Closures adapt to innovative packaging trends

by Lynn Petrak
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It may seem like the finishing touch, but a closure is a key attribute of package design and the first point of the consumer’s actual eating engagement.

How the end user opens and closes a package, then, is a major consideration when food manufacturers, including snack food and bakery companies, sit down to design or upgrade packages for both retail and foodservice use. All kinds of packaged products and items from the service bakery, deli and prepared foods departments have opening and closing features that range from the relatively basic and traditional — a tie or clip — to more sophisticated closures and reclosures that involve the use of different packaging materials and equipment.

Closures have changed with the times … or, more aptly, with the products they’re protecting. For one thing, the sheer amount of new and re-packaged and/or reformulated products has led to more diversification in packaging to help items stand out on the shelf. That includes snacks and baked goods from national and regional/midsize brands as well as private label products in today’s competitive marketing climate.

“Brands are willing to put new things out there, including new flavors and toppings, and we’re also seeing products in different forms. Manufacturers are taking known brands and leveraging them and adding something to them. Variety will continue to be a big motivator,” observed Dennis Gunnell, vice-president of sales and marketing for Formost Fuji Corp., Woodinville, WA.

As consumers want and have more choices, they’re also seeking products that fit into their lifestyles. In addition to being drawn in by the look of a package — a recent study from the Affinnova division of Nielsen found that 64% of consumers try new products because of the package design, and more than a third make purchases based on package design — shoppers are looking for functionality.

“People want the ability to take some contents of the package out and have integrity left to use it again and to have a certain shelf life. That continues to be a trend, and I think you’ll see more of it in the future,” Mr. Gunnell said, adding that improvements in closures mirror other package attributes. “The package needs to be tamper-evident, easy for children to use in some cases, and able to be reclosed.”

While the growing variety of closures is driven in large part by consumer demands and interests such as variety, convenience, shelf life, tamper evidence and other concerns, today’s operating environment is also spurring new applications and innovations. “Cost per closure is one of the most common concerns,” reported Mitch Lindsey, technical sales for Maysville, OK-based Burford Corp.

Speed and accuracy are also critical processing factors for many bakery packaging applications. Yakima, WA-based Kwik Lok Corp., for instance, has updated software for its high-speed bag closure system that monitors the arrival of a package and ensures that closures have properly advanced. The company also noted its 893 Ultra with enhanced safety design closes up to 120 bags a minute.

Standing up for change

Scanning the marketplace, the trend toward a greater variety of consumer-friendly packaging that also gives manufacturers a differentiating edge over the competition is evident in the amount of engaging packaging formats that include both easy-open and secure-closing features.

Zipper and press-to-close features are notable examples. Research firm Euromonitor tracked the growth of zip/press closures at 8% from 2014 to 2015, attributing that surge to the rise of on-the-go snacks and larger packages that can accommodate bigger households and provide value to budget-conscious consumers.

In the bakery arena, an increasing number of products are packaged in bags with zip/press closures. Examples include wraps from La Tortilla Factory of Santa Rosa, CA, and Salad Pockets from the Kangaroo brand of Omaha, NE-based ConAgra Foods, among others.

Paired with zipper and press-to-close features, stand-up, doy-style flexible pouches and quad-style stand-up bags continue to gain in popularity in many food categories, including salty snacks and cookies. Easy-open and press-to-close features are ways for manufacturers to deliver on convenience, shelf appearance and product freshness and quality in flexible pouches.

There are many examples of such resealable stand-up pouches and bags in today’s marketplace. Given the fight for shelf space in a tight market, many specialty brands use stand-up pouches with a resealable closure, including items like kale chips from Rhythm Superfoods, Austin, TX, and Cookie Thins from Mrs. Thinsters, a brand from That’s How We Roll LLC, Fairfield, NJ, to name a couple. At the same time, more national and larger brands of snacks and cookies are also utilizing stand-up pouches with resealable closures, like Pretzel Crisps and Oreos.

Often, the benefits of easy opening and effective closing are touted on the package itself by prominently featuring “Resealable” at the top, along with verbiage about a package’s easy-tear opening, easy-pour spout and press-to-seal zipper.

Zip-Pak in Manteno, IL, a division of Illinois Tool Works, helped developed the package for GIANTS sunflower seeds. Zip-Pak also has come out with a stand-up pouch called the Zip 360 that reseals in two ways for stacking and has a wider opening for easier scooping and pouring.

From a functionality perspective, manufacturers of packaging equipment are making improvements and adjustment to ensure the effectiveness of zip/press closures. Equipment manufacturers, too, have made improvements to machines that produce flexible bags to enable quick changeover and flexibility for a variety of closures, including zippers.

According to Mr. Gunnell, zip/press closures have transformed many product categories in recent years, impacting material and machinery providers alike. “Zip-lock closures are more functional with the advancements in materials that have led to higher speeds that we didn’t have seven or eight years ago. Today, you have the ability to get a complete hermetically sealed package with quite a bit of options,” he remarked, adding that snacks and baked goods work well with flexible recloseable/resealable packages. “It’s more prevalent in the snack and baking industry than in other industries like frozen or refrigerated foods.”

Roll, peel, pull

In addition to zip/press closures used in flexible packaging, other types of closures for baked goods and snacks are designed around the concepts of resealability for freshness and convenience.

Fold-down reclosures, as with zip/press features, allow for convenience, extended shelf life and quality when the package is opened, stored and later re-used. Bedford Industries, Inc., Worthington, MN, offers a roll-and-close package that is pre-coated with adhesive. The closure performs by rolling or folding down the flexible package. “The roll-and-close is placed vertically instead of horizontally. It’s not to keep the package closed originally, but after it’s open, you can roll it down easily to keep the contents fresh,” explained Beth Radloff, marketing specialist, adding that beyond applications overseas, manufacturers in the US are increasingly looking at that type of format. “It’s starting to get more notice,” she said. 

A peel-back closure is another option in this arena, particularly for items like cookies. Packages of “regular” Oreos and Fig Newtons, for example, feature a lift-open pull tab, as do other brands of cookies.

According to Mr. Gunnell, Formost Fuji can apply the same peel-and-seal technology it uses for other products to snacks and baked goods. “It is a unique package that is currently used for coffee pods, but people can learn from other industries,” Mr. Gunnell said, noting that such a closure could be used for a tray of cookies.

Other new formats are emerging with advancing technologies. Zip-Pak, for its part, offers a package that combines traditional paperboard cartons with zippered pouch packaging with a resealable closure. The Zipbox has been dubbed “the resealable box.”

Multinational food and beverage conglomerate Mondelez International, Deerfield, IL, meanwhile, recently teamed up with the nonprofit R&D organization Battelle to create a reseal technology called Low Tack Adhesive (LTA) that sticks only to itself when pressed together yet offers a strong bond. Currently, Mondelez is awaiting approval for use of the reclosure on food products, including snack packaging.

“The new LTA is not messy, tacky or expensive. For example, it won’t pick up crumbs from crackers or cookies, that make traditional adhesives ineffective,” said Cindy Conner, senior market manager in consumer, industrial and medical products for Battelle, in a statement timed with the product’s introduction

In France, a company called Semo Packaging recently introduced a 100% recloseable mono-material solution for easy opening and closing of food packaging. The Fresh’Closure film, which is also 100% recyclable and reusable, features a drawstring system that preserves products and extends shelf life with repetitive use.

Closing the deal

In addition to providing benefits to the end user, closures can help manufacturers and retailers better merchandise their products for greater shelf appeal and, ultimately, sales.

Some brands use the top of the pouch or bag above the zipper for limited time or seasonal promotions. This summer, for instance, bags of Pretzel Crisps included a promotion for a sweepstakes contest tied to the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out.

In addition to common color coding for dating and stocking purposes, basic ties and clips used for fresh bakery products can also be used in different ways to help market a product on shelf. 

“We offer printing on ties and also do custom colors,” Ms. Radloff reported, adding that designers at Bedford are open to a host of options. “If [a customer] wanted to design something for seasonality, we can do that. A brand could also do something special with cause marketing, such as a hot pink color for Breast Cancer Month.”

Getting the message out has never been more important than in today’s increasingly competitive environment.

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