The Rise of the Refill

Spouted Pouches Are a Game Changer in a Circular Economy

New features and spouts provide opportunities for brand differentiation, and spouted pouches offer a contemporary look that works well with design-forward graphic treatments for on-shelf and online brand building. Image courtesy of Glenroy, Inc.

By Ken Brunnbauer, Marketing Manager at Glenroy, Inc.

As brands in the personal care and household products industries plan new product launches or try to invigorate an established product line, choosing refillable spouted pouches can be a game changer. Until recently, refillable pouches were simply an afterthought. But with the rise of eco-conscious consumers, refill spouted pouches are now considered an essential part of moving toward a circular economy.

Choosing premade spouted pouches can be a natural choice for many brands because typically, cost of entry is affordable, product scrap waste is lower, and more pouch features are available. Also, premade spouted pouches are manufactured by experts in flexible packaging — many of whom are continually investing in new materials and pouching technology — and they can guide brands through the process from concept to commercialization.

Benefits drawing brands to refillable spouted pouches include:

  • Completing the circle – Not only do refillable pouches reduce plastic use (up to 80% less plastic used vs comparable rigid plastic bottles), but they can be made with post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. This reduces the plastic use even further and establishes the circularity in the circular economy, providing another stream for recycled plastic.
  • Better carbon footprint – Beyond using less plastic, the lighter weight of a refill spouted pouch drives reduced fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions. One truckload of unfilled pouches can be the same as up to 26 trucks of unfilled rigid bottles according to the Flexible Packaging Association.
  • eCommerce friendly – in addition to the circular economy benefits above, refill spouted pouches are tested and constructed in a way that they can stand up to the rigors of the transportation requirements of eCommerce, thus reducing product waste and returns.
  • Millennials are “flexible packaging natives” who grew up seeing juice in pouches, and they are more accepting of pouches than any preceding generation.

The momentum is building

Eco-conscious consumers seek recyclable and sustainable materials, and spouted pouches are a game changer in a circular economy. Image courtesy of Glenroy, Inc.

Brands such as Harry’s, Puracy, Kiehl’s, Ouai, and Oribe are leading the charge for the refillable spouted pouch movement. Each has their own offering for refill spouted pouches which is helping them engage with their customers through a new packaging format, driving their focus on delivering sustainable, eco-friendly packaging, and is a channel to help energize sales through e-commerce.

Some of the behind-the-scenes options to ensure quality and consistency include:

  • Pouch engineering, sizing, and prototyping – determining pouch dimensions and configurations based on the product type and volume; and developing digital and physical prototypes.
  • Product and package compatibility testing – testing how the key ingredients in the product interact with various flexible packaging materials. This determines the flexible packaging materials that are resistant to chemical degradation or physical change during interaction with the product inside.
  • Compression testing – subjecting pouches to various air pressure forces for varying lengths of time.
  • Interlayer adhesion testing – verifying that the layers of the packaging film structure meet the required bond level for each application.
  • Seal testing – testing for fusion seals that bond the plastics in the flexible packaging material together on a molecular level, the same way that the plastics in a rigid container are formed.
  • Puncture resistance testing – using ASTM testing standards to analyze how much pressure is required to puncture the flexible packaging material.
  • Pour testing – testing for a clean and controlled pour.
  • Tensile testing – sealing the flexible packaging film to itself and testing the amount of force required for the seal to break.
  • Vacuum testing – submitting pouches to the equivalent of 1 atmosphere of external vacuum pressure to ensure that they are hermetically sealed.
  • Burst testing – exposing pouches to internal pressure until they burst to verify the strength of the seals.
  • Drop testing – testing the height from which the pouch can be dropped without failing.

Each of these quality control elements allows brands to customize their refill pouch to meet various requirements such as overall quality goals, consumer needs, filling machine and/or copacker requirements, distribution methods, desired shelf life, and regulatory requirements.

Brands work with their packaging supplier to custom-engineer their lamination specifically for their unique product formulation and required barrier properties. Image courtesy of Glenroy, Inc.

Looking to the future

As more brands turn to refill spouted pouches and as the recycling infrastructure becomes modernized to accept more and more flexible packaging, the rise of refill pouches will only increase. In addition, recyclable formats of refill spouted pouches are continually being expanded to include store drop-off recyclability (or other recyclable options).

This expansion will only increase the urgency to upgrade our recycling infrastructure. Further investment in recycling facilities is needed by all participants in the flexible packaging industry and municipalities is necessary to make the necessary upgrades a reality. But as flexible packaging providers continue to work with brands to expand the availability of eco-friendly refill spouted pouches, the momentum will become the driving force. The rise of the refill is just the beginning.

About the Author

Ken Brunnbauer is the Marketing Manager Glenroy, Inc. He has over 20 years of manufacturing experience and is an advocate for sustainable flexible packaging. Visit www.glenroy.com and the sustainability resources page from the Flexible Packaging Association to learn more about the environmental benefits of flexible packaging formats, compared to rigid plastic options.

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