The Shift and Transformation of Flexible Packaging
23 November 2021
Recent global events and gradual awareness of the environmental effects of single-use plastics have necessitated the shift in flexible packaging. The most recent evolution in the packaging industry has been fueled by two major factors: global population expansion and the growing middle class. Flexible packaging is a rising trend and is rapidly replacing traditional rigid packaging. It's also a dynamic trend, making waves and changing in a number of ways. Here is everything you should know about the shift and transformation of flexible packaging:
- Changing concept of lamination
- Printing and decorations
- Pouching machinery
- Size changes
- Fostering sustainability
- Changing consumer preferences
- E-commerce convenience
Flexible packaging is already gaining momentum globally, and you need to tap into it to enhance your brand visibility. The following concepts can help you understand the shift and transformation of flexible packaging:
Changing Concept of Lamination
Many perishable products such as milk, juice, and some drug components need some kind of barrier from moisture, oxygen or light. Most rigid packaging materials (glass, aluminum, and multilayer paperboard) provide some level of barrier protection, whether you need it or not. Flexible packaging, however, hardly ever comes equipped with barrier protection and the most common material used to laminate flexible packaging has been aluminum foil. This proved inefficient over time since small creases in the packaging created pinhole entry points for light, oxygen, and moisture, compromising the package contents. To solve this problem, new, flexible barrier materials are being used, such as resin, styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN) as a foil-replacement. SAN is tough even in thin layers, and recent production methods have improved the flexibility of this resin. Today's flexible packaging offers you the opportunity to request the appropriate barrier for your products and their end-uses.
Printing and Decorations
Flexible packaging usually comes with printing and decoration as part of the total cost of the filling process. Labels are supplied with the package, along with lamination and any other specific customer requests. Printing options for flexible packaging come in a wide variety, including security options. Logo design and brand identity graphics are easier to implement with flexible packaging. Security features include use of ink that appears under certain lighting or pigment additives that appear and disappear depending on environmental conditions or package placement.
Pouches, particularly stand-up pouches, are the newest and fastest growing product trend in the flexible packaging world. The latest pouching machinery generation uses vertical form-fill systems (VFFS) and can deliver faster production speeds and have higher versatility than previous generations. They also have better sealing techniques, providing superior flexible packages with better product protection. In our current economy, there is a developing gap for faster marketing time for even the most basic commodities. This demand is placing mounting pressure on the packing industry to meet tight delivery deadlines at the lowest cost possible. Pouch production machinery development is one of the most dynamic areas of the packaging equipment sector. One of the biggest challenges plaguing this section is the pouch fill line speed. Bottles are a huge competitor, especially in beverages, since they tend to have higher fill line speeds compared to pouches. There has been development of continuous pouch filling machines to phase out intermittent machines, which is a step in the right direction.
As flexible packaging technology grows, so does package size. Larger retail flexible packages are flooding the market, packing everything from dry cereals to condiments. These new package sizes have incorporated advanced graphics and package reclose features, giving them an edge over rigid packaging options. The factors driving size changes include:
- - Population increase resulting in larger families that need larger packages
- - More long lasting packages that can hold larger amounts for longer periods
- - Ability to package almost anything, from condiments to dry cereals
- - Growth of flexible packaging technology
There is a lot of mounting pressure on companies to adopt environmentally-friendly packaging. Most packaging stakeholders are responding by producing more lightweight packaging, using more recyclable, recycled, reusable packing options, and doing research on bioplastic packaging. Flexible packaging is lighter than most rigid packaging and uses less resources to produce, meaning less energy is used for less waste products. It significantly cuts transport costs since it can be constructed on site from roll materials. To the consumer, it occupies less space when empty than rigid packages. Product brands and retail stores are teaming up to adopt bioplastic packaging as opposed to conventional petroleum plastics to minimize their carbon footprint and meet sustainability targets. They also note that sustainable packaging gives them the chance to diversify their brand audience and appear more appealing to consumers.
Changing Consumer Preferences
With the projected rise in the middle class population, more people are becoming aware of the environmental impact of single-use plastics and are pushing for more environment-safe, convenient packaging. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of retailers were experiencing plastic de-selection by their customers. Once the pandemic is over, a greater emphasis on package safety is to be expected as consumers shift preference from price and expert advertising to safety and health first.
The increase in e-commerce and need for convenient packaging are molding B2B and B2C consumer expectations. The pandemic increased home delivery services and boosted the need for impact and puncture resistant packaging, since more people were involved in the handling as opposed to traditional bricks and mortar store business transactions. Flexible packaging is a response to the pressure to produce sustainable packaging solutions that perform the same or better than rigid packaging but is produced with less energy, less waste, and can be recycled. The combined efforts of value chain stakeholders will play a key role in developing, implementing and improving sustainable packaging solutions that meet consumer expectations.
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