Onstage at the Global Pouch Forum in Fort Lauderdale, keynote speaker Dennis Calamusa told a story about trends that drew appreciative chuckles from the audience.
While waiting to speak at another recent packaging conference in Las Vegas, Calamusa, president of Sarasota, Fla.-based consulting group AlliedFlex Technologies Inc., said he'd listened to a stream of presenters discussing the lightweighting of PET rigid packaging.
“When I got up to speak, the only thing I could say was, ‘Guys, if you keep downgauging the bottle, you're going to turn it into a pouch! I haven't heard one person talk about up gauging your bottle to make them last more than one [use],' “ Calamusa said June 8.
While acknowledging that recycling rates of flexible packaging remain low, one of the themes of the Global Pouch Forum, held June 7-9 in Fort Lauderdale, was that pouches — which one presenter termed “the Rodney Dangerfield of packaging” — have more variety and market share than ever before.
That's thanks in part to breakthrough designs, such as zippered closures that don't leave a ragged edge when they're originally torn open, as much as creative printing techniques and improved barrier properties, presenters said.
“For many years, [manufacturers] heard, ‘Cost reduction, cost reduction, cost reduction,' “ Calamusa said. “Now we're starting to hear, when it comes to flexible packaging, [that] if we invest in our packaging, it can have a dramatic impact on our sales.”
An electronic instant-polling exercise involving many of the 348 conference attendees conducted by Sal Pellingra, innovation director at Cincinnati-based Ampac Holdings LLC, found that 33 percent of respondents think store-shelf impact of packaging on consumers is the most important consideration for pouches, beating cost and sustainability or environmental concerns.
From the legendary Capri Sun drink pouch mentioned several times at the conference, pouches have been accepted by consumer packaged-goods companies to the extent that pouches now hold products from laundry detergent to wine to microwave entrees, sauces and baby food.
In addition to eye-level appeal, flexible packaging can be marketed to consumers as more eco-friendly than alternatives, speakers said: Pellingra said one truckload of unfilled plastic pouches can contain the same amount of products as 25 truckloads of empty glass jars; Calamusa said it typically takes 10-25 truckloads of rigid packaging to hold as much as one truckload of pouches.
Recycling infrastructure is expanding to account for flexible packaging, including waste-to-fuel plants, conference presenters said.
“There are a lot of waste-energy sites that are starting. There are some that can actually separate the aluminum in foil laminations,” Pellingra said. “There are some that convert [plastic] into gas and oil — and the oil is really, really clean, almost like kerosene — and some have a byproduct that is tar, so they sell the tar to asphalt companies.”
Machinery and material suppliers are collaborating to increase the variety of pouches available to the marketplace, some of which were on display at the Fort Lauderdale show.
A prime example is PepsiCo's Gatorade G2 sports line, which in 2010 became available in a 4-ounce plastic pouch with a tear closure designed to stay with the pouch to reduce litter.
“You're not replacing something that you've done for a long time, but you're partnering it and you're creating … that value-added line extension. That pouch is coming in [and] it's roll stock or it's pre-made; it's filled, it's sealed, it's pre-decorated. There's no labeling; there's no sleeving. It's basically plug-and-play,” Calamusa said of the G2 single-serve line.
Wilmington, Del-based DuPont Co. and Chicago-based design firm Kornick Lindsay developed a dual-chamber pouch technology that they are making available for licensing. The Genesis Duo-Pouch, which can be made in a stand-up or pillow format and incorporates DuPont's Surlyn ionomer in its laminations, has a frangible seal to allow wet-and-dry or wet-and-wet ingredients to be mixed by squeezing the pouch.
“Probably the high-performance technology that we're most proud about is the variable-profile, frangible seal,” Dave Wallan, DuPont's director of intellectual property and licensing, said June 9.
Joe Kornick, president of Kornick Lindsay, acknowledged that converting machinery to produce and fill the Genesis pouch could have a disruptive effect on the marketplace.
“But from a consumer standpoint, the rewards should make it worth the upfront investment on the manufacturing end to refit equipment, he added.
“It's easy mixing and delivery in a pouch. That's the trump card for most consumers,” Kornick said.
Another unusual pouch design that debuted in January helped Sunkist Growers Inc. license a protein-shot drink to pharmaceutical research firm Protica Inc. of Whitehall, Pa. The 1-gallon, multilaminate pouch made by Fres-co System USA Inc. of Telford, Pa., contains a heat-sealed plastic tap that must be attached before the pouch can be hot-filled.
“Putting [the tap] in the seam of the package: no issue,” Daniel Beard, president of converter Packaging Specialists Inc. of Phoenix, said June 8. “Putting it in the body of the package requires you to die cut that hole, bring in the spout through the inside of the pouch and seal it, just like you do in a bag-in-box package.
“Bag-in-box packaging equipment is all set up to do that: It brings the films together after putting the fitments in. A pouch machine pre-makes the pouch and then you have to insert the fitment someplace. That is the real challenge, and that's why so few people, literally, around the world can do this.”
The Sunkist pouch, when filled with protein drink, sells for about $60-$80.
Terry Baker, vice president of sales and marketing at Fres-co, said the pouch is potentially the tip of the iceberg in liquid packaging.
“I don't think there's a size limitation on the upper end,” he said.
A unique, hybrid package for cookies, snacks or powdered detergent that debuted in 2009 also made its way around the Global Pouch forum. The Zipbox resulted from a joint venture between design firm T.H.E.M. and Illinois Tool Works Inc., with aid from partners including Bemis Co. Inc.'s Curwood films unit, closures maker ITW Zip-Pak and paper carton manufacturer Malnove Inc.
Best known for introducing Sanko stick packs to the North American market in the 1970s, Marlton, N.J.-based T.H.E.M. sees tremendous potential for the Zipbox, with its resealable-film upper and poly-coated paperboard lower box, President and CEO Neil Kozarsky said June 8.
“Our research has shown 90 percent of the people who try Zipbox understand how it keeps products fresh,” Kozarsky said. “The majority really appreciate the press-to-seal aspect of the package over the traditional box top and inner pouch.”
Calamusa predicts pouches will experience 5-7 percent annual growth for the next few years, as contract packaging firms and multinational companies that make consumer-related packaged goods shift more of their packaging to flexibles.
In addition to setting a record for attendance, the Global Pouch Forum — the 14th since the conference was founded — drew 52 exhibiting companies, conference coordinator Janet Martinelli confirmed.