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Packaging Industry: Part and Parcel of Industrial Growth

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

The packaging industry caters to the needs of consumer convenience while providing a longer shelf life for food products and other consumables. The importance of packaging and the need for advanced packaging technology is proven by the fact that this sector is expected to grow to US$23 billion in 2015, at an estimated CAGR of 8.2 percent from 2010 to 2015.

Modified atmosphere packaging and intelligent packaging represent the majority of this projected growth. Intelligent packaging involves freshness indicators and time temperature indicators, as they are widely needed in packaged food, ready-to-eat meals, and frozen food categories.

Creation of wealth is the major criteria of any industry, and packaging serves that need, while also preserving the wealth created by other industries. It adds value to a product and preserves the quality of products like water, milk, biscuits, medicines, processed and semi-processed foods, fruits and vegetables, edible oils, electronic goods, machinery, and many other products.

Importance of Packaging

Consumer behavior is considered a major factor affecting the packaging industry. The recent economic situation has forced many to look for greater value in all their purchases. So more emphasis is laid on refurbished or upgraded packaging materials and also on green packing. Co-packing and contractpackaging are also gaining importance.

Alternative green materials like sugar cane and bioplastics are being tried out, although procurement may be a challenge. Polylactic acid (PLA) is suitable to packing small quantities of products like salads. Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle is one such new entry which may be sustainable and which may eventually change the scenario for all products packaged in bottles.

Consumer preferences are instigating manufacturers to opt for the reformulation, re-branding, and repricing of products to beat out the competition. Here packaging serves as an important differentiator. Although maximum focus is on quality and value, consumers are attracted to innovations in products, packaging, advertising and branding, say researchers.

Packaging helps differentiate brands, as is evident from a plethora of colors, shapes, and sizes of packages in all products from shampoos to the easy-to-carry packages for consumer durables. Color coding, for example, which uses different color packets for different flavors of a health drink, is preferred by most consumers. In short, we can say, “Packaging enhances value.”

Manufacturers can also assure consumers of the safety of their food products if the packaging is beyond mislabeling, spoilage, product tampering, contamination, and damage. In this context, RFID-enabled packaging is expected to gain consumer confidence as it improves traceability, especially in the case of meat products. Good packaging also helps companies avoid product recalls, which is a lot more expensive than providing higher-quality packaging in the first place.

Packaging ensures safety, convenience, and enhances the look of a product, making it attractive to buyers. These features increase consumption, and hence economic growth. As plastics are an important constituent for packaging, newer technological developments based on the properties of plastics will result in industry improvements and revenue growth.

Owing to increased environmental awareness, the material used to make packaging material increasingly needs to be recyclable or decomposable. Many communities worldwide have already banned the use of non-decomposable plastic bags with support from governing bodies, grocery stores, and vegetable and fruit vendors.

Multilayer Packaging

The need for low permeability and creative packaging has resulted in multi-layer film constructions. This type of packaging is made of a two-polymer combination structure of resin to function mechanically as a container and gas barrier, which is surrounded on the outside by a barrier resin to provide low permeability.

Such a combination is seen in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) carbonated soft drink or water bottles. The structural resin is PET, which is impermeable, and the primary barrier resin is made of nitrile copolymer. The barrier resin serves to prevent carbon dioxide passage out of the product. Food containers may even have seven layers of materials serving different functions. For example, Nylon resins are oxygen barriers but are affected by moisture, and so are used along with polyethylene.

Polypropylene and polyester are used to make high barrier packaging films. For heat-sealing packaging, a hot melt adhesive film is needed. A film to protect contents that are sensitive to UV may also be required in some cases. To achieve all properties in a good package, a multi-layer film along with a metal film such as aluminum is created, whereby each layer is held together by adhesives providing cohesion.

Adhesives are an allied industry of the packaging industry, as they are required with a certain degree of permeability in most packaging. Very high permeability is required in some cases where free passage of air may be required. In most cases, however, low permeability is needed, as in the packaging food and pharmaceutical products. This keeps out moisture and air to prevent spoilage or damage of product.

Lamination and co-extrusion are manufacturing processes to make multi layer packages. Different types of laminations are available for making pouches for pharmaceutical tablets, capsules, powders, liquids, ointments and creams. In some packages breathable materials may be required to pack foods like green salads, which allow oxygen to enter to increase the shelf life. Polyurethane and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) resins provide breathability and can be available as free films or as coatings on a supporting sheet like a woven fabric used to make packets for proper packaging.

Packaging Innovations

Many companies are trying to be consumer friendly by designing packaging for their product that deliver convenience in handling, transporting and usage. For example, Heinz has designed ketchup bottles that are top-down, which makes pouring the sauce easier. Similarly, the Heinz ‘dip & squeeze’ packaging makes adding sauce while moving in a vehicle easier.

In Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand, Heinz is launching light-weight cans for beans and soups. In China, Heinz infant food jars come wrapped in paper sleeves which are an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic shrink-wrap.

In the pharmaceutical industry, Indiabased Bilcare Research offers a complete range of high-quality packaging films that meet complex pharmaceutical specifications. The choice is restricted in blister packaging films which are either very low-moisture barrier films, or expensive high barrier films. Optimum packaging is required as protection against moisture is an important requisite in pharmaceutical products to ensure product stability, efficacy and safety.

Supported by R&D efforts, Bilcare Research has introduced a variety of films including pharma-grade barrier films, coldforming foil, aluminum lidding foils, and other innovative products to create a brand identity with anti-counterfeiting features. Ultra-high barrier film, eco-friendly halogen-free films, and eco-friendly lidding foils have been created, along with flexible laminates made of paper, aluminum, polymer and film combinations.

In active packaging, a recent introduction to the packing industry, the gases present inside a package are modified by incorporating oxygen scavengers or desiccants into the film to absorb moisture. This technique is used in Japan to protect food against fogging, to prevent fruits and vegetables from ripening, and to inhibit growth of bacteria inside the package.

PET Bottles

For packaging liquids such as aerated drinks, fruit juices, wines, spirits, etc., suitable bottles are required. It was found that PET bottles garner a huge global share of the beverage packaging market. According to Euromonitor sources, most juices and RTD tea come packed in PET containers which it named “the star beverage pack performer.” No wonder, as the global off-trade demand for this type of packaging went up 6 percent in 2010.

PET is preferred over metal cans for packaging carbonated soft drinks in many countries such as China, which relies heavily on PET for packaging juices at a market share of 92 percent. With more demand for juices, Euromonitor forecasts double digit annual growth for PET bottles in the period up to 2014.

“Despite the wide appreciation of liquid cartons in China, PET continues to gain a big share in the juice drinks segment through new launches. The entry of wide-neck bottles is apparent in single-serve drinks and adds to the positive outlook for PET,” said Euromonitor analysts.

It was announced that global economic recovery will benefit beverage packaging materials industry for 2011 through to 2014. Also emerging markets in Asia-Pacific will show remarkable growth with China and India alone set to garner 18 percent of global gains by 2014.

Foldable Cartons

In the emerging BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, China and India), an annual growth of eight percent in the folding cartons cat- egory is projected up to 2016. Over half of the US$12 million tones of increase in this packaging demand may come from China, says a report.

Folding cartons are required in food packaging with special packaging needed for baked products, dairy, ready meals, frozen food, and dry food. Affluence in many populations has triggered increased purchase of white goods like refrigerators and freezers which has led to a demand for frozen food and folding cartons. Even door delivery of pizzas and other food products require specially designed folded boxes to keep in the heat.

With respect to the packaging industry India, China and Brazil are considered to be the major growth centers owing to favorable economic conditions, dynamic growth of the food processing market and the presence of more multinational food processing companies. In the foreseeable future, larger packaging companies will witness substantial growth and are expected to increase procurement spending.

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