By Danny Beard, President of Packaging Specialists
In my previous column on flexible packaging, and in particular pouches with fitments (caps, closures, zippers, etc.), I explained the differentiating attributes that make this package format so popular. Flexibility was the key attribute. Flexibility not only in the most obvious sense – tactility – but also in the functional characteristics that can be built into flexible packaging in general and pouches in particular.
Specifically, we talked about the Six F’s for fitmented pouches: Functionality, Films, Fitments, Forming, Filling, Freight. Each of these F’s is critical to the successful use of the pouch for all applications. However, we want to highlight the reasons for the transition from mostly rigid packaging to flexible packaging for an increasing number of products, even hard-to-hold products such as liquids and shelf-stable foods. There are many reasons for the success of flexible packaging as a format, but most importantly is the ability to design pouches to fit applications instead of the opposite. Smart marketers take advantage of the lightweightness, barrier properties, endless decorating, branding, sizing and shape alternatives, plus a full range of resealing options. In addition, flexible packaging has a tremendous sustainability story and it is the package of choice for e-marketing.
In short, the functionality of pouches is the most important F and all of the other F’s are an outcome. As consumers, we take pouch functionality as a given, especially for stand-up pouches (SUPs). We are not surprised or particularly impressed when we see a new application for pouches that makes it easier for us to microwave and pour a sauce, feed a toddler, or dispense sunscreen from a bottle. Applications for paint sprayers, sour cream and yogurt, and child resistant CBD pouches do not impress us. True aseptic beverages in pouches with caps for immediate consumption RTD products seem like such an obvious outcome that the only surprise is that they did not exist already. In total, SUPs have become ubiquitous, but not always mainstream. The reason – Functionality.
The word “pouches” often brings to mind typical end uses: potato chips, shredded cheese, pet food, hand soap refills, even CapriSun juices and pureed baby foods. We find them in use for fresh produce for grapes, apples and avocadoes (more to come on these applications). Pouches are used to package items as diverse as ground coffee, deli meats, protein powders and hand wipes. Everyday applications also include wine, mayonnaise, medical and hospital products, and cook-in pouches for vegetables, pasta and soups. Even laundry and dishwasher detergent pods are a form of pouch, not to mention the sophisticated SUPs used to hold and seal these pods.
Examples of a new package design driving the success of a new product launch, or even the relaunch of an existing product. Often the most successful new package designs incorporate some functionality not incorporated into the previous version. The classic example is the laser-scored Oreos cookie overwrap. The Oreos consumer did not realize they needed easier package access, but once it was included, a very mature brand had new life. A much more recent example is the Daisy sour cream pouch. The Daisy Brand sour cream marketers recognized they had an opportunity to increase the use occasions for sour cream by providing the consumer an easy, one-handed dispensing package. They designed the pouch with an inverted, no-drip cap and clean, simple graphics. The pouch package cost versus the existing tub was higher, but they believed the consumer would embrace the more convenient package and drive consumption up. Without any real official product launch announcement, Daisy Brand saw their sales grow more than 15 points, with no negative effect on their existing package sales. Consumers were drawn to the benefits of the package and began to use the package for other purposes. Similar packages have been launched for yogurts, condiments and relishes to similar results. In this case, substantially improved consumer functionality surpassed the somewhat higher package costs. The good news for marketers is the typically higher package costs for all this functionality are shrinking quickly as package costs decrease and filling speeds increase. I will speak to these points in future columns.
Back to the functionality of fresh produce pouches. We have all seen a transition in recent years of fresh produce in pouches, in particular relatively perishable fruits such as sliced apples and fresh-cut salads. These look like very simple packages, but the reality is these pouches and the filling processes are quite sophisticated. The pouch films incorporate microscopic holes that allow carbon dioxide to readily escape and oxygen to enter very slowly. In addition, printed flexible pouches with built-in handles and printed headers are now widely used for better product display, improved portion control and substantially lower pilferage. It also keeps avocadoes from rolling out of shopping bags.
The functionality of flexible packaging stands out versus rigid packaging in a number of ways. Flexible packaging can be used to package food and other products that are subjected to the extremes of retort processing, steam evacuation, microwave cooking and even massive doses of gamma irradiation for medical devices and aseptic packaging. Pouches can not only be used to package frozen foods, but also to move the frozen food directly from the freezer to the microwave. Consumers can even eat from that same package. No other package type can be used for as many different products and processes as flexible packaging. New films are in use and others are being developed that provide high levels of oxygen, moisture and UV barrier as needed, plus antimicrobial properties against food-borne pathogens. These new film developments incorporate technologies that can even release additives over time to extend product shelf life. Functionality is also enhanced by the abundance of new fitment types, sizes and capabilities. The ability to place these fitments in a range of locations on the SUPs provides virtually unlimited pouch configurations, depending on the application and end use. Flexible packaging has the added benefit of built-in high quality printing, including high gloss or matte finishes, or even a combination of both. Digital printing continues to expand to support these decorating techniques, especially for smaller brands, short run items, and special promotions.
Clearly the Functionality of flexible packaging points to additional opportunities. Forward-looking brands are looking for additional prospects to expand their flexible packaging portfolios. Edible films, printed electronic circuit boards and RFID/NFC tags, and compostable and recyclable flexible packaging will continue to take advantage of these options.
About the Author
Danny Beard is the president of Packaging Specialists. He holds more than 30 years of experience in the packaging sector, and is a frequent presenter at industry events including the Global Pouch Forum, Aseptipak, FISPAL, PMMI and more.