by Jim Dudlicek, Contributing Writer

When it comes to dairy containers, it’s all about the green-in more ways than one.

The buzzword continues to be sustainability-packaging that’s recyclable, made from renewable resources or otherwise friendly to the environment. But whether that means using new materials or just downgauging existing packaging, it all comes back to the other green issue: saving money.

“In part a response to established sustainability initiatives and to current uncertain economic conditions, efficiency in packaging will trump other innovation drivers,” says Gene Welch, vice president and general manager of meat and dairy flexibles North America and rigid containers for Alcan Packaging, Chicago. “Using less material and realizing economies throughout the value chain will mark the characteristics of new dairy packaging solutions.”

According to Penny Staats, marketing manager at Huhtamaki, part of the desire to downsize is accompanied by the need to differentiate.

“The need to improve sustainability characteristics and provide a more convenient package is part of those initiatives,” Staats says. “The entire supply chain in delivering packaging and efficiently moving product through production onto the retail shelf is now being considered in the design process.”

The aseptic packaging systems offered by SIG Combibloc also address multiple industry demands. “SIG’s aseptic carton filling lines are designed for optimal efficiency to reduce product and packaging waste,” says Beatriz Callanta, SIG Combibloc’s marketing manager for North and Central America. Its high-speed filling lines (up to 24,000 packs per hour) offer the dairy industry additional volumes at little to no extra costs. The carton itself has a guaranteed shelf life for up to a year and offers customers an attractive and environmentally friendly alternative.

“Although about 75% of the aseptic carton packaging is made from a renewable resource and can count on a low carbon footprint in comparison with other packaging types, the industry demands even more stringent and continuous corporate measures to reduce the impact on the environment,” Callanta says. “That means that not only the aseptic carton itself, but also the sourcing of our fiber, production methods and logistics need to be revisited for constant improvements to our sustainability profile.”

Demand brings innovation

Beyond the greening of waste and wallet, processors continue to look to the containers they use for a competitive edge, Welch says.

Toward that end, Alcan Packaging has launched its MatteFX advanced surface finish technology, which can alternate matte and gloss finishes on the same package for special package effects. Welch explains, “Brand owners can create high-impact packaging that stimulates a powerful emotional response from consumers at the critical moment of truth.”

On the other hand, some companies have opted to better reflect the current economic climate. “Customers are cost conscious, but still desire upscale graphics on their packages. We are meeting these demands by continuing to invest in state-of-the-art molding and decorating technologies,” says Michelle Schmitt, market analyst for Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics Corp. High-cavitation in-mold labeled containers and thermoformed polypropylene (PP) drink cups are among Berry’s innovations.

As a key supplier of ice cream containers, Huhtamaki has been on the front lines of the frozen dessert industry’s downsizing of the “half gallon” to curtail myriad input costs, with several new offerings in 2008. The company’s new 48-ounce Regal XT non-round container offers increased billboard space for better branding, is easier to hold and scoop and 20% more of them fit on a retail freezer shelf, Staats explains.

“We also engineered a redesign of the nested stack on our pint Nestyle containers,” she says. “More cups in the case equals improved cube efficiencies, and more units in a truckload, netting fewer trucks on the road.”

Christine Bouveret, sales manager at IML Containers North America, says environmental demands drive IML’s customers to use recyclable containers, which for her company means thin-walled, injection-molded polypropylene resin with in-mold labels.

“There are two areas our customers focus on: reusability of the containers and increased durability of the product,” Bouveret says. “That means increasing the shelf life. We’ve developed some packaging with light and oxygen barriers.”

At SIG Combibloc, customers are looking to maximize the optimization of their aseptic cartons-reduce package weight and minimize inner layers while upholding aseptic integrity, Callanta explains. “Regarding openings, customers demand a lower fitment grammage, but also are looking for better pourability and ease of opening,” she says. This year, the U.S. market will see the launch of CombiFit Premium package in 500- and 1,000-milliliter sizes. CombiFit Premium is available for non-carbonated beverages and beverage applications, and features a slim and elegant style with an attractive slanted top.

In addition, SIG has launched its new CombiSmart opening feature, purported to be the smallest screw cap available for small-size product applications such as condensed milk and creamers.  F&BP

James Dudlicek is Chief Editor of Dairy Foods, a sister publication of Food & Beverage Packaging.



For more information

Alcan Packaging

773-399-8000; www.alcanpackaging.com

Berry Plastics Corp.

812-424-2904; www.berryplastics.com

Huhtamaki

913-583-3025; www.us.hutamaki.com

IML Containers North America

450-258-3130; www.iml.ca

SIG Combibloc Inc.

610-546-4200; www.sig.biz