Packaging Strategies recently sat down with Eldon Schaffer, CEO of TekniPlex Consumer Products, to discuss the many benefits of container liners.
PS: What are the topline benefits of container liners? Do you have any associated statistics that speak to those benefits?
ES: There are three or four main benefits to using a liner material. First is protecting the product to minimize leaks, spills or contamination. There is safety related to tamper evidence or some additional protection for pharmaceutical or neutraceutical products. There’s brand differentiation because you can do printing and customizable items on the top of the liner. The last one – which, quite frankly, is one of the bigger ones – is shelf life extension. The oxygen barrier provides additional freshness and protection against product waste.
From a statistics standpoint, there are two things to call out. In ecommerce, liners play a huge role. According to ReadyCloud, about 30% of all products purchased online are returned, compared to about 10% in the case of a normal brick-and-mortar store. Of the ecommerce items that are returned, 23% are sent back because they’re damaged. A leaky container can spill onto other products, so you don’t just ruin the product that leaked out but everything else that’s in there as well. Liners significantly reduce the likelihood of that occurring.
The second thing in terms of statistics: If we’re able to extend shelf life, that certainly has an impact on food waste. There’s an estimate according to an advocacy group called Feed America that about 40% of food is wasted each year. That’s about 80 million tons in the U.S. – huge, huge numbers – equaling to about nearly $500 billion in food thrown away each year. Liners are one of the many tools in the tool belt to help counteract food waste and provide additional shelf life.
PS: Obviously, liners are used for bottles and jars in various industries. What are some of the more sector-specific benefits of liners?
ES: There are three major areas of the market that we sell into.
First of all, pharmaceutical, nutraceuticals, vitamins, supplements. In some cases, even falling under that classification is baby formula. With these types of products, what we end up being able to provide is the FDA-required tamper evidence plus barrier protection against moisture and oxygen.
The second area is food. Liners provide moisture protection for products that must remain dry – like spices, for example. It also provides protection for products that contain natural ingredients that are more subject to spoilage under sub-optimal storage conditions. If you think about it, a lot of people want a clean label. That’s a huge trend in food. They want simple, natural ingredients – not a 15-letter chemical word that they can’t even pronounce, let alone understand what it is. The liners help us provide the ability to be able to use simple natural ingredients, provide the consumers what they’re looking for with a clean label – and still provide that shelf life that’s necessary for our food to go through the normal distribution system.
Lastly, there are chemicals – lawn and garden, harsh cleaning products. What liners provide primarily here is spill and leak prevention, as well as transportation safety. You have a very harsh chemical. You want to make sure that it doesn’t leak or spill during the transportation process, and that’s one of the benefits of liners in the chemical area.
PS: With the massive push for sustainability, a “less is more” mindset is emerging. In this case, that might mean eliminating a liner if it isn’t absolutely mandated or necessary. Why might that be the wrong idea?
ES: There’s going to be a smaller subset of products that might be using a liner where it’s not needed, and where a closure solution can provide adequate protection. I would advocate that less could be better for some of those products.
Secondly I would say, there are developments that we’re working on to reduce the material that’s used in the liner, or use liners made of recyclable materials, or make the liner itself full recyclable, so there’s an avenue to go down that leverages the liner benefits and provides a sustainable solution.
Lastly, in many cases the benefits of the liner – whether it’s leak prevention in the ecommerce channel or shelf-life extension or increased safety related to tamper evidence – are so strong that the idea of doing away with the liner in order to bolster sustainability is either wishful thinking or downright green washing. The carbon footprint of all the products that end up being disposed of – as a result of leaking or tampering or product spoilage – far outweighs any of the carbon footprint created by the associated liner material.
PS: Is there a sustainability argument for liners? Do the “ends justify the means” in terms of the “extra” material that liners seem to represent?
ES: That ties into the points that we talked about earlier, but maybe to elaborate ... Certainly, it’s an efficient material. It’s a very thin membrane. It’s a very minimal material compared to adding additional complexity in the closure. Many closure liners that we’re bringing to market today are designed to be mono-material and recyclable so that we can continue to contribute to the circular economy. I’ve also mentioned that we’re using post-consumer recycled content so that we can manufacture liners using PCR, reducing the demand for virgin resources.
And back to that food waste element, we’re helping to contribute to a reduction of the $500 billion in annual food waste.
PS: I would imagine that there’s also a customer perception aspect to liners, meaning consumers find liners reassuring – and might be skeptical of products without one. Is there any truth to that?
ES: We do see that. We had an interesting conversation with one of the CEOs of a consumer product company just before Christmas. He commented that whenever you make a change to a package, you put the consumer on alert. What has changed? Can I trust it? Certainly with liners, people know how to open them. They know what they’re there for. If they’re not there, the alarm bells start going off, and they start wondering if the package is going to be protected, whether with regard to tamper evidence, shelf life or leakage.
Also, if they have to learn a different system, it brings up issues of convenience and ease of use. Consumers know what they’re getting with the liners that are out there today, and they know the benefits that liners bring to them and to the transportation of the product.
PS: How does TekniPlex differentiate itself in the liners space?
ES: TekniPlex Consumer Products really strives to proactively bring material science solutions to our customers that protect products, strengthen brands and innovate sustainably so that we can help our customers win in the market. We dig deep within each customer – their product application, and maybe even their brand – because we’ve seen that even within the same product category, some products want a different approach related to sustainability.
Some customers want to focus on the use of recycled materials. We have other customers that want to focus on the material being 100% recyclable, so we bring different solutions. What’s needed for a vitamin is certainly different than what’s needed for a squeezable ketchup or a household chemical product.
How the brands position themselves is also important. A private-label ketchup will seek a lower-cost liner solution while a premium ketchup like Heinz will say, “How do we bring more value to the customer with easier-to-remove sealing technology?”
We continue to innovate, whether it’s around sustainability or whether it’s around consumer convenience. We’ve done consumer research where we’ve actually videoed consumers opening our liners compared to other liners on the market, and they’ve commented to us on the ease-of-use of our liners.
We have thick, durable tabs for ease of grip. This sort of approach benefits consumers with dexterity challenges, and none of us are getting any younger. That’s certainly an area of concern out there for our marketers and for the end consumers. How do we make sure that it’s easy for the consumer to open and have easy access and not have to go to the drawer and pull out a knife and start poking something? That’s certainly a safety issue and not the right way to approach removing a seal.
In summary, our view is that if we help our customers win, then for sure we’re going to win.