Products on display at Pack Expo spanned a range of packaging needs. Some of the most important developments were focused on reinforcing brand identity and product differentiation. The show, Nov. 3-7 in Chicago, highlighted these and other advances that promoted the innovation and diversity of plastics packaging.
Despite the economic slowdown in most parts of the world, plastics packaging continues to turn in solid gains. According to figures presented at Pack Expo by consultant Ernst & Young, plastics accounted for $116 billion of the $314 billion spent on packaging materials in 2001, trailing only paper and board at $133 billion. (In third and fourth place were metal, at $40 billion, and glass, at $25 billion.) Consumer markets made up 70% of demand, with food packaging accounting for $145 billion and beverages $75 billion.
The global market for all packaging in 2001 was valued at $417 billion by Ernst & Young, of which Europe accounted for $129 billion; North America for $116 billion; and Japan $61 billion. In per-capita spending on packaging, Japan was $500; North America $350; and Europe $176. These figures bode well for the future of packaging demand in developing regions. In Asia, for example, per-capita spending on packaging is only $19; in Africa and the Middle East, it’s $29; and in Latin America, it’s $43.
Markets like North America, Western Europe, and Japan are viewed as mature in terms of demand, though gro-wth, of course, will be from an already high base. With competition for packaging keen in these areas, it’s little wonder that many developments at Pack Expo focused on pro-duct differentiation. Notable among these developments were materials and packages in-tended to help food companies and even retailers reinforce brand identity and product value through the use of innovative packaging.
Voridian Co., for example, touted its VersaTray crystallized polyethylene terephthalate (cpet) resin for dual-ovenable food packaging. The material withstands a temperature range of –40 to 400°F. It has been available in North America, Europe, South America, and Asia-Pacific since the mid-1990s, but Voridian, a division of Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, tn, has started promoting the VersaTray name to consumers in North America. Jeffrey G. Best, business market manager for the polymers business group, said the objective is to make shoppers aware of the brand name to drive sales of VersaTray-packaged food.
Best said Voridian seeks to co-brand the thermoformed package with food companies or retailers or both. By promoting the brand through ads, in-store signage, and point-of-purchase displays, Voridian wants consumers to equate food in the cpet package with quality, convenience, and value.
Consumer awareness is critical, Best said, because studies show that shoppers tend to spend longer in frozen and refrigerated food sections of stores than in other areas. Moreover, 75% of consumers who pick up food packages to examine the contents or read the labels buy the product.
The benefit for retailers is not only the potential for increased sales, but sales of higher-priced products since the value equation can include premium pricing. Best said research found consumers will pay up to 41¢ more per tray for properties like those of VersaTray.
A similar effort is underway by Cargill Dow, the Minnetonka, mn, supplier of NatureWorks, a polylactic acid resin made from corn and other plants. Michael O’Brien, communications leader, says the company is meeting with retailers and product makers to get them to ask for packaging from converters that’s fabricated with the resin.
Using packaging thermoformed of NatureWorks is a way for a store or oem to burnish its image by promoting environmental awareness and influencing consumers to buy its products.
NatureWorks has been specified for fresh food and pasta containers by IPER, a 21-store chain based in northern Italy. O’Brien said IPER promotes its care in selecting the best foods for customers, so NatureWorks containers and their “green” image was a seamless addition to its advertising message. The stores promote the availability of the packages with banners and brochures at every entrance. “Retailers can take a product and differentiate it [with NatureWorks packaging],” O’Brien said. “This is a way to get consumers’ attention.”
Electronics giant Sony has specified NatureWorks for blisterpacks for its Walkman portable stereos. The packages have been on retail shelves in Japan since last year and will be in the U.S. early in 2003. “Sony is really applying our material to different applications,” O’Brien remarked.
Cargill Dow helps retailers promote NatureWorks packaging on a case-by-case basis. O’Brien said a formal program may be in place early this year. Most interest has come from outside the U.S., but he noted that the same regulatory and public concerns regarding eco-friendly packaging are coming to America. A year ago, he said, no U.S. retailers wanted to discuss the resin. Now, many are interested.
[Cargill Dow recently announced a new initiative with packaging suppliers Amprica SpA, of Italy, and Wei Mon Industry, Taipei, to develop packaging fabricated from Nature-Works pla resin; see Plastiscope.]
Two grades are available for thermoforming; one is opaque and one is clear. There are also two grades for cast film. O’Brien said that for thermoforming, the material is similar to pet in shrink rate. Material change is relatively easy — NatureWorks runs well on thermoformers configured for polystyrene — but the resin needs drying.
The film grades won’t run on oriented polypropylene lines, since pp stretch ratios are more than pla can take, but they can be used on opet and ops lines.
Biodegradable polymers were featured on many stands at Pack Expo. Cortec Corp., St. Paul, mn, a chemicals company specializing in corrosion-resistance products, unveiled Eco Film, for bags and corrosion protection, which is derived from soybeans. The material has no starch and reportedly degrades in about six weeks to CO2 and water. The company claims the film is twice as strong as ldpe and lldpe. It costs twice as much but can be downgaged, bringing the premium per bag to about 20 to 30% more than pe, though this will decline as volume increases. Cortec forecasted sales of just under 10 million lb of film last year.
DuPont showed Biomax biodegradable polymers for food-service and fast-food use. Based on a modified polyester described as “hydro-biodegradable,” the polymer is designed to break down in composting where it is digested by microbes in the compost.
Also featured by the company was an innovative device for keeping bottled beverages cold — the label. Cool2Go Wrap is a laminated film that’s claimed to keep beverages cold twice as long as usual on hot days, generally up to 30 min. Its thermal insulation also keeps hot beverages hot. The product is fabricated by laminating a layer of DuPont’s Thermolite Active insulation between layers of Melinex pet film from DuPont Teijin Films. On samples displayed at the show, the label covered about two-thirds of a 20-oz plastics bottle.
Toray Plastics (America), meanwhile, launched three products with a range of benefits for packagers. Torayfan PCF is a 45-gage, metallized, oriented pp film designed to replace foil in barrier laminations. Torayfan PC-2 is a 45-gage opp film with good cold-seal properties that resists delamination during package opening and provides high oxygen and moisture barrier. LumBrite U6E is a pet grade for holographic applications.
Grade PCF is a drop-in replacement for foil. It can be used with multilayer extrusion or adhesive laminations. Properties include moisture and oxygen barrier, high puncture and flex-crack resistance, and a higher yield versus foil. Toray says the material has metal-detection capability, and is compatible with conventional packaging equipment.
Grade PC-2 can be used in extrusion, adhesive, and cold-seal applications. Though it has low metal content compared with many competitive films, its metal adhesion is claimed to be twice that of most other films. It is especially suitable for pouch applications.
The U6E holographic film is designed for fast production and economy. It has a proprietary coating that permits direct embossing. The result is a highly esthetic material that can be used in diverse film-to-board and other laminated packaging.
In non-food packaging, Dow Chemical commercialized a ps-based extruded microcellular foam with extremely high thermal insulation properties. Called Instill, the material is for use as the core in vacuum insulation panels (vip), a specialized, high-value area of thermal insulation.
Instill can maintain a product at temperatures between 2 and 8°C for 100 h with no need for extra cooling. This is a major benefit in the transport of sensitive pharmaceuticals and human organs. This capability, coupled with its small size and light weight, makes shipment of temperature-sensitive products by air easier and more economical.
The foam is also seen to have use as refrigerator insulation in countries like Japan, where tight living space in cities creates a need for smaller appliances.
Dow extrudes the foam as a closed-cell slab 1 to 2 in thick. A post-extrusion treatment breaks open the cells. The open-cell structure means a higher vacuum can be applied. Instill has R values of 25 to 30 depending on vacuum applied — about 25% better than vip based on polyurethane foam or silica powder.