The market for flexible packaging has grown steadily over the last decade, and it is not showing signs of slowing down. The use of plastic in packaging overall has grown 8% since 2012, and bags and pouches have grown 3.5%, according to the "Food Packaging Trends and Advances 2016" report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. This growth is driven by a variety of factors including converters’ desire to downgauge, high-performance films that increase shelf life, consumer demands for convenience and a surge in environmentally-friendly packaging. Flexible packaging professionals can connect with other industry professionals and explore these solutions at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2017 (Sept. 25-27; Las Vegas Convention Center).
A combination of environmental pressures and high polymer prices have compelled converters to produce plastics that are thinner than ever before, contributing to downgauging’s continued status as a flexible packaging trend.
In addition to producing thinner films, many flexible packaging providers are also producing new high-performance film structures that increase shelf life and extend flavors, facilitating the move from rigid to flexible packaging for many products. Swapping out rigid for flexible packaging can minimize package transport costs between the converter, packer, retailer and consumer. Unlike rigid packaging materials, like glass and metal, flexible packaging materials can be designed for products of all levels of moisture and oxygen-variable needs. For example, packaging refrigerated milk in a glass container is completely unnecessary to maintain product shelf life because milk oxidizes so slowly that it does not require a barrier package. On the other end of the spectrum is guacamole, which even when refrigerated oxidizes very quickly and is therefore suited for a thick barrier container like glass. The pliability of flexible packaging’s barrier properties means it can be developed to suit guacamole, milk and all other products along the oxidization spectrum.
Convenience-seeking consumers are reaching for healthier chilled foods like ready meals, fresh pasta, seafood and exotic meats, resulting in an increased demand for high-performance films and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP).2 As organic and natural foods continue to gain popularity among consumers, some flexible packaging options are enabling food brands to minimize the use of preservatives while still enhancing shelf life. PACK EXPO Las Vegas exhibitor Mitsubishi Gas Chemical America (Booth #3636) offers a flexible packaging technology that potentially doubles the shelf life for products by removing oxygen that is trapped within sealed packaging. The technology is embedded as a film layer within flexible packaging and protects original food flavors, aromas and textures without sachets or packets.
Other flexible packaging providers are meeting consumer demand for more natural and environmentally-friendly foods by using new technology to develop packaging that is bio-degradable and bio-derived. For example, Emerald Packaging Inc. (Booth # S-6352) has launched a bag for potatoes that is made partly from potato starch. Stronger than low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film, the plant-based plastic is made from a 25% potato starch resin and 75% LDPE mixture.
These and other new advances in flexible packaging will be on display at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2017. The show serves as the largest event in North America for packaging this year. To network and see the latest award-winning packaging innovations, attendees can visit industry-specific lounges like the Containers and Materials Pavilion (Lower South Hall), which will address the latest in flexible packaging technology in addition to updates on paperboard, glass, metal and plastic packaging.
Co-located with Healthcare Packaging EXPO, PACK EXPO Las Vegas will feature solutions from more than 2,000 exhibitors and will be attended by 30,000 packaging industry professionals. Learn more, and register, at packexpolasvegas.com.