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Plastics get a makeover

There's more to dairy than milk – Rodney Abbott provides an update on PET for beverage products and looks at developments in the food to go and premium product sectors

“One area where there has been dramatic growth in recent years is the food-to-go sector,” says Ian Symes, Wilsanco’s sales director. People have increasingly busy lifestyles and food-to-go products offer them convenient meal options, particularly at breakfast and lunch times. Innovative design has been crucial here to make the packaging as practical as it is attractive.”

An early example of this in which Wilsanco was involved was the Rumblers breakfast cereal pack for Ennis Foods. This two-pot pack has a bowl for cereal and a smaller bowl which holds milk. To enjoy the product, the consumer only has to open the pots and pour the milk on to the cereal.

Symes believes the two-pot pack concept has enormous potential. “Take our Top Hat two-pack, for instance, in which two standard cup-style pots sit one, upside down, on top of the other. Couple this with the trend towards clear polymer so the product can be seen and the result is a pack that works perfectly for muesli and yogurt, crudités and a cream cheese dip or simply strawberries and cream.”

Wilsanco extended its range of Top Hat two-packs last year to include additional diameters and capacities. Manufactured from polypropylene, the packs are microwaveable and freezable options can also be supplied.

Clear pots are also proving popular for premium products, especially the upmarket own-brand ranges that have been introduced by the major retail groups. “Packaging here plays a vital role in helping to differentiate and sell these products,” says Symes. “Let me use dairy desserts as an example. If you have a marbled white and dark chocolate mousse and you present it in a clear pot, the customer can see just how appetising it looks. You might also want to enhance the pot’s appearance. A swirl effect could be incorporated into the sides of the pot, or a company logo or brand name embossed on to it.

“Our Top Hat two-packs have a place here too. One of our customer’s desserts has a piped swirl of cream on top of it. This is encased in a clear polymer Top Hat pot. It not only protects the cream but also gives the consumer an all-too-tempting glimpse of the product too.

“Obviously, decoration is important as well,” says Symes. “This may involve plastic sleeving, labelling or enclosing the pack in a printed card sleeve. But there have been major improvements in printing techniques over recent years too. High-definition photographic images and illustrations can now be printed directly on to the pot. We have a number of printing options at Wilsanco that allow us to achieve this and these tend to be far more cost effective than other methods of decoration,” he adds.

Portola Packaging has been strongly targeting producers of milk, yoghurt, smoothie and other non-carbonated drinks since Summer of last year with its new pull ring California neck insert, designed to be compatible with existing primary cap designs. It says the plastic pull ring closure, developed at its Doncaster site, offers plastic bottle users the flexibility to switch to a pull ring closure “without the time, inconvenience and cost constraints of having to modify existing capping equipment”.

The neck insert can be fitted on conventional capping lines, is compatible with standard 38mm single-start bottle necks and other commonly-used dairy bottle necks and incorporates a pouring lip and dual seal anti-leak technology, with parts fixed by a permanent foil bond.

Portola says its design also means pack height is maintained after fitting, allowing customers to enjoy pack appearance uniformity when California is used alongside other closures.

In the past six years a revolution has taken place on retail shelves, both inside and outside the chill cabinet. Milk, the daily ‘pinta’, part of our staple diet, has had a makeover. Indeed, the milk market has become the dairy drinks market, as Jan Jaeken of Amcor PET Packaging explains. “Forward-thinking manufacturers have recognised that while consumers still want to drink milk, many want something a little more exciting than the standard product. The results of these new product initiatives have been impressive, with innovations such as flavoured milks, drinking yoghurts, milk/juice mixes, added vitamins and ‘liquid breakfasts’, and the pace of introductions shows no sign of slacking.”

It is these developments in particular that have fuelled the growth of PET packaging for milk and dairy drinks. A good example of how the material ideally complements such new products comes from one of Amcor’s major customers, Campina, with whom the company developed the first PET bottles for dairy products from 1997-1999.

Campina has overseen the introduction of many product innovations in recent years including drinking yoghurts and flavoured milks under brand names such as Stassano, Vifit and Goede Morgen, Mild and Fruity – a dairy drink aimed at the adult market – and Yazoo, an orange juice drink with a smooth taste.

As with all new initiatives, marketing support and creating and building brand awareness are crucial to the success of these products and here packaging has played a vital support role, as Jan Arnaut, Campina’s business development manager, confirms.

“Packaging has to be seen as a perfect tool for translating brand values to the consumer you are targeting,” he explains. “It should be designed so that it fits for every drinking occasion and place where your consumer will buy and use it. There are consumers for all types of packaging. The skill is to ensure you select the right pack for your concept. We believe PET is an effective packaging material when a new brand identity needs to be established.”

Indeed, such was the success of Campina’s first product in PET – Stassano drinking yoghurt in Belgium – that in June 2000 the company converted its entire fresh milk assortment from carton to PET. Using the signature ‘swirl’ bottle from Amcor, Campina established its brand identity in the chill cabinet with a sleek and shiny new look.

PET is making a similar contribution to existing brands and new products in many European countries. Italy is a growing market and there have been significant developments in the Benelux countries, while milk products packed in PET are now starting to appear on German shelves. Spain and the UK have also seen their share of milk products in PET.

There are several reasons for PET’s success. For example, Its design flexibility and choice of decoration options mean the material can create a striking visual identity for a new brand and, equally important, retain this image as a family range across a number of different bottle sizes.

Size is also a key factor in the material’s popularity among consumers, with the proliferation of single serve packs ideal for children and busy adults alike. Consumers like the convenience of PET too, because it is lightweight [large bottles are still easy to handle] and the bottle can be re-closed, enabling them to choose how quickly they want to finish their drink.

Technical developments have also helped to widen the opportunities for PET bottles in the dairy industry. With its strict hygiene standards, PET manufacturers have worked closely with their dairy customers to ensure requirements and compatibility issues of packaging milk into PET have been overcome.

Just as significant has been development work for barrier materials, allowing more products to be stored and displayed outside the chill cabinet. Amcor has focused on its multi-layer technology to provide solutions for all milk products packed and distributed at ambient temperature, providing barriers to light, oxygen or a combination of both.

RPC produces a myriad of plastic dairy packaging products. The 2.4-l polypropylene tub from RPC Blackburn is used for KTC Edibles’ soft-spread margarine for food service outlets. KTC Edibles’ key requirement was for tamper-evidence, which is provided by a square tab on the rim of the container. Both base and lid are supplied in white, giving KTC the flexibility to change labels depending on the product and brand. This solution has the additional benefit of providing cost-effectiveness in transportation and warehousing.

Similarly, RPC Bebo Plastik in Germany produces a thermoformed tub for a number of Hochland AG products including an innovative cheese spread. Based in Heimenkirch, Allgäu, Hochland is a successful manufacturer of cheese items under a number of well-known brands – Hochland, Almette, Patros and Valbrie.

The tub has a curved shape and high quality post-mould labels from 3 P Spezialdruck. The distinctive large lid is pre-printed with the all-over Bebo Print technique to enable decoration to the rim.

In Poland, the tub is used for the Krem range of cheese spreads, comprising plain, gherkin, dill/chives and paprika varieties. The success of the product has led Hochland to launch the range in Romania.

In Germany the tub maximises on-shelf exposure for the spread – “the first hard cheese for spreading” – that uses a new production process to combine a spreadable consistency with the characteristic flavour of three types of hard cheese – Gouda, Emmenthal and Maasdam.