As anyone who has walked into a supermarket in the past year knows, natural-foods stores are no longer the sole point-of-purchase for organic and all-natural products. The shift to mass-market distribution for these foods and beverages is driving a new generation of packaging designs.
Structurally, packaging for these preservative-free items must include barrier properties to protect against product degradation. At the same time, packaging materials must balance consumers' interest in earth-friendly packaging with their desire for convenience.
To protect organic/natural products from spoiling, "The requirements for packaging often are more stringent, specifically in terms of gas, moisture and sometimes even light barrier," says Eric Bartholomay, product development manager with Toray Plastics (America) Inc. (www.torayfilms.com), North Kingstown, R.I.
|Kettle Brand Potato Chips are packaged in form-fill-seal bags made from a coated-paper substrate. The oil-resistant material provides a barrier to oxygen, moisture and light, protecting the chips against oxidation and rancidity.
Nevertheless, there are packaging materials out there that can meet the special functional requirements of what's inside the package as well as the philosophical needs of those customers making these types of purchases.
Kettle Foods Inc. (www.kettlefoods.com), Salem, Ore., manufactured the first "natural" potato chips in the western U.S. when it began in 1982. An organic line followed in 1989.
Company executives chose a paper-based flexible packaging material for their all-natural snacks. Kettle Brand Potato Chips are packaged in form-fill-seal bags made from a coated-paper substrate. The oil-resistant material provides a barrier to oxygen, moisture and light, protecting the chips against oxidation and rancidity.
"When we are evaluating packaging, we look at what is going to maintain the product's quality, first and foremost. That's our No. 1 priority, to make sure the potato chips inside the bag are fresh and great tasting when consumers open the pack," says Michelle Peterman, vice president of marketing at Kettle Foods.
And, from a merchandising perspective, the paper-based bags resonate with Kettle Chips' all-natural persona. "There is something about the paper that says to people, this is a natural product. They just have a feeling about it," Peterman says.
For both natural and conventional products, "Metallized polypropylenes offer significant barrier properties and are being used more and more to replace aluminum," partly because of the cost of aluminum, Bartholomay adds.
For products that require package clarity, Toray has developed a line of transparent, high-moisture barrier films that purportedly improve product quality and extend shelf life. The films are made from non-coated, biaxially oriented polypropylene; applications include snack foods, crackers, cookies and oil-based confections.
‘Glass is the Cadillac'
For organic/natural products that are not sensitive to light, glass often is the packaging material of choice. Solana Gold Organics (www.solanagold.com), Sebastopol, Calif., produces organic applesauce, apple juice and apple vinegar using glass packaging exclusively.
Reasons include the chemical stability of glass; even for hot-fill applications such as Solana Gold's, glass packaging is inert. In contrast, some plastics and plastic additives interact chemically with foods, altering purity and taste. Heat and/or fat in the product can play a role in the interaction.
"For standard hot-pack or heat-treated foods, I think the public has an inherent knowledge that glass provides purity, that there's no molecular, chemical possibility of contamination," says John Kolling, president of Solana Gold.
"People who are interested in organic and high-purity products read the ingredients. They don't want preservatives, they don't want stabilizers," Kolling adds. "So if they are willing to look at minor ingredients as health compromises, they are also going to look upon the packaging as a health compromise" if it's not something they perceive as pure.
For these consumers, he says, the packaging material "is an unwritten attribute of the product on the ingredient panel."
And from a different marketing angle, glass conveys product quality. Kolling says the attributes of glass include "high perceived purity and actual purity, long shelf life, good visibility, good product presentation. It has a perception of value. A lot of people are willing to spend another nickel or 10 cents for a glass package. Glass is the Cadillac."
Metal means more than cans
For organic/natural beverages and wet foods, high-barrier rigid packaging, typically of metal or glass, is the norm.
In late 2005, Del Monte Foods (www.delmonte.com), San Francisco, began the national launch of its first organic products, Del Monte Organic diced and crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste.
Since then, the company has launched three additional organic products - whole-kernel corn, sweet peas and cut green beans - in regional markets. Like Del Monte's conventional canned vegetables, the organics are packed in enamel-coated steel cans decorated with paper labels. Can sizes range from 8 to 29 oz.
"Besides being one of the best ways to seal in a food's nutrition and taste, the can is one of the most trusted preservation systems available," says Rich Rothamel, vice president-product innovation, packaging and quality with Del Monte Foods. The company's can suppliers are Silgan Containers Corp. (www.silgancontainers.com), Woodland Hills, Calif., and Impress Group (www.impressgroup.com), Carnegie, Pa.