Flexible future

15 September 2016

Flexible future

Flexible future

Flexible packaging has continued its massive expansion as consumer demand rockets. Dave Howell investigates how converters can leverage their services to support this vital market sector

Demand for more innovative packaging options often leads consumers to move from established rigid PET-based applications to flexible-packaging form factors. This switch is pushing the flexible packaging markets to new heights.


According to the latest findings from RnRMarketResearch, the global stand-up pouches market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.78% between 2016 and 2020. What is clear for converters is that many of their established production lines will need to switch to a flexible alternative in the near future to meet demand.


Converters are also looking at how they can strengthen their position within the flexibles market. Mondi’s recent acquisition of Uralplastic is a good case in point. “The acquisition enables us to strengthen the service we provide to our existing customers in this growing market, and it gives us the opportunity to broaden our customer base in the region,” said Peter J Oswald, CEO at Mondi Europe and International.


Suppliers are also gearing their new product ranges to serve the expanding flexibles markets. At FachPack 2016, Sappi will show its comprehensive portfolio of coated and uncoated papers for the flexible packaging and labels market, including papers for food and non-food applications such as sachets, pouches and wrappers, as well as a range of self-adhesive and wet-glue labels.


Often associated with the food sector, flexible substrates are also used in a wide range of areas, including healthcare. Amcor Flexibles’ PushPop technology, has been named the Resource Efficient Pack of the Year by the 2015 UK Packaging Awards. Developed by ColaLife, the flexible pack contains medicine to fight childhood diarrhoea in developing countries. The initial rigid proved impractical in field trials. “The award is some vindication for doing what customers want,” says Simon Berry, cofounder of ColaLife. “Together with Amcor, we have created something people want, not something that we think people need.”


Marla Donahue, president and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association, says: “We’ve seen material advancements including increased barrier properties, innovated laminations and co-extrusions that enable flexible packaging manufacturers to tailor their packaging to a specific product or need.


“Films can now provide better product protection, contamination prevention, extended freshness, puncture and tear resistance, tensile strength and seal strength. Machinery advancements are helping us achieve new levels of functionality, such as the ability to fill packages faster, which also contributes to film innovation advancements.”



New norms


There is little doubt that in some market sectors flexible substrates will become the norm. All of the major converters have developed flexible products to meet demand. Roy McAdoo, chief commercial officer at Clondalkin Flexible Packaging (CFP), says: “The ongoing requirement for down-gauging of flexible packaging, while retaining the properties of the substrate material, has led to innovations such as CFP’s aluminium-free butter wrap and the ongoing growth of stand-up pouches to replace rigid containers.


“There are increasing requirements for shorter run promotional items and personalisation of products to improve shelf appeal and brand loyalty; for example, our unique coding technology – UniXcode –  on PET lids and shrink sleeves. There is an increased focus on NPD to respond to the challenges of reducing food waste while retaining the integrity of the packs, and increasing recycling capabilities for the packaging.


The shift in consumer behaviour is pushing brands in new directions. General Mills, for instance, sees that consumers in the US clearly prefer pouches for snack foods. The company’s Party Pizza is a good example here. Tom Miller, packaging systems development manager, said at a recent Global Pouch Forum in Miami: “General Mills has that passion for the pouch. We have that passion for the flexible film industry. We know that in order to win, the company must find solutions to meet changing consumer demands.”


The shift to more flexible packaging options has raised a number of key questions that converters need to respond to. Consumers may be voicing their preferences for more flexible form factors, but they are not prepared to compromise on price or the recyclability of the materials being used. This is a key challenge for converters.


At a recent ‘Packaging for a more sustainable world’ event in Düsseldorf, hosted by Sun Chemical and BASF, delegates discussed the need for more sustainable packaging solutions with flexible options taking centre stage. Felipe Mellado, chief marketing officer at Sun Chemical, said: “As consumers continue to expect more from brands, the brand-owners are turning to the manufacturers and packaging converters to provide the materials, technologies and applications to help them reach their environmental goals.”


Only the converters that understand how consumer demand is shifting, and what this means for their customers, will be able to maintain their market share and relevance. Brands hear what their customers are telling them. To meet those demands, innovation has to continue across the converting industry.



A flexible approach


The future of consumer packaging in a number of key sectors, including convenience foods, beverages, meat, pet foods and pharmaceuticals, will be dominated by flexible form factors. The need for more biodegradable polymers will continue to be a pressure point for converters. A good example here is the soon-to-be-released compostable film from Israeli start-up TIPA.


TIPA offers a range of bioplastic solutions – coextruded-transparent, high-transparent or coated/metallised cast films – that are sealable and printable on both sides or laminated as printing, typically used for packaging of fresh produce, bakery, grain-mill products or bags. Their barrier films are characterised by their improved barrier performance comparable to alternative market plastics.


Adam Kay, sales and technical director at Tyler Packaging, says: “The rise of single-use and direct-to-mouth packaging is something we currently have our sights on here. With fast-paced, frenetic societies and single households increasing, the consumer is moving away from family packs while also eating on the go. Combining this trend with the current emphasis on sustainability means recyclable, single-use packaging will be a key focus for us and, no doubt, others in the industry. There is a huge amount of development around intelligent packaging at the moment. With innovations like smart chips and self-heating packs coming to the fore, it’s an exciting time to be in the industry.”


Donahue says: “Flexible packaging offers a variety of benefits to consumers, so it’s no surprise demand has increased. We saw this first-hand in our recent ‘Brand-value Study’. Consumers said they are willing to pay a premium price for packaging that provides tangible, functional benefits such as the ability to reseal, extend product life and improve storage.


“Converters are responding to consumers’ demands for convenience by continuing to innovate and creating conveniences that nobody expects, such potatoes that can be cooked in a microwave while still in their flexible package.  Stronger films and laminates create durability with functional handles and spouts, and enhanced barriers extend shelf life and reduce waste. We’re also seeing an increase in showcasing product with a window and using colourful, eye-catching graphics.”


The converting industry as a whole has embraced the opportunities that flexible packaging is bringing them. What is clear is that the future will need more innovation with substrates, as these will be used in a greater number of diverse applications.

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