Food Manufacturers Cling to Flexible Packaging

Flexible packaging formats continue to take the day for an array of foods and beverages.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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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.

Retort pouches are typically printed via rotogravure, because this type of printing "puts down a higher density of ink than flexo, in general, so it's more suitable. It holds up under the high pressure and temperature of retort, whereas [conventional] flexo inks physically aren't able to hold up as well," says Pellingra.

Ampac's plant in Kirchberg, Switzerland, developed a urethane ink system that solved the problem, paving the way for retort flexo. The result is high-quality graphic reproduction that "looks a lot like roto," Pellingra says. "It's very difficult to tell the difference."

In addition to delivering high-quality graphics, which support Tesco Finest's premium positioning, the new flexo printing approach offers cost savings as the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) in the retort soup line grows.

The cost issue relates to the economics of rotogravure printing vs. flexography. Rotogravure cylinders are expensive to manufacture, and amortizing their cost requires large print runs. Flexo plates and other costs are lower. Therefore, flexography is a more economical way to print small runs.

Flexographic printing is "better for products with lots of SKUs [and] a lot of changeovers," Pellingra says. He adds that flexo printing that can withstand retorting conditions is "a big deal … and having print quality that's so close to roto is really a bonus."

The Tesco Finest soup line currently includes five SKUs, in flavors that include Smoked Haddock Chowder, Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup and British Roast Chicken Soup. Like the Campbell's Go! pouch, Tesco's incorporates a clear bottom gusset through which the product can be seen.

Pouch-cocktails trend

RTD pouch cocktails have become a more common sight in recent years, and that trend is accelerating. "Growth has really skyrocketed in the segment in the last two years," says Lisa Coker, chief marketing officer at American Beverage Corp., Verona, Pa.

American Beverage pioneered the frozen pouch cocktails category with its Daily's Cocktails brand in 2005. And although "a lot of other brands have entered the segment, Daily's remains the leader," with greater sales and significantly more cocktail flavors than competitors, Coker says.

The company continues to add to its pouch-cocktails portfolio, having recently launched two limited-time seasonal products to complement its seven standard flavors. The seasonal offerings, Daily's Spiced Sangria and Daily's Hard Cider, may be served frozen, chilled or warm.

Building momentum, American Beverage will add six new frozen pouch cocktails to its year-round offerings this year. The entrants will include three new light cocktails and three tropical flavors: Bahama Mama, Blue Hawaiian and Hurricane. The roll-out was to start in January.

"We've found that for consumers, flavor variety is an aspect that's very important," Coker says. In addition to expanding its product line, the company works with retailers to merchandise the pouch cocktails in ways that encourage trial of the different flavors.

Originally sold in single-flavor four-packs, Daily's Cocktails are now sold primarily as single pouches at a $1.99 price point. The switch from multipacks to singles "was something consumers really loved," Coker says. "Obviously there's a lot less risk for trial if you're only charging $1.99 for something, and it allows consumers to mix and match the flavors."

American Beverage provides retailers with merchandising tools such as bins, spinner racks, shelf displays and cash register displays that present a variety of flavors while at the same time encouraging impulse purchasing.

The 10-oz., single-serving Daily's Cocktails frozen pouches are made using a laminate of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), aluminum and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). The pouches are printed via rotogravure and die-cut into a patented shape. American Beverage fills the pre-made pouches at ambient temperature using filling equipment from Toyo Jidoki Co. Ltd., of Tokyo.

Although the filled pouches are shelf stable, they can sometimes be found in the freezer case. "Some retailers, during the summertime in particular, put them in the freezer, and that's a real ‘aha' moment for consumers — all you have to do is throw the pouch in the freezer and then it's ready to drink," Coker says.

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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