Packaging Trends: Pouches Becoming Go-To Package Style For Broad Range of Products

They're not always recyclable but pouched food can be green in other ways.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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With the clamor for convenience and the demand for packaging sustainability showing no signs of weakening, pouches are becoming the go-to package style for an ever broader range of products.

In the baby food category, pouches with rigid closures have been on the scene for several years. However, a new twist on the concept has emerged in the form of a retortable, zippered stand-up pouch.

Sprout Foods Inc., New York, uses this type of package for Sprout organic baby food. The company sells products in three pouch sizes — 2.5-oz., 3.5-oz. and 5.5-oz. — to meet the needs of children in various stages of growth. Ampac, Cincinnati, supplies the pre-made pouches.

When launching the product line, Sprout Foods chose pouches rather than glass jars or rigid plastic packaging for several reasons, including product flavor, convenience and environmental performance. When retorting baby food in a glass jar or rigid plastic tray, "There's no question [the food] is going to lose some of its flavor, because you're overcooking it," says Ron Davis, CEO of Sprout Foods.

In contrast, with a pouch, "You cook it at the same temperature but for less time, so you're not overcooking the outside to sterilize the inside." Davis says cooking time is 25 to 40 percent less with the pouch than with the other packaging formats.

Sprout Baby Food Packaging
Sprout baby food pouches, which are shelf-stable, have a bottom gusset but a wide opening at the top for easy access by a spoon. After the feeding, they can be reclosed and stored in the refrigerator.

Not overcooking and generally protecting the products' integrity were key considerations for Sprout, which is positioned as a premium brand. Sprout co-founder and executive chef Tyler Florence, of Food Network fame, developed the Sprout baby food recipes. The focus throughout the line is gourmet flavor and healthy, 100 percent organic ingredients.

Sprout's pouches are made from a laminated film. The film's layers, from exterior to interior, are polyester/foil/nylon/polypropylene. The zipper is made of polypropylene, which enables it to stand up to the rigors of retorting.

Some might question the presence of foil in the film; although foil provides oxygen and light protection, it also eliminates the option of microwaving. And that was the point. Sprout's products are designed for serving with minimal reheating, to maintain flavor and nutrients. To warm up the contents of the pouch, consumers "can run it under warm water, if desired, but it can't go in the microwave oven," Davis says.

In addition, the pouch is convenient. Its large opening and bottom gusset provide ample access for a spoon and make it easy to feed directly from the pouch. In case of leftovers, the pouch can be reclosed and stored in the refrigerator; prior to opening, the packages are shelf stable.

The package is lightweight, as well, for easy portability. To provide a straighter tear and easier opening, Ampac incorporated its Linear Tear technology into the pouches.

Safety is yet another benefit. The pouches don't break when dropped, and unlike glass they can't shatter into dangerous shards.

From a marketing standpoint, the rectangular stand-up pouches provide a brand billboard. To communicate Sprout's value proposition, the pouches are decorated with photo-quality rotogravure printing. "The graphics are exceptional," Davis says. "They really stand out on shelf."

Finally, sustainability played an important role. Based on weight, packaging as a percentage of the product is 6 percent for the pouch—vs. 14 percent for a lidded plastic tray and 70 percent for a glass jar. The pouch's low ratio translates into a lower carbon footprint for Sprout products. The pouches are delivered flat to the processing plant. Therefore, more packages can be loaded onto pallets and trucks, which makes for more carbon savings per package.

But they're not recyclable. To address the package's end of life, Sprout encourages consumers to give used pouches to TerraCycle Inc., Trenton, N.J., for upcycling into new products. Pouches can be mailed to TerraCycle or deposited at its collection centers.

Sunkist Protein, on a grand scale

Convenience, product integrity and packaging sustainability also drove the selection of a large-format stand-up pouch for Sunkist Protein shots. The one-gallon Sunkist Protein pouch, which launched commercially in October 2010, holds 48 servings. The fruit punch-flavored product is sold in single-serving rigid plastic tubes and bottles, as well.

The pouch is an unusual package for protein shots, in terms of both format and size. The one-gallon size offers regular users of the product an economical way to buy Sunkist Protein in bulk, for daily use. It's also handy for nursing homes and other facilities that buy protein shots for the use of their residents. 

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