Bottles can be cut and shaped on site from long plastic tubes using the Roll N Blow termoforming process.
By Anne-Marie Hardie
The greatest innovation in modern packaging is its evolution from a vessel to insure freshness into a versatile tool to enhance the overall consumer experience. Each aspect of the package from the label, ink, films, and the structure are carefully chosen to reflect and communicate the message of the company’s brand. Manufacturers are continually seeking new way to address their consumer’s needs from Print Pack’s recent integration of the Agami bottle forming process to Ultra Flex’s integration of expanded gamet printing and Fres-co’s Corner Seal that eliminate back seams, manufacturers are responding to consumer’s demand for versatile packaging.
At a bare minimum, today’s packaging ensures coffee is fully protected from contaminants. While green attributes and sustainability claims draw customers to favorably view packaging, it is the basic functionality that determines whether new films and shapes survive in the market. Functionality, particularly in the world of coffee, will always be in the forefront according to Jake Herbert of Innovia Films. Herbert explains that every package must protect the product from air, odor, light, and moisture, and maintain that barrier for the duration of its shelf life.
Packing ground roasted coffee in heavy tins handily met the challenge beginning in 1813 when Englishmen Bryan Donkin and John Hall established the first canning factory in London. In America Hills Bros. marketed the first vacuum packed one-pound coffee tins in 1903, an innovation establishing a century-old standard.
As specialty coffee penetrated into mainstream retail channels the requirements changed from the simple kraft bags first used by local roasters. New packaging materials sandwiched barrier and exterior foils and colored films to catch the eye. The latest consist of three to four layers including aluminum and metallized polyester (PET) with polyethylene for sealing. In a nod to the early days of coffee, some of the latest materials resemble the original kraft with several suppliers offering gusseted and box bottom pouches made with high barrier laminates.
Marketing differentiated the many new specialty brands and freshness became imperative. As roasted whole beans became popular the messaging got more complicated. Consumers became increasingly aware of both the origin and more detailed descriptions of their coffee and its characteristics. Coffee is unique in that it must be protected from oxygen while exhaling relatively large quantities of carbon dioxide created during the roasting process.
Flexible packaging and the invention of the one-way degassing value by Goglio in the 1960s was a major leap forward. The less intrusive inner one-way valve patented in 1988 assisted marketers with a design that could be continuously fed into the popular Wipf/SIG and the Goglio/Fres-co style application machinery. The latest variation is the selective valve that can release or hold onto specific gases. Flexible bags continue to evolve with the latest foil bags featuring flush zip-lock closures that reseal to retain freshness.
Cans can’t hold a candle to the latest 40 oz flexible packaging.
“Compared to cans, and even other bags, our Fres Bag has a lot of benefits,” explains Chris Burger, coffee market manager at Fres-co. “Our original one-way degassing valve better preserves the coffee’s flavor while the Corner Seal technology gives the package a firm, compact feel that ships efficiently and looks great on store shelves. Combined with a widemouth opening and less expensive materials, Fres Bag offers major gains as a can replacement.”
Innovations in packing green coffee have also emerged with growers now utilizing a sealed inner sack like the GrainPro gastight Ultra Hermetic Super Grainbag. Some growers even vacuum seal their green coffee in 15-kilo mylar bags. Roasters recognize the significant role that packaging has in retaining the bean’s cupping value.
“If you package it and preserve it in a way that it is protected, then it is holding its value through that distribution channel,” said Kelle Vandenberg, v.p. marketing, Pacific Bag. “Today there is such awareness and a celebration of that quality, and therefore a demand for that quality, which makes packaging the bean to preserve that quality even more critical,” she said.
A package needs to do much more than preserve the integrity of the product; it needs to leap off of the shelf into the hands of the consumer.
Creating shelf presence means different things for each brand, explains Ken Johnson, at Hartsville, South Carolina-based Sonoco Products Co. Sometimes it’s about having a unique shape, while in other situations it’s about evaluating how a particular product is merchandized, he said. Labels and the newer ink technologies are yet another way to create a different effect and make a product stand out on the shelf, said Johnson. The $4.9 billion Sonoco is one of the world’s largest packaging suppliers.
Introducing new packaging formats is rare in the packaging world since retailers demand uniformity and manufacturers heavily invested in filling and packing equipment prefer the tried and true. Vandenberg mentioned the block bottom bag as a fairly recent innovation that has taken center stage largely due to its versatility.
“It takes the best of the stand up pouch format and the size gusset bag format and joins them into one,” said Vandenberg. “Not only does it have a fairly small footprint on the retail shelf it speeds up production, as it is easier to fill since the bag opens on its own while retaining its shape. The flat bottom performs like a box but it’s a flexible bag.” Using less material, the bag can be designed to include a terminated gusset, handle, zipper, and a pocket zipper.
Inevitably consumers must be enticed into selecting your product from the shelf. Ease of use is an important consideration. They want products that appeal aesthetically. When it comes to labels, the trend is towards personalization, said Joel Schmidt, marketing development manager at the Outlook Group. As consumers seek more options, and retailers add more SKUs, manufacturers are looking at advances in print technology, whether it’s to respond to the techno driven consumer with shiny appeal or those with an eye for nature who are seeking escape the glare and noise.
Consumers are attracted to clear, crisp images, and the type of graphics that benefits from the manufacturer incorporating new high definition plate technology into their labels. “With the use of flat dot ink technology, the consumer will now get a clean, clear image that pops,” said Schmidt. “While at the same time, there is also a green story, as this better quality image requires less ink.”
On the flip side, the resurgence of craft coffee has resulted in a trend towards a minimalist style, with consumers seeking simplified art and package design. “We have over-stimulated our lives so much, that there is some irony that we are seeing this continued trend of simplifying our art and our packaging,” said Vandenberg. “Manufacturers who are serving these clients are looking for less graphics, three-color jobs instead of eight-color jobs, we are seeing packaging where the message has been quieted down, returning to the simple fact that it’s about experiencing a good cup of coffee.” This in demand packaging option, shares Vandenberg is reflective of that back to roots philosophy, portraying simple graphics, colors, and lots of mattes.
To respond to the evolving needs of their client, Print Pack recently adopted Serac’s Agami’s Solution, an innovative product that uses the thermoforming process to transform plastic sheets into a tube and then blowing it into a mold. The end result are bottles that can either be the large neck design or be adapted into the round designs that have recently increased in popularity. Print Pack is just one example of a company adapting their packaging to address both the aesthetic and sustainable needs of their clientele.
Today’s bagged coffee is also about making that entire experience easier, said Johnson, from accessible openings like a flip top to easy storage. Ease of use may not initially drive sales, but it may ensure that a client returns. Consumers are seeking products that tell a green story. Sustainability has become one of the most important drivers of packaging innovations in coffee, he said.
Sustainable options from the film used to the ink on the label continue to dominate discussions. Achieving the brand objectives means making the right choices from where the beans are sourced to the final package.
At Innovia Films headquarters in Wigton, United Kingdom, sustainability has been a part of the conversation for a decade. The company’s bio-based NatureFlex, first introduced in 2003, was the world’s first renewable and compostable heat sealable cellulose film. Innovia’s market edge lies in compostable surface coatings that ensure a functional package with high barriers to oxygen, moisture, oils, and grease. In the past two years, Hebert has noticed a big increase in demand for Innovia’s NatureFlex film. “It offers a lot of benefits aside from the barrier and the green attributes,” said Hebert. “It prints well and it’s very easy to laminate and convert our films into functional packages.” Another key advantage is Innovia’s metalized films that allow customers to use thinner caliber films while maintaining a good barrier. This product is particularly effective in single serve lidding. Innovia film delivers the required performance.
In order to be fully compostable, all aspects of the packaging need to be considered. In response to a need for sustainable inks, Ultra Flex Packaging recently expanded their portfolio to include expanded gamet printing. This new process, states v.p. Todd M. Addison, allows Ultra Flex to create millions of colors from 7 basic ones. “It’s a green statement for us, we use less ink and alcohol and the end effect is printing that is striking,” said Addison. This technology will be tied into Ultra Flex’s bio package as each of the inks has been preapproved for Eco toxicity.
“The bottom line is if you don’t take the material out of the ground then there is less of it that has to be recycled,” said Dan Dickinson, senior director sustainable marketing at Hood Packaging in Jackson, Miss. Hood Packaging has been looking at other niche areas that impact the world of coffee like converting from standard milk jugs to flexible bags. The bags use 75% less plastic and are recyclable resulting in a dramatic reduction in landfill waste, said Dickinson.
“Sustainability is about the whole picture,” adds Vandenberg.” Ultimately for us, we want packaging that takes up less space, packaging that goes away.” Currently Pacific Bag’s valve uses 35% less material than most of the other valves in the market, while maintaining its functionality. However; Vandenberg sees this valve as only a step in the right direction. Sustainability means looking at the entire process; whether the process to produce the product was truly a green story. Johnson agrees stressing that it is essential to conduct a full assessment of the value chain and look at the impact of the entire packaging solution.
When projecting future trends, all manufacturers agree that sustainability will remain a high point of interest, expanding in all avenues from developing new bio resins to RTD. The definition of sustainability will also continue to be explored and expanded on, as both manufacturers and consumers learn what will truly have a better green story.
Maximizing the consumer experience will also continue to take center stage, whether it’s in creating more differentiated packaging printing to emphasize the specialization of roasts or simply making the package easier to use. The beauty of today’s packaging innovations is that they not only serve the need of the manufacturer but that of the consumer. Consumers want a package that appeals to them both aesthetically and philosophically. With today’s packaging innovations, manufacturers are ensuring that these needs are not only addressed but exceeded.