Packaging Digest

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  1. How Food and Beverage Packagers Can Navigate the New Normal

    The global pandemic has disrupted most people’s personal and professional lives. A food-packaging insider explains how the COVID-19 situation will continue to alter the high packaging-consumption food and beverage markets.


    It is amazing to see what food and beverage companies have accomplished during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis to support essential business. The crisis is not yet completely behind us, but it is already time to look into the so-called “New Normal.” Before diving into the new normal, let’s look at what has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in and around the F&B sector.

    Many food and beverage companies have become inundated with orders as most are related to essential segments of the economy — such essential food items like shelf-stable food and basic meat proteins, as well as frozen foods. In fact, the entire consumer packaged goods (CPG) market has been affected. Toilet paper, disinfectant sprays, and essential home appliances like freezers and bread makers have been gobbled up by panicked buyers. Many consumers have stocked up on basic food, beverage, and personal products for fear of long-term shut-ins, lockdowns, and supply chain collapse. This situation has been confirmed in enough regions worldwide to make it a global trend.

    Some have reduced capacity and are, for the moment, operating less efficiently. This is due to five driving factors:

    1. Many F&B companies supply products to the foodservice sector, which has all been shut down during the crisis. Sales to these businesses have evaporated and those F&B companies that solely rely on those businesses have shut down.

    2. The extra time spent cleaning because of new wipe-down procedures.

    3. Social distance mandates, resulting in manufacturers being forced to operate with smaller crews. 

    4. Disruptions in the supply chain that may impact production costs and transportation.

    5. Fear in the workforce of contracting the illness has had many workers in high-risk demographics choose to take unemployment, compromising manufacturers’ productivity.

    New work-from-home norms and reduced site visits for operational and quality management personnel, as well as USDA and FDA inspectors, could potentially put food safety and integrity at risk.

    Workflow disruptionsfor admin, approvals and tracking procedures, and customer services processes have been linked to work-at-home policies for non-essential plant operators and management. IT infrastructure has been significantly stressed to ensure all day-to-day operations can continue remotely.

    Working capital is being strained as a result of increased order volume. While the foodservice sector has been decimated, many retail products including essential and quick-cook-and-serve shelf-stable and frozen meal components and products have reported a substantial increase in orders. Flour, yeast, soups, canned meals, and frozen meals for some producers have increased 100%. This in turn has put a stress on suppliers of necessary food ingredients and packaging, as well as a strain on transportation and distribution services.

    Online purchases of food and beverage products will increase. With stay-at-home orders, closures of some retail businesses and critical food items being depleted from store shelves due to panic buying, many consumers have turned to on-line purchases of food. On-line food purchases have increased 25% over the last three years but, during the crisis period, it is estimated that more than half of the consumable foods will be purchased on-line.

    Manufacturers that have always relied on the traditional distribution center supply chain networks (produce/ship to warehouse/ship to customer) are now developing their own manufacturer-to-consumer networks to make it easier for people to purchase their products without going out. This trend will likely continue post-pandemic.

    As the crisis continues, changes and impacts to the industry occur daily, so this list will continue to evolve and grow as we move forward. 


    Advice for the future.

    What’s the new normal in terms of activity compared to pre-COVID? Companies, experts and industry analysts are still trying to assess what that will be. But it is reasonable to assume the result will be somewhere in between what we had pre-COVID and what we are seeing as this continues to unfold during the COVID-19 crisis.

    Moving forward, food and beverage companies are likely to see volumes reduce slightly on those products that were primarily purchased during “panic buying.” However, as we have seen throughout history, consumers are quick to change habits, so some of the new eating trends during the crisis might stay with us. The new “normal” will mean social distancing regulations will be relaxed, but not eliminated. Therefore, inefficiencies will continue.People will still eat and drink more at home, which in turn, will sustain theincreased level of demand and volume for many of the products consumers purchased for the crisis. 

    Other key trends of the “new normal” are: 

    1. Many practices implementing during the COVID-19 pandemic that have been disruptive will be part of day-to-day operations. So, things such as cleaning/wipe-downs, social distancing, remote working, tight working capital, additional costs, higher prices from vendors, and inefficient processes, to name a few, will continue.

    2. Demand for many products will most likely be higher for a longer while. But no one knows how long this “long while” really will be. Getting used to it will also mean looking at better ways to achieve efficiencies even during stressful moments. 

    3. Demand for lower prices coming from consumers has started and will continue until unemployment levels drop.

    4. Stock-keeping unit (SKU) proliferations have occurred, as many manufacturers reduced production to more popular items and might alter their portfolios. However, promotions and quick introductions of special products to accommodate consumers might continue to incentivize manufacturers to develop innovative products.

    5. Food and beverage manufacturers are learning that there will need to be some smart decisions made on technology to better manage all processes and areas of the business that were made vulnerable through the crisis. These will include all necessary business systems such as ERP, Supply Chain, and Supplier Communication and Quality. But not just those systems. Companies should perform an in-depth analysis of cloud computing, if it’s not already underway.

    Technology investments will need to contemplate full data exchange between key departments and functions, and eliminate manual spreadsheets and workarounds. Cloud-based solutions will also be necessary to reduce infrastructure hardware investments. This will free capital for investment on productive assets, ensure business continuity, mitigate risks, and reduce costs related to the information technology (IT) network.

    6. Experts, especially those in the healthcare field, do not see this virus as a one-time occurrence. Many say this will occur in waves, so we might see re-occurrences of this pandemic. With this in mind, food and beverage manufacturers will need to have a clear risk management/mitigation strategy in place, as well as focus on the issues that have been addressed.


  2. Protective Packaging in Ecommerce Moves Closer to Sustainability

    As ecommerce has increased during the COVID-19 stay-at-home directive, consumers are paying more attention to the sustainability of packaging for their shipments. And brands have plenty of eco-options now, too.


    We need to rethink protective packaging from a sustainability perspective. Through conversations with industry leaders and research on this topic, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has dedicated time to exploring what that might mean and what innovations are next.

    So far, 2020 has been a remarkable year in the world of sustainable protective packaging innovations, driven in large part by the interest in and growth of ecommerce. While ecommerce remains a small percentage of most companies’ overall sales, it is the fastest-growing part, growing 3 times faster than the entire US retail industry. In recent months, ecommerce has become an especially relevant channel, enabling delivery of products and medicine while consumers are in quarantine during the COVID-19 outbreak. One report shows ecommerce retail sales rose 209% during the month of April.

    The supply chains for traditional retail and ecommerce are much different. According to DHL’s recent presentation during SPC Virtual Events on its Rethinking Packaging Trend Report, ecommerce packaging is 20 times more frequently handled, with more touch points where a product can be damaged. Replacing damaged products accounts for much higher greenhouse gas emissions and resource usage than the packaging used. And avoiding damage in ecommerce is also a critical part of a positive consumer experience. Ecommerce therefore requires more durable and robust parcels, which, in general, means use of more material.

    At the same time, the demand for sustainable packaging in general is on the rise. DHL found that the top trends shaping packaging strategy in the logistics industry include demand for sustainable packaging material and public awareness of packaging waste, ranking at the top of the list along with “provide a positive customer experience.” Global awareness of ocean plastic pollution, in particular, has put pressure on plastics, a material the logistics industry depends on considerably. Many countries have been putting bans on single-use plastics.

    Protective packaging does not often perform well in terms of both performance and broader sustainability. Reflecting the primary need to protect the product, oftentimes protective packaging relies on excessive quantity of material, use of bulky material, use of material that is not easily recyclable, or use of material that comes from unsustainable sources, which creates negative environmental impacts. This occurs in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce logistics environments.

    The rise of ecommerce has amplified these challenges, as ecommerce for direct delivery to consumers is less mature than B2B logistics and so is generally less optimized. According to DHL, more than 24% of ecommerce packaging is empty space. In addition, end customers directly interact with packaging used in ecommerce. Rather than bulk items being shipped to a store, ecommerce directly ships single items or groups of unique items to the customer. This means that this previously “invisible” B2B transport packaging becomes visible to consumers, who must interact with and manage the disposal of this packaging. Customers can see material use and volumetric inefficiency directly, which negatively impacts their unboxing experience and brand perception.


    Innovations to explore.

    We need to rethink protective packaging from a sustainability perspective. Through conversations with industry leaders and research on this topic, the SPC has dedicated time to exploring what that might mean and what innovations are next.

    According to DHL, many emerging data tools exist to improve space efficiency, such as modeling and simulation tools used during development that can assess packaging options in a virtual world while also anticipating packaging size and protection needs. In SPC’s recent virtual Packaging Chat with Microsoft, they also mentioned they are using this technology to optimize their packaging. Other innovations like “box on demand” also offer promise in this space.

    DHL found that use of sustainable materials and reusable packaging options are two areas of high interest in packaging logistics. Sustainable materials that are recyclable/compostable and from renewable or recycled content are gaining a lot of traction in response to concerns around the environmental impact of plastics. DHL noted that there is a need to bring more of these packaging materials into the market to drive down costs, allowing them to be more widely adopted.

    As far as reusable solutions, DHL notes that industry is eager to explore these. Some industries already use reusable systems at scale, like the automotive industry, and that interest is growing quickly in more sectors. Ecommerce is taking a lead in expanding the use of reusable packaging. DHL itself is piloting a reusable solution in North America.


    Sustainable solutions emerge from the challenges.

    DHL’s findings align with the outcome of SPC’s recent Protective Packaging Design Challenge, which showcases some best-in-class startups working on sustainable packaging materials and reusable packaging. The SPC launched the Protective Packaging Design Challenge in partnership with Ubuntoo, Closed Loop Partners, and the Retail Innovation Center at RILA. The finalists of the challenge include:

    Flexi-Hex is a 100% recycled paper-based solution that works for a range of fragile products from the sports, drinks, industrial, automotive, and marine sectors, using a honeycomb geometry to expands and pull over the object requiring protection. This compact nature saves space, protect products, and is reported to be curbside recyclable and compostable.

    ClimaCell is produced by TemperPack and made from a recyclable foam derived from paper and plant starch. The technology provides both thermal protection and protection from vibration and shock. The manufacturing process allows the company to vary the thickness of ClimaCell based on needs.

    Cruz Foam creates a range of compostable packaging materials by combining the seafood industry waste stream (shrimp shells sourced from sustainable farming) with the overflow waste stream from paper recycling, transforming them into foam. The products have comparable mechanical properties and thermal insulation to expanded polystyrene.

    Returnitymanufactures customized reusable shipping and delivery packaging out of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) fabrics that meets diverse shipping models for both B2B and B2C needs. They design bags and boxes that can fold when returned empty, with testing performance shown to be superior to paperboard. The package is guaranteed for 40 uses and, once returned, it can be recycled.

    Ecovative Mushroom Packaging uses mycelium (mushroom roots) as a self-assembling, biological binder to bind together organic agricultural byproducts, such as wood chips, to produce durable, bio-based, and home-compostable packaging. Ecovative can create custom shapes, even at small volumes, that are water resistant and insulating. Ecovative is Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified.

    The finalists are a representative sample of the cutting-edge innovations happening in the world of protective packaging set to disrupt the industry. The SPC and Ubuntoo will continue to showcase the five finalists through virtual events and social media outlets.

    In recent webinars with Closed Loop Partners and RILA, the finalists highlighted the need to balance economics, protection performance, and sustainability — alongside a discussion of how the new post-COVID-19 normal has presented some challenges, but also represents a critical opportunity to scale sustainable packaging in ecommerce channels.

    While there is no silver bullet solution to sustainable protective packaging, these innovations work together, filling different niches to develop the sustainable packaging system of the future.


  3. New Molded Fiber Packaging Plant Serves Low-Volume Customers

    Responding to the need for alternative protective packaging products, the global molded fiber industry has recently increased production of molded fiber products to replace many non-renewable materials currently used in packaging for foodservice, industrial, and consumer product packaging.


    Product protection during shipping and storage is one of the main jobs of packaging. Over the years, a focus on sustainability in packaging has presented a challenge for many types of materials used as cushioning. Non-renewable materials, including many types of plastic packaging, have been seen to contribute to the ecological threat by using limited fossil materials. One solution is using natural, biodegradable, agricultural fibers in packaging, particularly waste fibers.

    As a renewable resource, molded fiber continues to have a positive impact on our global environment. And the use of molded fiber packaging is predicted to grow globally at 6% per year for the next three years, according to The Freedonia Group.

    Many molded fiber packaging manufacturers have recently added capacity with new machinery or completely new factories. For example, Moulded Fibre Products Ltd. in Lincolnshire, UK, has increased its production capability threefold in the past four years, UFPT established a new factory in El Paso, Texas, last year, and Henry Molded Products has recently expanded capacity in its Lebanon, PA, factory and its facility in Greenville, SC. 

    Additionally, Fiber Innovations in Mexicali, Mexico, near the Arizona border, is a current example of the expansion of molded fiber product manufacturing in North America. The owners of this factory are not new to the industry, though. They bring more than 20 years of molded fiber product manufacturing “know-how” to the market.

    The new building is in Mexico, near the Arizona border.


    With its new factory, Fiber Innovations sports a new building, new furnishings, and new manufacturing machinery. The multiple molding machines can be used independently to adapt to prototyping requirements and low-volume orders.

    Along with packaging design services, Fiber Innovations is now uniquely positioned in the molded fiber manufacturing industry to address the persistent problem, for many potential customers, of minimum order requirements because most molding facilities are designed for high-volume production.

    Fiber Innovations is capable of producing both small- and large-volume orders.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new awareness of conditions that can affect the entire world. Curiously, climate change, which globally manifests its negative effects daily, has not proportionately produced the same level of response. The use of fossil fuels, and products produced by them, continue to present a serious threat to the world community as we know it today.


  4. 3 Reusable Packaging Perspectives from Popular Brands

    Executives from The Clorox Co., Nestlé and entrepreneur Soapply share insights into the sustainability and cleanliness of reusable packages for products sold through Loop’s shopping platform, especially in a post-pandemic world.


    Last year, recycling/upcycling firm TerraCycle launched Loop, a shopping platform for zero-waste-packaging products, with the support of some of the world’s biggest brands (see “Loop and big brands boldly reinvent waste-free packaging.”) Together, the eco-commerce provider and the brands have learned that there is indeed a market of consumers who will by Crest mouthwash, Tide laundry detergent, and myriad other products from Loop’s online store — then return their empty packages to be cleaned, refilled, and reused.

    Since its early 2019 introduction, Loop’s business has grown from a direct-to-your-doorstep model with regional service to testing of mass-market retail partnerships to imminent national coverage. Retail partners include Kroger and Walgreens in the US market, Canada’s Loblaws, and the U.K.-based Tesco chain. Germany and Japan are on the horizon, too.

    Turning to package design, appealing design and decor, convenience, and affordability are keys to all packaging. For reusable designs, add the challenge of environmental sustainability — along with economic viability. So far, it appears the fates have been kind to the optimists eyeing the platform a year ago (see “Packaging peers react to Loop’s daring reusable-packaging model”).

    We asked leaders at three brands about their reusable Loop designs, from structure and decor to reusability issues and cleanliness — including how reusability, done right, bucks the trend of those who thought single-use packages would dominate design in the post-COVID age.

    The packaging leaders participating are:

    • Matthias Palm, research director, global packaging & sustainability, The Clorox Co.

    • Steve Yeh, project manager with Nestlé’s agen-Dazs brand.

    • Mera McGrew, founder, Soapply.


    We start with Matthias Palm from The Clorox Co.:

    For your Clorox Disinfecting Wipes 60-count package, what are the key aspects of the product, package type, material, or overall design strategy?

    Palm: Our Clorox Disinfecting Wipes stainless steel canister is reusable, durable, sleek, and designed to make the move from “under the counter” to something that families can be proud to display in their home.


    Why did you choose this particular package decoration technology for your Loop product?

    Palm: We partnered with Kohler to optimize a ready-built package that they had designed and that would meet the packaging requirements for the Loop system. The choice of a minimalistic label complements the functionality of the easy-to-clean and refillable product design.


    How hard or easy was it to find and work with a packaging supplier who could deliver this particular package, and what were your considerations in the selection?

    Palm: Our success depends on the collaboration among Clorox people, our business partners, and our communities. In the case of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Kohler has been a great partner to work with to further drive sustainable innovation. Their Design for Environment Program ensures that sustainability is built into the product design process.

    Additionally, our partnership with them enabled us the speed and efficiency to get our product from design to market in six months’ time.


    How many (re)uses does the package have across its lifecycle of reuses — and how does this inform your package design and decorating method?

    Palm: The stainless steel canister can achieve 100 reuses. We expect the present closure to last a minimum of 10 reuses.

    We are working on improving the design in a couple of ways: We’d like the closure to be even more durable; and we’re simplifying the number of components to aid in ease of cleaning the product, and for more optimized dispensing.

    For the next phase of expansion, we aim to improve the overall package to enable even more reuses.


    What adaptations did you make to accommodate this design with the Loop platform, and why (or why not)?

    Palm: It was a challenge to find the right seal to the stainless steel canister that would protect the product from leaking or evaporating. We tried several designs and varieties of materials, but initially came up short. But, in the Clorox spirit of acting nimbly and working resourcefully, we thought to utilize another Clorox product’s existing packaging technology, and that did the trick!


    Can you discuss the package’s present and future use in low-volume “specialty” vs. high-volume, mass retail rollout?

    Palm: Right now, our product is currently available through Loop’s ecommerce platform in the Mid-Atlantic region. However, as Loop expands its retail partner presence, we are looking to integrate our products into those stores as well. Our ultimate goal is to reduce waste and strive for innovative sustainable product solutions that our consumers love. Loop is a crucial partner in helping us achieve this.


    How does reusability and your Loop initiative relate to the needs of your business and your customers as we progress through the COVID-19 situation?

    Palm: Right now, the health and well-being of our employees, consumers, and communities is our priority. As we try to keep our families healthy and safe, the need for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes has reached extraordinary levels. We are working around the clock to increase our supply and are committed to doing everything we can to support consumers, healthcare facilities, and communities during this time.


    Q&A with Steve Yeh, project manager with Nestlé’s agen-Dazs brand:

    For your Häagen-Dazs ice cream in the 14 fl oz container, what are the key aspects of the product, package type, material, or overall design strategy?

    Yeh: We created a beautiful, reusable package for Häagen-Dazs ice cream with rounded corners and a sleek, modern look. It also keeps the ice cream at a perfect temperature, which means it melts more quickly at the top to provide the perfect texture for scooping. In addition to the container itself, the team developed a cooler box system to fit inside the Loop tote bag that keeps Häagen-Dazs ice cream frozen for 24 to 36 hours. The cooler box system was designed by Loop.


    Why did you choose this particular package decoration technology for your Loop product?

    Yeh: The package design development was a critical part of the entire Loop process. We knew from the start we had to get the right people involved. It’s not just about making a reusable container — It’s also about creating a consumer experience and making a package that people will want to showcase in their homes and that they’ll enjoy using.

    The Häagen-Dazs Loop package went through four major iterations, with the final version being the 15th iteration. We’re really happy with how people have responded to the design.

    Consumer insights were another main driver of our design process. We know a lot of people eat their ice cream directly from the container, and we were concerned that holding a cold steel container wouldn’t be a good consumer experience. To solve for this, we created a double-walled container that allows the product to stay cold while still being comfortable to hold. Our team also rounded the corners to make it easier to scoop without leaving extra ice cream at the bottom of the container.


    How hard or easy was it to find and work with a packaging supplier who could deliver this particular package, and what were your considerations in the selection?

    Yeh: We worked with multiple packaging suppliers. One challenge was that this was Nestlé’s first entry into the “reusable” space, so we needed to work with reliable, already qualified suppliers. The final decision was based on both the ability to deliver a unique experience to the consumer as well as ensuring food safety through reuse.


    How many (re)uses does the package have across its lifecycle of reuses — and how does this inform your package design and decorating method?

    Yeh: We partnered with TerraCycle to develop proprietary cleaning technology that is critical to maintaining the quality and safety of the product. We expect the container to endure dozens of reuses/refills. The graphic design on the bottom portion of the package also were designed with flexibility and re-use in mind — this part of the container can be used across any flavor we might offer, while most ice cream containers have customized designs across the entire package that reflect the specific flavor.


    What adaptations did you make to accommodate this design with the Loop platform, and why (or why not)?

    Yeh: This was designed exclusively to use with the Loop program. It was not a modification to a previous design.


    Can you discuss the package’s present and future use in low-volume “specialty” vs. high-volume, mass retail rollout?

    Yeh: Since the launch of Loop, the Häagen-Dazs packaging has been offered in NYC-area Häagen-Dazs Shops locations, and we’re expanding to more than 200 Häagen-Dazs Shops across the US this year. On average, we’re seeing a 62% refill rate, and it’s as high as 160% in our best-performing location.

    TerraCycle is working with Kroger and Walgreens to test an expansion of Loop in retail stores later this year. We are still evaluating the viability of a high-volume, mass retail rollout and have not committed to participating with TerraCycle in such a pilot.


    How does reusability and your Loop initiative relate to the needs of your business and your customers as we progress through the COVID-19 situation?

    Yeh: An interesting insight that we uncovered for our Loop e-commerce experience is that ice cream is consumed more quickly than other items sold on the platform such as household cleaners or detergent – and people don’t want to return their tote with just one or a few items. Having a retail presence gives people the option to return their pint as soon, and as often, as they want via stores. This addresses the need for a quicker turnaround while providing another touchpoint of interaction with the brand.

    Our plans currently are to continue with Loop/TerraCycle in this journey. We plan on producing and will be ready to pivot with demand.


    Q&A with Mera McGrew, founder, Soapply:

    For your Soapply Liquid Hand Wash in the 8 fl oz jar with pump dispenser, what are the key aspects of the product, package type, material, or overall design strategy?

    McGrew: Everyone needs soap. Soapply is more than soap. Simply put, Soapply is the best soap for you, your skin, our planet, and people around the world. Design-focused with the environment in mind, Soapply’s sink-side recycled glass bottles offer a minimalistic chic addition to your sink and are meant to be refilled and reused over and over (and over) again.


    Why did you choose this particular package decoration technology for your Loop product?

    McGrew: Soapply has always been bottled in recycled glass bottles. Every second, 20,000 plastic bottles are produced. Your soap shouldn’t come in one of them.

    I care about the environment and our conscious consumers do too. Our recycled glass bottles allow our customers to help tackle the plastic problem from next to their sink. From the beginning, I was obsessed with what was in our soap (and what wasn’t) and how it was packaged. Soapply didn’t create new packaging for Loop.

    When it came to designing Soapply’s sink-side soap bottle four years ago, we were concerned with three things: creating something that looked beautiful next to your sink, creating something that made a statement, and ensuring the product and packaging were safe for our consumers and our planet.


    How hard or easy was it to find and work with a packaging supplier who could deliver this particular package, and what were your considerations in the selection?

    McGrew: Soapply’s bottles are silk-screened, which ensures they continue to look great over time. We have worked and continue to work closely with the individuals who do our bottle decoration. Their skill, craftsmanship, and experience are invaluable.


    How many (re)uses does the package have across its lifecycle of reuses — and how does this inform your package design and decorating method?

    McGrew: Soapply’s sink-side recycled glass soap bottles are meant to be refilled and reused. With proper care, there is no limit to how many times you can refill and reuse your sink-side bottle!


    What adaptations did you make to accommodate this design with the Loop platform, and why (or why not)?

    McGrew: We always intended for our sink-side bottles to be refilled and reused. We launched with Loop three years after we launched Soapply. The reusability, sustainability, and quality standards we put in place for ourselves from day one have always been extremely high. So, when it came to on-boarding with Loop, our high internal standards meant we met all of Loop’s standards with our existing packaging — there was no need to evolve, adapt, or reinvent our packaging.


    Can you discuss the package’s present and future use in low-volume “specialty” vs. high-volume, mass retail rollout?

    McGrew: Soapply is already available in major retailers. The cost of producing packaging that is better for consumers, designed with the environment in mind, and created to last is obviously more expensive than single-use packaging.

    However, consumers now realize that the actual cost of single-use packaging is greater than the price tag they see. Soapply offers a great product and an alternative to the dominant single-use plastic soap bottles lining most shelves.


    How does reusability and your Loop initiative relate to the needs of your business and your customers as we progress through the COVID-19 situation?

    McGrew: Soap and proper hand-washing are so important right now. We have seen our online business continue to grow overall month-over-month as the demand and need for soap has increased in light of the global pandemic. Like so many other businesses, we’re working hard to solve the challenges that have come our way and to continue to meet consumers where they are.

    Right now, most consumers are at home. Offering shoppers a safe way to get their essentials delivered directly to their homes and with a reduced impact on the planet is a double win. It’s really exciting to see Soapply continue to be a best seller on the Loop platform.


    The wrap-up: Loop ensures packages' safety.

    The high confidence brand-owners place in Loop’s safety and sanitation bodes well for the reusable packaging platform in light of public concern over COVID-19. Tom Szaky, Loop founder/CEO, offered these additional assurances:

    “Neither single-use nor reuse packaging is inherently safe or unsafe — it’s how you deploy these systems. Consumer perception of reuse and how reuse is framed is massively important. People are used to reuse without even thinking about it; think medical industry or dentists. When you go to a dentist office, and you get your teeth cleaned, they’re using metal tools that were used on hundreds of patients before you. And if they didn’t clean that to a surgically sterile state, that could be putting you at massive health and safety risk. Right? And we’re all totally fine with it. 

    “Cleaning is what makes reuse safe or unsafe and Loop takes cleaning uber-seriously! Loop uses state-of-the-art cleaning facilities in France and the US, and when we launch in the UK, we will have a dedicated UK facility.

    “Loop uses strong and robust cleaning processes. Pre-COVID-19 we were already protecting against other diseases and concerns — way more potent than COVID-19. Following COVID-19, we had to make no upgrades to our cleaning processes at all in terms of people or overall protocol.”


  5. Packaging Community Consumes COVID-19 Coverage

    During May 2020, people in packaging devoured our pandemic-related articles. But, as some US states began reopening businesses after their close due to COVID-19, you weren’t solely engrossed with the health crisis. With the country starting to get back to some semblance of “normal,” new examples of sustainable packaging also caught your eye.

    Here are the top five articles you were reading last month on, in reverse order:



    5. Sustainably Optimized Flat Wine Bottles Enter US

    After a successful launch in the UK, Garçon Wines brings its flat wine bottle to the ecommerce marketplace in the US, but with the added bonus of being made of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET). In the UK, the flat design allows the container to fit through a Brit’s mail slot. That’s not as critical for the US market. But the ecommerce friendly package offers other benefits vs. glass wine bottles, such as:

    • 87% lighter weight.
    • 100% recyclable.
    • 40% spatially smaller, which means that more than twice the number of bottles fit on a pallet.
    • Stackable like books and save space at retail, at homes, and everywhere.
    • Slightly taller than an average bottle, which distinguishes them on the dining table and enables greater merchandising presence in a retail setting, increasing visibility and driving sales.



    4. Most Food Cans No Longer Use BPA in Their Linings

    This February 2018 article continues to appear in our monthly lists of “best-read” articles. The vast majority of people come to this article through an internet search — leading us to believe the traffic is from consumers rather than packaging professionals. However, their interest is significant enough to keep reminding you that your customers still care deeply about chemicals of concern in packaging materials.



    3. P&G Launches All-Paper Deodorant Packaging

    The anti-plastics movement in packaging took another step last month. On May 1, Procter & Gamble Beauty launched a limited-edition all-paper tube for Secret and Old Spice deodorant in 500 Walmart stores across the US. The new package displaces some plastic stick deodorant canisters, helping the company and brands reach their goal of, by 2030, using 100% recyclable or reusable packaging while cutting virgin petroleum-based plastic by 50%.



    2. 10 Hottest Careers in the Consumer Packaging Industry

    Even though the unemployment rate dropped from 14.7% in April 2020 to 13.3% in May 2020, about 30 million Americans are still collecting unemployment benefits, according to The Washington Post.

    We saw a spike in readership of this timeless article, published in 2017, as job seekers searched online for opportunities. Packaging jobs usually weather economic downturns quite well. Let’s hope you fare as well this time.



    1. 4 Inevitable Packaging Changes After COVID-19

    Everyone wants to know what the new “normal” will look like as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan Felton, executive director of AMERIPEN, offers these four predictions from a sustainable packaging perspective:

    1. Consumers may appreciate the value of packaging more but will still want a circular packaging system.

    2. Our definitions of recycling need to be expanded and harmonized.

    3. Reusable packaging strategies may shift towards more industrial models.

    4. Social distancing and transmission concerns will drive automation in hauling and sortation.

  6. Does Your Packaging Show You’re Listening to Consumers?

    Younger consumers value sustainability more and brand loyalty less. How should brands respond with their packaging designs? A perspective from Dow.

    For many products, the consumer experience begins with the packaging—and it’s the first opportunity to showcase the product’s sustainability. So, as consumers increasingly use their wallets to show their commitment to the environment, one kind of green is leading to another.

    Nearly half of people ages 25-34 said they’ve stopped buying a company’s food or beverage products after discovering the company is not environmentally responsible, according to a survey by financial services firm ING.

    Moreover, adults under age 30 have lower brand loyalty than previous generations, and they’re more likely to switch brands if a company’s values don’t align with their own. As this segment gains disposable income, a desire for non-disposable products will influence the future of all marketplaces. Our work at Dow, therefore, is to ensure the experience meets expectations from the moment that eco-conscious consumer eyes a product on the shelf.

    Customer expectations are advancing the circular economy for plastics, creating a societal blueprint for public policy that champions a business-decision process that prioritizes nature. To make this work, the value chain needs to work together, and change must begin when product design starts. For brands, that change increasingly revolves around recyclability.

    Recyclability doesn’t happen without an organized, capable infrastructure. To act on their sustainable values, consumers need products that can be recycled through existing streams. Brands need flexible partners that can adapt to their products’ needs. And converters need partners that can expand their scope and scale. Materials science companies can be the glue that brings it all together.

    Bear Naked recyclable pouch

    A crossroads of consumer, convenience, and sustainability.

    So, at what crossroads can we all meet? One place we’re already seeing it happen is the grocery store, where convenient store drop-off bins make it easier for people to recycle. Plus, you can bet that as they drop off old purchases, the recyclability of new ones will be on their minds. As more consumers learn about the drop-off program, it’s our job to create recyclable products to comply with it. That’s why we developed RecycleReady technology for polyethylene-based (PE) flexible packaging that’s recyclable at the thousands of grocery store drop-offs across North America. We’re already building on industry firsts, such as developing the first fully recyclable stand-up barrier pouch with Kellogg’s Bear Naked granola products. And if our industry puts existing streams top-of-mind, we can foster greener supply and demand at the same time.  

    We also need to optimize our own processes to close the loop and repurpose used plastics. Once again, this is easier done together. Partnerships are the backbone of innovation, and alongside Houston-based Avangard Innovative and Netherlands-based Fuenix Ecogy Group, Dow has begun incorporating used plastics back into valuable new products.

    By pooling our expertise, we’ve channeled waste collection into post-consumer resin plastic film pellets—and even produced new polymers from the oil released by used plastic. Partnerships like this do more than produce innovative, cost-effective results; they help companies meet their aggressive sustainability goals, turning supply chains into true value chains.

    Consumers, organizations and governments are demanding change, and that means the packaging value chain needs to demand it of ourselves, too. At Dow we believe that plastic is too valuable to lose to the environment.  It drives our business. If companies across industries expand their collaboration to include waste management and recycling technology leaders, and implement best practices in their own processes, they’ll be poised to make a lasting, positive impact — not just for themselves, but for generations to come.

  7. Novelty Ice Cream Downsizes Packs, Upsizes Benefits

    Portable single-serve polypropylene packaging for My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream balls conveniently serves food safely and with waste reduction.


    Is it a snack or is it a dessert?

    The answer is yes to both for an unusual shape in frozen desserts from My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream, a Las-Angeles-based brand of ice cream balls that’s claimed as America's fastest growing frozen novelty.A mochi ball is a scoop of premium ice cream wrapped in sweet, pillowy rice mochi dough for a fun and portable hand-held snacking experience.

    Now the brand is serving up its unique dessert snacks in an innovative new format, single-serve packaging, to ensure optimal quality and freshness along with food safety. The new packs will be available in the self-serve My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream Bar at retailers throughout the country.

    "Today's consumer is exceptionally aware of the issues surrounding food safety and food waste" says Russell Barnett, CMO of My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream. "Not only will the new individual packs give My/Mo a longer shelf life and reduce waste, but it will improve hygienic standards by eliminating the open exposure of the mochi to consumers. This is an important consideration during a time when food safety is top of mind for many Americans."

    Barnett addresses Packaging Digest’s questions in this exclusive interview.


    Tell us about the original packaging.

    Barnett: Aside from the new single-serve packaging, My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream offers all of its flavors in a six-pack container. The six-pack is the original My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream packaging and has been available since the product first hit stores in 2017.


    Please describe the new product and packaging.

    Barnett: The new single-serve packaging is made of a recyclable plastic, polyethylene, same as the original six-count package.

    The dimensions of one single-serve [thermoformed] container is 1.62-inch high x 2.65-inch-wide x 2.65-inch deep. It’s sized to fit one 100-calorie My/Mo Mochi ball, which weighs 1.5oz. That’s the weight of a single My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream ball that is in our six pack — we did not change the size of our mochi balls.

    What were the design goals?

    Barnett: The single-serve packaging was designed to ensure ultimate product safety, quality and freshness. The visual aspect was created to reflect the design of My/Mo’s classic six-packs, as well as showcase the product’s look and texture and the fun, playful identity of the brand. We worked on developing the new packaging design for over a year to ensure we were providing consumers with the best and safest option for optimal consumption.


    What’s an unmet consumer need that the new format addresses?

    Barnett: Today’s consumer is exceptionally aware of the issues surrounding food safety and food waste. Not only will the new individual packs give My/Mo a longer shelf life and reduce waste, but it will improve hygienic standards by eliminating the open exposure in the Mochi Bars. This is an important consideration during a time when food safety is top of mind for many Americans. In addition to reducing food waste and spoilage that can occur with loose, unpackaged mochi ice cream, the individual packs give consumers more freedom and confidence to grab-and-go with the 100-calorie, pillowy My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream balls.


    Anything further to say about the food safety aspect?

    Barnett: Food safety and employee safety has always been our top priority. Before COVID-19, My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream had recognized the need to ensure food safety by starting development of our new single-serve packaging in mid-2019. In addition, My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream has the highest rating from The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which is one of the few certification programs that assures packaging suppliers are compliant to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). 


    What’s the balance between waste reduction versus more per-unit packaging?

    Barnett: There’s no increase in per-unit packaging as our current trays carry six balls. The new package essentially breaks these into individual servings. My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream is proud to offer this additional level of protection with the new individual packs, all without contributing any additional packaging waste that could have an impact on the environment. Because we’re managing food waste, the single-serve packaging required an estimated 20% less packaging. 


    What’s the shelf life and pricing?

    Barnett: Each pack has a one-year shelf life and is printed with a “Best By” date to ensure freshness and maintain the integrity of the mochi ice creams’ taste and texture. That’s the same as our six pack.

    The SRP of My/Mo Mochi’s single-serve is $1.50 to $2 per mochi ball, depending on retailer.


    What’s next for the brand?

    Barnett: The brand recently expanded its flavor portfolio with the release of three new flavors in March: Banana Chocolate Cream, Orange Vanilla, and Non-Dairy & Vegan Neapolitan. The new flavors were inspired by summer favorites, like ice cream sundaes and orange creamsicles. My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream continues to disrupt the snack industry by focusing on reinventing classic universal favorites into new, innovative concepts, and we are constantly looking to expand and continue our mission of bringing mochi to the masses. We have lots of exciting things planned for the rest of the year — stay tuned!


    The company website is

  8. Packaging Designs Speak to Immunity and Mood Management

    The physical health threat that COVID-19 poses, together with pandemic-related fear and uneasiness, are driving sales of products that enhance immunity or improve mental well-being. Brand owners in those categories, in turn, are taking a close look at packaging design to assure product safety and communicate product benefits to stressed-out, health-minded consumers.

    The health/wellness products affected include packaged foods and drinks, vitamins, supplements, and even essential oils. The products’ physical and mental health benefits range from immune-system support to improved sleep.

    In a recent consumer study conducted by Bend, OR-based InsightsNow, 36% of participants reported making changes to their diet and supplement consumption to boost immunity. Of those, 65% said they were taking more vitamins and supplements, particularly zinc and Vitamin C.

    Reports from packagers resonate with that trend. Batavia, IL-based GreenSeed Contract Packaging, which specializes in custom packaging for natural and nutritional dry foods and beverages, has seen a shift in demand since the pandemic started.

    “We are fully equipped for supplement and nutraceutical packaging solutions, which we’ve seen increase tenfold since the pandemic, as consumers look for ways to boost immunity in their diets,” says GreenSeed CEO David Gray.

    “We’ve seen about a 133% increase in demand for immunity-boosting products since the pandemic, as everyone stocks up on supplements and other healthy, natural food products to stay healthy,” Gray adds. “Supplements and nutraceutical demand is up, but we’ve also seen more CPGs [consumer packaged goods companies] adding additional immunity-boosting features to their regular food and beverage products.”


    Healthy body, healthy mind.

    Even before the pandemic struck, consumers were including mental well-being in their definition of health/wellness. That mindset bodes well for sales of products geared to mood enhancement, relaxation, and anxiety relief — and demand for appropriate packaging — in the current health-focused climate.

    According to the recently released “Global Food and Drink Trends 2030” report from Mintel, a global research firm, more consumers are considering mental health along with exercise and diet as they manage their personal health.

    “This holistic health and wellness approach has inspired consumers to seek products that can improve mood and boost brain health. In particular, high rates of stress and anxiety find consumers open to emerging functional ingredients, including adaptogens and nootropics,” says David Luttenberger, Mintel global packaging director.

    Cannabis continues to be the primary anxiety reliever, for some. A recent study from that asked 1,017 US cannabis consumers about how COVID-19 has changed their “weed-smoking habits” found that 65.49% of the participants “are fine with weed and haven’t used any anxiety relief supplements.” However, 34.51% have used other anxiety relief supplements since the pandemic started.

    Early in the COVID-19 lockdown phase, demand for some cannabis products soared. “Our cannabis-beverage sales in California were up 42% for the month of March [2020],” says Kenny Morrison, founder and CEO of Venice, CA-basedVCC Brands, a manufacturer and distributor of cannabis-infused products.

    The company’s beverage brands include Subtle Tea, which launched in two ready-to-drink formulations in early 2020. Broad Spectrum Subtle Tea is an adaptogenic, cold-brewed tea infused with hemp-derived CBD — but not with the psychoactive compound THC.

    The other formulation, Full Spectrum Subtle Tea, comes in two potencies: one infused with THC only and the other with a combination of THC and CBD. Full Spectrum Subtle Tea, in 8-oz bottles, is sold through cannabis dispensaries in California.

    To comply with the State of California’s cannabis-packaging requirements, Full Spectrum Subtle Tea is filled into amber bottles. But the Broad Spectrum formulation does not require opaque packaging, because it does not contain THC. Broad Spectrum Subtle Tea is sold in 16-oz bottles at California retailers such as upscale Erewhon Market.

    “Coming from the cannabis space, where all products need to be packaged in opaque packaging, we knew we wanted [Broad Spectrum Subtle Tea] to be visible,” explains Tad Jacobs, design director of VCC Brands. Colorless glass packaging was the obvious choice.

     “We chose glass Boston round bottles, because they have a simple, healthy, medicinal visual quality right off the bat,” Jacobs says.

    “The main thing we learned about packaging over the years and have been unable to do because of our opaque packaging rules, is to let the product be the star,” he adds. “Just putting the beautiful natural color of the [Broad Spectrum] tea in a glass Boston round bottle, you’re 90% there. The last step was to lay out the information clearly and choose label colors that complement and harmonize with the tea’s natural color.”


    Safe for consumers and the planet.

    Although COVID-19 fears have spurred new approaches to hygienic packaging, especially for food and beverages, widespread safety-related changes to packaging have not materialized. “We have not seen any examples of ‘pack switching’ — brands quickly changing from one pack format or material — in direct response to COVID-19 fears of contamination or safety,” Luttenberger reports.

    “That said, Mintel’s Global COVID-19 Tracker data from May 6 - 15, 2020, reveals 55% of US consumers are still worried about exposure to COVID-19, and 28% are still worried about the safety of the food and drink products they buy, which is 11% greater than during the April 29 - May 6 period,” he says.

    Brands and suppliers that design packaging for health/wellness products are fully aware of that anxiety.

    “Packaging design that lacks a connection to safety and protection — both to our bodies and environment — will struggle in a post-COVID-19 world. In light of the pandemic, consumers’ flight to well-being is more top of mind than ever, and they will gravitate towards products that provide a feeling of security and comfort,” says Josh White, principal and creative director of New York City-based brand and design agency OffWhite Co.

    “To position themselves for success, brands will need to pivot to this new reality and either adapt their brand positioning or fast-track sustainable initiatives in the pipeline,” White adds. His agency is “seeing this transformative rush firsthand, as current and new clients try to understand how a boosted focus on well-being will impact their businesses and product offerings.”

    As an example, White points to Maple Hill Organic 100% Grassfed, a dairy client that “has used this COVID time to better understand consumer behavior and pivot the brand from its current 100% Grassfed positioning to a Better Organic or Organic 3.0 value proposition. This shift in mindset opens new possibilities for growth and expansion into new and innovative product opportunities.”

    Product safety can take a more tangible form, as well, via packaging designs that assure product purity and protection from contaminants. CBD-supplement maker Evielab, Los Angeles, designed those characteristics into the “doser stick” packaging for its new solid, sublingual CBD micropearls. The product line launched during the pandemic.

    The doser stick “distributes pearl by pearl. You just need to twist [the dispenser end] a quarter, and the pearl arrives, avoiding finger contact,” explains Evielab owner Xavier Suid.“We were ready before the context of the virus. The product was already conceived to avoid contamination and skin contact. That’s what we didn’t like with tinctures and gummies. For Evielab, it was one of the imperative characteristics — no skin contact, no contamination.”

    Evielab’s pocket-sized package is made from transparent pharmaceutical-grade plastic. To differentiate the eight stock-keeping units (SKUs), Evielab color-codes the doser sticks and accompanying blister cards by desired effect. SKUs include Immunity, Relax, Sleep, and Relief.

    As for sustainable-packaging initiatives, vitamin brand Root’d has a goal of ultimately using no plastic packaging at all. Until that is possible, the company has pledged to use no more than 5% plastic in its packaging. Root’d also donates 1% of its sales for tree planting and another 1% for removing plastic from the ocean.

    Root’d daily multivitamins are formulated as sugar-free “fizzy healthy drink” mixes. The three product formulations — Men’s, Women’s, and Prenatal — are packaged in cartons of stick packs.


    Crafting on-pack claims.

    To help safeguard the public from fraudulent COVID-19 treatments and preventives, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and other health authorities are closely monitoring dietary supplements’ on-pack claims, including those related to immunity.

    Nutritional Outlook reports that the phrase “immune support” is more acceptable to the FDA than wording that suggests a product can “defend,” “boost,” “protect,” or “build” a person’s immune system.

    From a marketing perspective, less is more when it comes to on-pack claims. “The easiest way for brands to communicate health is by leading with the communication of key compelling claims to reassure the consumer. Too many brands, however, try and communicate too much,” says Richard Palmer, creative director at White Plains, NY-based branding agency Little Big Brands.

    “By understanding what claims consumers are really looking for, and focusing on a couple of those, vs. a laundry list, a brand can create much more impact,” Palmer adds, noting that consumers have grown more informed about health and wellness, including ingredients and benefits. “Consumers are very savvy, and more and more used to weeding out brands that have created claims or are touting ‘marketing speak.’”

    For obvious reasons, brand claims “that speak specifically to enhancing immunity are particularly interesting to consumers at the moment,” says Pamela Long, partner at Little Big Brands.

    “Our work for Emergen-C is an example of a brand that consumers are looking for, or discovering now for the first time, especially some of the new innovations that speak to enhanced health needs, as well as combining unique form and function,” she says.

    The brand’s innovations include Emergen-C Nutrient Shot Energy+ products, which are packaged in single-serve bottles. Immediately before consuming a shot, the consumer twists the closure clockwise to mix the powder in the cap with the liquid in the bottle.


    Certifiably fun.

    For any product claim, an on-pack certification can add credibility. “Better-for-you claims are resonating well with today’s consumers, who are looking for quick fixes to be healthier, both physically and emotionally, especially when those claims are backed by a certified organization,” says White.

    Consider the packaging that OffWhite designed for Nightfood Nighttime Ice Cream. White explains that the brand “recently extended its ‘better-for-you, night-friendly ice cream that doesn’t mess with your sleep’ message to pregnant and nursing women as a healthy option to satisfy cravings.” To add authority to that positioning, the packaging states that Nightfood is the only ice cream endorsed by the American Pregnancy Association.

    Nightfood’s package graphics create an emotional connection with consumers, as well. “We helped launch a special Pickles For Two flavor, with brand positioning that echoes the playfulness of the entire line,” White says. “Fun monster illustrations, called CraveMonsters, dominate Nightfood’s packaging, each hugging its favorite flavor and communicating the brand’s better-for-you message in a healthy, delicious, and fun way.”

    A similar graphics strategy — one that communicates wellness benefits but is also whimsical — is evident in Little Big Brands’ packaging design for Little Spoon Boosters for babies. The products include vitamins and probiotics.

    Little Spoon, an organic, fresh baby food brand, launched Boosters in early 2020.Targeting immunity, gut health, brain development, and regularity, the supplements are packaged in cartons of five stick packs.The cartons are printed with a soft-touch finish, which creates tactile appeal.

    This brand “is definitely more targeted at a Millennial parent, but it has broad appeal,” says Long. “One thing all parents are concerned with is safety, so developing a brand that they feel good about — that is transparent and trustworthy — is key. But we are talking about babies and kids here, so we also wanted the products to have a playfulness and be ‘real.’”

    “While the overall design is clean and modern, we brought in some fun through naming, copy, and illustration. It also helps parents understand very easily what the product is for,” she adds.


    Connecting through color.

    For some health/wellness packaging, color is the strongest differentiator on-shelf. Brands with “the most successful use of color are [those] that tap into color physiology to align with mood and feeling,” says Palmer. That thinking informed Little Big Brands’ rebranding work for essential-oil brand Guru Nanda, in which “color was at the heart of the redesign.”

    Guru Nanda’s packaging redesign celebrates “the brand’s Indian heritage but also … create[s] a more shoppable portfolio,” Palmer explains. “Color cues vitality but also mood, in this case, and it needed to work very hard on both fronts. Good use of color should evoke positive feelings and help intuitively move consumers along the decision-making process.”

    The brand’s lineup includes Immunity Oil Blend, Sleep Oil Blend, Breathe Oil Blend, and Focus Oil Blend.The products can be diffused into the air, inhaled, or diluted and then applied topically.

    Packaging for orally consumed health/wellness products can also benefit from the discerning use of color, particularly when the hue amplifies a key ingredient. The wrapper for the Flat Tummies Vitamin Bar with Fresh Orange from Bangalore, India-based Moya Labs provides an example (see image at the top of the page).

    “In terms of boosting immunity, Flat Tummies vitamin bars have used the term ‘fresh’ orange, usually associated with orange juice, when describing the flavor” of their product, says Mintel’s Luttenberger.

    “Using fresh orange as the top ingredient makes the connection for consumers between the Vitamin C found in oranges and the immunity benefits they provide by highlighting the ‘immunity to rise’ bubble on the front of pack and featuring the orange color prominently,” he adds.

    Package graphics for Emergen-C’s orange-flavor dietary supplements also use orange lavishly, broadcasting product flavor and color plus the high dose of Vitamin C in each sachet.

    Other brands are more judicious in their use of orange. “In terms of color values, orange has long been known as a polarizing color,” Luttenberger says. “It can be warm and inviting, or it can mean one should exhibit great caution. Accordingly, designers should, and often do, use orange with what Mintel terms ‘mindfulness.’ Splash it for emphasis rather than flood for full effect.”

    Clearly, the ability of color to modulate consumers’ emotional response to health/wellness packaging depends on the specific colors used and their relationship to the rest of the package design.

    “Brands that are standing out on-shelf use a unified and strategic approach to communicate ‘good for immunity’ and mental-health messaging,” White summarizes. “Their positioning is direct, clear, and consistent in all of their brand assets, screaming to consumers that ‘this product will help you feel great about what’s going into your body.’ Simple graphics, comforting colors, and eco-friendly packaging delivered in creative ways are seeing the most success.”



  9. Medical and Food Packagers Warm Up to Smarter Heat Sealers

    Heat sealer technology continues to advance, with automation enabling the machines to do more than just seal pouches and bags. Above-and-beyond functions include printing on-pack codes, sharing operational data, and validating seal quality.

    Using machine (or artificial) intelligence, some advanced heat sealers communicate with other equipment on the packaging line, addressing process errors that occur either before the package arrives at the sealer or threaten to occur after it leaves that stop.

    For medical-packaging applications and others that require traceability, band sealers that incorporate a printer for unique device identifier (UDI) coding are in demand. Machines that validate seal integrity, which is keenly important for many medical and food products, are also available.

    Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and programmable controllers (PCs), as well as enhanced sensors, switches, and other components, also continue to make heat sealers safer and easier to operate.

    In the following Q&A, exclusive to Packaging Digest, industry experts provide insight into recent advancements in heat sealer technology and a glimpse of what we can expect to see before long. The participants are:

    • Kent Hevenor, vice president of sealing technologies for SencorpWhite

    • Ann Marie Kellett, president of OK Sealer Division of OK International Group

    • Lynn Miranda, sales and marketing manager at All Packaging Machinery (APM)

    • Mike Misik, president of Belco Packaging Systems


    What recent advancements have you seen in heat sealing technologies for packaging machines?

    Miranda: In heat sealing, the heat can be generated from a heated bar or hot air. I have noticed that new components improve how the heat is applied.

    For example, specialty Teflon or Kevlar bands can improve specific processes on band sealers. The heater bar is located in the sealing head of a band sealer. The Teflon band acts as an insulator to help protect the bag but also allow enough heat through to melt the plastic. Kevlar is a heavier material used for higher temperatures, but again the Kevlar — same material used in fireproof products — allows some heat through and is stronger.


    Kellett: A majority of the heat sealing manufacturers today have launched new software features to offer customers increased control of sealing parameters and settings, enhanced operations data, and more customizable user preferences. Some models include an easy-to-use touchscreen industrial PC that simplifies setup and operation, streamlines maintenance, and improves data management.

    For projects undertaken in the healthcare and pharmaceutical setting, in addition to improved and consistent seal quality, some band sealers offer the option to print codes. Many of the heat sealers feature a self-contained printer that can print key information, such as UDI codes. The code registers the department responsible, expiration date, location, and what date and time the pouch was sealed. Here, traceability is ensured in the event a mistake is made.

    The Supersealer SB20 Continuous Band Sealer from OK Sealer continuously seals a range of bag materials at high speed and features operator-friendly controls.


    Hardware enhancements include new standard sensors that improves data and package feedback during sealing. Multiple high-quality components, connectors, and switches have been enhanced for easier operation and maintenance.

    Washdown versions of continuous rotary sealers are another enhancement within damp and wet applications. The sealers will be manufactured with an IP69 or IP69K rating, which is a product-standard rating developed to ensure that products carrying this rating comply with required simulated environmental conditions.


    Misik: We must continue to innovate and respond to the needs and expectations of our customers in the medical device, food, pharmaceutical, and industrial packaging industries. From all indications, better and more accurate controls for monitoring sealing parameters are being requested, so that each company’s quality control (QC) demands can be met or exceeded.

    This comes from the use of PLC- and PC-controlled machinery, smarter and more robust mechanical designs, and safer interaction for the machine operators around the packaging equipment.

    Hevenor: We have seen advancements in machine intelligence as it relates to standalone manual pouch and tray sealers. We see a trend toward making manual sealers, which historically have been independent of upstream and downstream processes, communicate with equipment around them to ensure that the process flow does not skip a step or allow the process to move forward if an upstream error is encountered. Our company has seen the percentage of machines purchased with customizations increase from less than 15% to close to 50% over the past 15 years.


    How do these advanced systems compare to the existing standard equipment?

    Kellett: With the improved technology of software, heat sealers today are working almost like a smartphone. On continuous rotary sealers, a high-performance human machine interface (HMI) provides fast, repeatable setup; simplifies operation and maintenance; and increases flexibility to manage important data and resources.

    Enhancements include an easy-to-use touchscreen interface that simplifies setting, monitoring, and tracking crucial controls like heat, seal pressure, and speed, as well as new capabilities to set preferences, calibrate processes, manage maintenance, and identify issues.


    Hevenor: Existing standard equipment is isolated from what is happening around it. There is nothing to prevent a product from being sealed into a package that has skipped or failed an upstream process or to prevent a product from being placed in a package, not sealed, and moved forward to the next process step. Machine intelligence catches these common human errors.


    Miranda: Validation is becoming very important in the food- and medical-packaging sectors. The product must remain untainted and have an airtight or watertight seal. Then one must prove that the seal can be replicated over and over, with in-house testing and the capability to enter the seal speed, temperature, and pressure into the band sealer and expect the sealer to render the same seal results each time. The pouch must be coded, as well, to allow package traceability.


    Misik: With the costs of traditional controls becoming more expensive in actual cost along with the labor to support and install them, PLC and PC technologies have significantly come down in price and offer a level of increased performance and ease of installation and reliability that makes them cost-effective to use.


    The PM 18 PC Medical Pouch Sealer from Belco Packaging Systems can apply top and bottom heat to sealing surfaces and is compatible with a variety of pouches and materials.


    What are the benefits of these advancements for packaging machinery buyers/users?

    Misik: The new technologies offer multiple levels of access to the machinery they control, so that an approved operator can log in and use the machine but not change parameters.

    This is especially effective in multiple-shift operations, in which various operators run the machinery and can potentially tweak settings. Maintenance, Supervisor, Admin, and Operator passwords can allow varying degrees of permissions to the machine. The best features are pre-programmed and approved recipes that can be created and used over and over for effective QC management of the packaging process. We use this technology in several of our shrink-packaging lines of equipment and our medical line of equipment, currently.


    Kellett: With the improvements I mentioned, the end user gains quite a few advantages. Because of simplicity, the sealers are easy to use and require less maintenance. With improved software, the customer now can retrieve more in-depth operations data and more customizable preferences.

    The sealers also do not require their components to be blazing hot all the time, so the risk for accidental burns and injuries is minimized.

    Furthermore, the sealing frames are made of aluminum, which helps in the cooling process of packaging material used. In traditional sealers, fusion and cooling used to take place while the packaging film was shrinking, which often produced uneven seals.

    Manufacturers understand that downtime is an important consideration for the buyers, who rely on their machine for production continuously. Listening to the buyers is extremely important for the manufacturer.


    The CeraTek P/3-Series Constant Heat Pouch Sealer, designed and manufactured by SencorpWhite, features a sophisticated control platform and offers a variety of communications capabilities.


    Hevenor: The benefit of machine-intelligence technology is risk mitigation. Operators of manual equipment are performing repetitive tasks and are susceptive to human error. Humans are key to manual processes, but humans are also the weak link. People make mistakes, and mistakes can result in recalls. Machine intelligence prevents the process from moving forward until the predetermined steps have been completed successfully.

    Miranda: They provide safer machinery for operators to use and less time spent tweaking machinery to produce the needed seals and coding requirements.

    Having built-in ways to help the operator confirm the seal saves time and rejection rates. Reliability is key.


    What areas in heat sealing still need work and why?

    Kellett: We have certainly opened up a lot of great opportunities with the improved technology of software, but there is always some learning that needs to take place, especially when you are a manufacturer of end-of-the line packaging equipment.

    What it comes down to is that it’s not the heat sealer manufacturers that drive the market. The processors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are the people who bring the requirements to us. We don’t drive them, they drive us.

    Safety regulations always need to be investigated to find the right balance between keeping people safe and working with machinery.


    Misik: Cost is still a big function of any machine purchase. Offering all the safety, performance, and quality features in one package is up to the machine manufacturer to develop and justify.

    Improvements in medical-pouch sealing offer absolute control over all sealing parameters, with double-redundant components to ensure that the readings for every cycle can be monitored and verified and even reported for data-acquisition needs.


    Miranda: All machine manufacturers strive for safety and versatility. Customers would like to have one machine that is safe and seals all materials and types of bags and pouches. Unfortunately, there are limits to one-size-fits-all.

    The VCBS-3/8-DH-10-V, from All Packaging Machinery (APM), is a validatable sealing system for medical pouches.It is a vertical, high-speed rotary band sealer with an integrated, synchronized product support conveyor.


    What’s next, and when might we see further improvements in heat sealers?

    Miranda: Artificial intelligence (AI) will be used more and more, I believe, because workers have fallen ill during the COVID-19 crisis, and we need to protect our medical and food sources, as well as the employees producing these goods.


    Hevenor: The next steps in machine intelligence will include the ability for the equipment to communicate with production supervisors, engineers, and maintenance personnel. The ability for equipment to notify the proper personnel of production data, machine service needs, or required scheduled maintenance will help to minimize unscheduled equipment downtime.


    Misik: The improvements to machine performance and operation will come through customer needs and the ingenuity of the responding machine manufacturers. Better components may become available, and the manner in which they are used will be interesting.

    Any assistance to the operation through increased throughput, fewer operator mistakes, and more efficient material handling into and out of the packaging machinery will be cost-justified in overall production output, at the end of the day.


    Kellett: The activity from the consumer market is what we react on. Heat sealers are extremely dependent on software technology, so the advancement that would probably drive the biggest improvement in their operation would be within the software. The sealers would greatly enhance their ability to improve the simplicity of operation and maintenance, and continue to increase flexibility to manage important data and resources.

    Growth in demand in the heat sealer market is expected to increase strongly. Important factors contributing toward the growth are innovation in pharmaceutical packaging and convenient packaging for food and beverages. More availability of online ordering of food and grocery have also helped to increase the demand for packaging food, giving the heat sealer market more scope for expansion.


  10. How Collaborations Combat Packaging Waste in our Oceans

    For World Oceans Day 2020, sustainability visionary Tom Szaky advocates for sustainability collaborations — both private and public — that help reduce packaging waste by aligning business interests with social responsibility.


    Packaging waste and ocean pollution don’t occur in a vacuum. Both are the result of how products and packaging are made and used today. Items designed to be disposable are discarded and flow through a global system with a lack of effective collection (let alone recycling), so plastic and other materials are littered and pollute the ocean at alarming rates.

    Why is it the “business as usual” that a full garbage truck worth of plastic, used extensively in the packaging world, enters the ocean every minute of every day? It all boils down to economics. Plastic packaging in and of itself isn’t the cause of ocean pollution, but we lack investment in and innovation for ways to capture and prevent it from becoming waste.

    This year’s World Oceans Day theme is “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean.” By aligning interests of business and social responsibility to drive change that stays, collaboration and cooperation across the private (businesses, nonprofits, and nongovernmental organizations or NGOs) and public (governments) sectors can combat plastic pollution.

    Consumer packaged goods (CPG) and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are in a particular position to offer solutions. At TerraCycle, we work around economic limitations all over the world by working with these types of private businesses to innovate and catalyze funding for change through the TerraCycle Global Foundation.

    With a core purpose to reduce the volume of marine debris and plastic waste found in the world’s waterways for environmental protection and economic development in global communities, the TerraCycle Global Foundation was created in 2019 as a public charity with the founding seed grant from The PepsiCo Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm.

    While fishing gear and nets are a large contributor to ocean pollution, 80% of this flows in from land-based sources and by way of smaller waterways, such as rivers. In a world where recycling is on the decline even for “highly recyclable” materials, this trend is especially prevalent in regions where a lack of economic resources make it difficult for local systems to keep up.

    With a community-centered approach, the TerraCycle Thai Foundation, a locally registered independent nonprofit entity addressing the issue of plastic pollution in Thailand, was honored to be a part of the United Nations World Oceans Day event hosted by the government’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) June 8 in Bangkok.

    The Foundation installed a special river plastic capture trap in the waterway of Khodpor public park in Rayong through collaboration with the DMCR. Designed to intercept plastic debris before it enters the ocean, this is the second of two TerraCycle Thai Foundation collection devices installed in Thailand and mobilizes local workers to operate and manage them.

    Though the establishment of relationships with regional waste management companies, as well as TerraCycle’s own unique network of processing partners, the Foundation will provide efficient and cost-effective uses for the collected material — including primary packaging for major global brands — for a solution driven in part by one of the world’s leading CPG companies.

    The Foundation will recycle not only the marine waste (considered non-recyclable due to its degradation and exposure to UV light) collected through its own devices and efforts, but also the waste collected by all the other participating organizations in the World Oceans Day celebration.

    Innovation in packaging and sustainability isn’t always about research and development or scientific processes, but systems that create value for all parties. Single-channel initiatives are a challenge to sustain and involve risk. But through private/public sector cooperation of entities like TerraCycle, angel investors like The PepsiCo Foundation, and the DMCR in Thailand, industry can support, assist, and build new and exciting ways to eliminate waste.