Processors can't get enough flexible packaging, for everything from fruit chips to ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. Flexible packaging's light weight and convenience are core drivers, but innovative structures and graphic treatments for pouches, bags and shrink labels are also fueling demand.
The shift to flexible packaging is occurring among national brand owners and private labelers, and it's happening domestically as well as overseas.
In the U.S., Sunsweet Growers Inc., Yuba City, Calif., leveraged the visual possibilities of flexible packaging as part of a packaging redesign. The company switched from a paper label to a full-body shrink label for its juice bottles and redesigned the graphics on its full range of packaging, including dried-fruit pouches, to give the Sunsweet brand a more contemporary look.
The company's goal was to convey "contemporary, healthy relevance for an increasing savvy and health-seeking [consumer] in the healthy snack category," explains Ian McLean, founder and creative director at McLean Design Inc., Walnut Creek, Calif. McLean's firm designed the new Sunsweet package graphics. "We needed to look awesome and young and relevant and innovative."
Like the new label graphics, redesigned graphics on Sunsweet's dried-fruit pouches convey healthfulness and contemporaneity. The pouches are printed via rotogravure, which delivers a high-quality look, and photography on the pouches features the fresh fruits from which the products are made. "If you're selling fresh, healthy and delicious, the quality of the reproduction is everything," McLean says.
The metallized pouch material provides an opaque print surface, obviating the problem of sticky products making splotches on the inner surface of the pouch that can be seen through the printing. The pouch material also has good barrier properties, which protect the products from deterioration and spoilage. And, for convenience, the pouches are resealable.
Sunsweet is not the only healthy-snack purveyor to choose flexible packaging for a combination of marketing and functional reasons. Bags and pouches are gradually becoming the go-to package for produce-based snacks. In this category, particularly for single-serving products, package structure is starting to emerge as a brand differentiator.
Bolthouse Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., created a uniquely functional bag for its Baby Carrot ShakeDowns, a product that combines fresh carrots with seasonings. The bag is designed with two compartments, one large and one small. The moist carrots reside in the large compartment and the seasonings in the small one.
To use the product, consumers pinch the bag material and pull the sides of the package apart to break the inner seal that separates the compartments. Then they shake the bag to coat the carrots with the seasonings. Keeping the two parts of the product separate ensures that the carrots stay moist, and the seasonings stay dry, until the time of consumption. The bag holds 2.25 oz. of product — one serving — and is therefore not resealable.
Bolthouse Farms worked with Emerald Packaging Inc., Union City, Calif., to develop the patent-pending package structure for Baby Carrot ShakeDowns. Thompson Design Group, San Francisco, designed the graphics, which include a quick lesson on how to pinch, pull and shake the bag. The graphic design incorporates clear windows, showcasing the carrots and seasonings.
The product launched in August 2012 and is now in test market in Indianapolis, San Antonio and Seattle.
Package structure, likewise, is a defining feature for Chiquita Super Crunchy Chips, a single-serving dried-fruit product packed in a stand-up pouch. The Amcor PushPop pouch is designed with gussets on both the top and bottom. Consumers push a perforation on the top gusset to create a wide-open pack that's easy to eat from. Amcor Flexibles Europe & Americas, Zurich, Switzerland, supplies the pouch.
The Super Crunchy Chips package earned Amcor and Chiquita Brands International, Charlotte, N.C., the Flexible Plastic Pack of the Year award in the 2012 UK Packaging Awards competition.
Soup's on … overseas too
Foods with a high liquid content are showing up more frequently in pouches, as well. For example, Tesco PLC, Cheshunt, England, chose stand-up pouches for Tesco Finest heat-and-serve soups. The premium-quality, private-label soups were previously packaged in cans.
Tesco's retorted pouched soup "ties in, in Europe, to what Campbell's did here in the U.S.," says Sal Pellingra, director of innovation at Ampac, Cincinnati, referring to the 2012 launch of Campbell's Go! Soup in pouches (see Pouches Flex Marketing Muscles). He notes that flexible packaging is "a category changer, moving from soups in a can to soups in a pouch." Ampac supplies the Tesco Finest soup pouches.
The Tesco pouch represents a technical breakthrough, too: It's printed using a new type of high-definition flexography. Historically, flexographic printing has not been compatible with retort conditions.