Vegan & Vegetarian - Packaging Process & Production Considerations

28 June 2019

Vegan & Vegetarian - Packaging Process & Production Considerations


Vegan & Vegetarian Packaging Process & Production Considerations

Tom Kerchiss - RK Print Coat Instruments


Food manufacturers, brand owners, processors, the food scientists and others can no longer ignore the statistics, many of us are eating less meat or are, for various reasons making a conscious decision to have more in the way of meat free days. Those who take this route whether for perceived health, environmental or ethical reasons or simply because they choose to do so are labelled by marketers and food pundits as being flexitarians or reducetarians.

The more committed, those who for lifestyle, health or ethical reasons avoid animal products and derivatives on a day to day basis include vegetarians; dietary vegans and ethical vegans. Still other follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian or ovo-vegetarian diet.

There are said to be around 3.5 million vegetarians in the UK and over 500,000 vegans; countless others follow a flexitarian/ reducetarian way of life, then there are people who avoid certain foods because of allergies or food intolerance issues.

But you don’t necessarily need to read the statistics issued by vegan or vegetarian organisations or the various government and health organisations to see that what was once considered a bit of a fad can more or less now be considered mainstream.

A walk through any supermarket is revealing; whereas a decade ago the availability of meat free products seemed to be limited to nut cutlets, soya and Quorn sausages, tofu and lentils – now a broader range of products including attractively presented ‘vegi-ready meals’ and vegan pizzas are available that look just that bit more inviting and innovative.

Packaging of relevance, packaging of note has undoubtedly helped brand owners, food producers and others to bring more products to market. Colour and graphics as with any other item in the food aisle attracts and encourage interest which in turn progresses to the consumer picking up and handling the product, reading instructions and marketing message – and if the product connects making a purchase.

Manufacturing and producing products for vegans, vegetarians and other groups is far from straight forward. It can be challenging for all supply chain providers including printers, converters and manufacturers of substrates, inks, coatings, sealants and adhesive producers. Care, sensitivity and a measured approach in all areas of production, processing and supply is essential, especially when products, ingredients and even packaging components will often be carefully scrutinised by the consumer to ensure the item meets their standards.

Complicating matters is the fact that while one product may be suitable for a dietary vegetarian, it may not be suitable for a vegan; an ovo-vegetarian or vegetarian or a pescatarian – knowing the market and who the product is aimed at is just as important for the packaging converter as it is for the product brand owner and marketing department.

Producing products that are meat free is one thing, vegans and increasingly many other consumers who may not even consider themselves as being vegans at this time are looking at products that have a positive connotation; packaging that ideally is made from sustainable sources; packaging and components that can be separated and recycled. They are not only looking at animal-free or meat-free foodstuffs, dairy-free products, they are also looking for food items (and cosmetics, skin care and other products) and packaging that does not involve the use of animal or animal by-products at any point.

Packaging technologists and associates have to be careful for instance in the type of adhesive used for laminates or for sealing cartons. The adhesives employed for the sealing of cartons for vegan products for instance must be free from gluten, bone glue and casein made from animal by products.

Lacquers, coatings, inks, dyes and the additives used to enhance the performance or extend the life of these components used in packaging as well as the substrates themselves is already a subject of concern for some consumers, and may become more of a media and front line issue as veganism grows in importance, particularly amongst the younger generation who are often more politically, socially and welfare motivated. Hence the need for producers, packaging converters, chemists and research and development departments to continue to seek new or synthetic product and consumable materials that meet dietary, lifestyle and religious requirements; packed printed, coated, laminated items that are free from animal derivatives and are made from recyclable or sustainable sources.

There are no shortages with regard to ideas or innovations throughout the product and the supply chain. On the horizon there are synthetic materials that may provide a packaging solution for some applications, products that may be disposed of more easily at end of life cycle and meet the concerns of the wider-based consumer community. Examples of packaging associated materials currently becoming available include: bio-plastics – plastics derived from corn starch, Bagasse, a treated waste by-product of sugar cane and Areca palm – all plant-based materials. It is important to stress that the need to seek alternative packaging materials especially with regard to plastics is not confined to vegan and other products. The pressure to find alternative materials applies throughout various product sectors, especially as major supermarket groups such as Tesco have pledged to phase out the use of plastics as have many of the other food retail chains.

The complex nature of packaging and the various requirements that packaging must meet in order to comply with the needs not only of different product sectors, but constructions that provide the right level of barrier properties and health and safety edicts presents challenges and opportunities. There are different ways of obtaining a desired end result, structures that are engineered so as to offer optimum and necessary performance properties at an acceptable cost, material and consumables that will run as trouble free as possible on converting machines, printing, coating and laminating equipment.

Used for research and development purposes, for testing new products, trialling and for small-scale production, etc., the VCML Lab/Pilot Coater can print, coat and laminate onto a variety of flexible substrates. Applicator technology available includes gravure, flexo, slot die, air knife, hot melt, etc. With a web width of up to 300mm, touch screen control and customisable the VCML Lab/Pilot Coater offers users the flexibility to test different formulae and materials so as to dynamically determine product/material/ink/coating/adhesive feasibility under real world operating conditions.

Because the requirements placed on product developers and on converters is often complex the VCML Lab/Pilot Coater can be provided with hot air, UV curing and Infrared drying. Heated laminating unit, corona treater unit, ATEX coating zone and other accessories.

Another  option is the VCM Coater. Optimised to meet specific requirements this high-tech machine is engineered in order that it can accommodate wider web widths and heavier substrates. Construction ensures a considerable degree of flexibility so as to allow for future expansion or modification in line with application changes and changes in the market.

Packaging and by association processes such as converting stand at the crossroads, considerable pressure is now being put upon product developers and the suppliers, the ink and coating manufacturers to pull all of their knowledge and experience together in order to deliver new solutions. RK Print Coat Instruments believe that the VCML Lab/Pilot Coater and VCM Coater have a role to play in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

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