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Market Update: North America stands up for pouches

January 1, 2006

5 Min Read
Market Update: North America stands up for pouches

As the $22 billion flexible food-packaging market in North America matures, heady growth is found in niche markets that depend on newer technologies. Growth is also evident in packaging that feeds off changes in Americans'' shopping habits, offering convenience without foregoing quality.

Resealable standup pouches have infiltrated every aisle of North American grocers, claiming converts from cartons, tins, and single-use plastics packaging, but more significant gains in retort packages for fully prepared foods, like soups and sauces, will depend upon shifting America''s phobia of nonrefrigerated food.

"It''s the psyche of the American consumer that [prepared food] has to be refrigerated," explains George Thomas, VP and general manager flexible packaging supplier Ampac Flexibles (Cincinnati, OH), formed from Ampac''s existing film coextrusion capabilities and the recent acquisitions of pouchmakers Kapak and Flexicon. "I think some of that holds true with flexible packaging and the standup pouch: the recognition that you can stabilize a food; it can be precooked, go into a microwave and be good."

Ampac is currently undertaking trials of wide-web Saran polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) material from Dow, creating master rolls up to 100 inches wide for a clear barrier film suitable for coffee, cheese, soups, snack foods, cereals, sauces, processed meats, and fully prepared foods for which Americans clamor due to convenience, even if they''d prefer to see the products in a cooler.

The material offers oxygen and moisture barrier, but of most interest to Ampac and brand owners is its ability to withstand the high heat and humidity of the retort process, which entails 45 minutes to one hour of exposure to temperatures of 135ºC (275°F) for a filled pouch. The technology, which can pack nine distinct material layers into 1.5 mm, roughly the width of a human hair, requires more work on tie layers, which hold the various filler, barrier, and resin layers together, according to Thomas, but it offers an opportunity to expand the market as well.

"That''s the key," Thomas says, "knowing what structures will survive the retort process and still give you a presentable package on the shelf." For its part, Ampac sees growth of 3-4% in the $22 billion North American flexible packaging market as a whole with the pouch segment growing at 6-10% and standup pouches expanding by 10%. Within that group, the retort segment looks to grow at a 15-17% rate according to Ampac.

Thomas cites convenience, a large "billboard" of rotogravure-printed decoration, ease of integration into existing distribution systems, and food taste and quality as drivers. As an example of the relative speed with which wholesale switches can occur, he offers up tuna, which had been exclusively offered in tins but is quickly switching to pouches.

"If you go to the shelf today," Thomas says, "you can get a 6-oz can of tuna for $1.19 or $1.29, and a 3-oz pouch of tuna for $1.39 to $1.59; half the product and it''s beginning to look like the pouches are outselling the cans."

Losing its zipTwenty years ago, the first resealable consumer food package made its entrée onto North American shelves in the form of Sargento''s shredded cheese package, utilizing Zip Pak (Manteno, IL) technology. In the years since, resealable bags have become the norm for shredded cheese in the U.S. and other markets but changes are coming with the press-and-close sealing mechanism being replaced by newer slider technologies, if for no other reason than domestic tranquility.

"Anecdotal evidence from the research we do shows that sliders are by far preferred over any other type," says Bob Hogan, Zip Pak''s director of international sales and marketing. "We hear things like, `Now my husband and children have no reason not to close this package.''"

The first slider came out a couple of years ago, after five years of development work, but in the time since, Zip Pak, which is a division of industrial conglomerate Illinois Tool Works, has developed three slider products: one for laminate applications with barrier properties; one for low-density PE applications like grape bags; and one for frozen-food packages. In addition, zippers for retort packages have been created, as have leak-proof versions targeting vacuum bags, and the company has also worked to ease installation of the system for converters into items like pre-made pouches.

Zip Pak, which five years ago expanded outside the North American market, opening three manufacturing facilities in Europe, as well as operations in Japan, Australia, and Brazil, sees different uses for its products in different regions. In North America, sliders and press-and-seal closures have gained widespread acceptance in luncheon meats and cheeses, while the largest market in Europe is pet food, and the Pacific Rim sees high demand for powdered milk.

Hogan anticipates greater opportunities for the industry in America and abroad, as club stores like Costco, which set minimum limits for the sale price of items, demand large-format resealable pouches, and other products add resealability to their selling points.

"The research we''ve done suggest for consumers that if it''s a flexible package of more than one portion," Hogan says, "they''re probably going to want it to be resealable. I can''t think of a flexible package that we wouldn''t be able to put a resealable fastener on." TD

Tony Deligio [email protected]

Contact information

Ampac Flexibles  

www.ampaconline.com

Dow Chemical Co.  

www.dow.com

Zip Pak  

www.zippak.com

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