Packaging is one of the main ancillary issues in a food manufacturing or distributing company. Getting fresh or at least protected food to the final destination of sale requires that your packaging confirms to certain standards that ensure it is delivered to the point of sale in the best possible condition, and as economically as possible. Foodstuffs usually require shipping in bulk so your packaging has to be consider a major part of your operation.
There is little point in expanding all that effort in producing delicious food if you can’t transport it to the end user in equally good condition and give them the assurance that it hasn’t been tampered with too. Because of those considerations, food manufacturers have tended to been over-conservative with their packaging, erring on the side of caution. Unfortunately, caution tends to add expense to the product, and that too is a problem, particularly in a business world where profits are being ever-more squeezed. There needs be another to be another option, and that may be a case of less is more.
Advances in polymeric materials have meant that thick-film packaging products can meet many of the requirements of your packaging needs, being able to transport fresh, dried and even non-food products safely and cost effectively.
The main problem with many traditional types of packaging is that, in being rigid, they are usually unable to be filled effectively with the product. Be it a glass jar, a box, or bespoke plastic packaging, it usually has corners and edges that don’t allow complete filling, and if you are transporting fresh air, or excess liquid, you are losing money.
Even drinks packaging is rarely filled to the brim, and with these kinds of products being high production volume, that equates to a lot of spare air that isn’t making your business a profit. But make the packaging flexible, and you could be on the way to cut costs and gain the admiration of shoppers who are becoming disenchanted with oversized packaging.
Of course, one of the major aspects of packaging is its sustainability and the possibilities of it being recycled. Many plastic film products are a mix of different polymers and that makes them difficult to recycle. There are moves towards thicker film single polymer materials, which are ideal for non-food products, however changes to how we process and deal with foods are making these options increasingly viable for foodstuffs too.
Many packaging solutions – including aluminum fizzy drinks cans and sealed tin-plated steel cans - have been developed to increase the longevity of the foodstuff or liquid inside. But there are increasing moves towards freeze-drying of some consumables and that makes them ideal for storage and shipment in flexible vacuum packing. Current can-orientated options are used to extend food life o between 2 and five years, but freeze-drying and vacuum packing could potentially extend this to as much as 30 years!!
Vacuum packing allows a previously flexible product to become ridged, and therefore self-supporting. Depending upon the level of vacuum applied, it could become as stiff as a glass jar, but without the fracture issues.
Flexible packaging has been seen and regarded as a cheaper option when it came to shipping goods and expensive-looking and robust packaging was an indication of a quality product inside, and in some cases has actually been used to convince the customer that they are perhaps getting something that was better than the product actually was. A swap to flexible packaging – together with any support materials deemed necessary – could make your product easier and cheaper to transport and make an increasing amount of packaging recyclable too.
Consumers are a huge driving force in retail sales and they are demanding that something be done about the enormous amount of packaging that accompanies their products, particularly when so much of it is destined for landfill or destruction. Flexible packaging offers the possibility of not only a smaller overall size of container, but when used with vacuum packing, it can be used for all manner of products.
Increasing durability of materials has also contributed to the drive to make packaging more appropriate rather than overly ostentatious and complex. A study by the Flexible Packaging Association in 2015 highlighted that that many more brand owners are shifting toward using flexible consumer packaging on more of their products. Nearly one-third of survey participants said that over the next five years they are likely to switch to a mix of mostly or entirely flexible packaging and move away from rigid types.
Businesses are always on the lookout for ways to cut costs and packaging is fast becoming an area where many production managers can identify money saving options without affecting the quality of the product.