ElastiTag — with a colorful elastomer loop and durable tag that grips products and stays in place — is a point-of-sale marketing tool that adds impact at the shelf with potential for bakery and snack segments. “It’s being used for branding, couponing and cross-promoting products, telling stories about the company that help consumers buy into the product line knowing a bit more,” she explained.
Kwik Lok also engages consumers through printing on closures and closure labels, with solutions including traceability codes as well as price and date information.
Customization may mean different things in the short term and long term as interactive packaging — and with it, interactive packaging materials — become more common. QR codes and SnapTag mobile barcodes can be added to films and other materials to bolster consumer engagement.
Meanwhile, technology also aids bakery and snack companies in their packaging material needs. Cavanna Packaging, for example, offers an app for iPhones that serves as a film calculator, enabling users to accurately determine the proper cut-off length and film width of products.
Today’s bakers and snack manufacturers must consider more than what goes on or around the product; it’s about what goes into the packaging materials, too.