Flexible packaging is on a roll

Image courtesy AlliedFlex Technologies.

“There’s tremendous growth in the flexible packaging industry, and nothing will stop this momentum except advocacy groups,” said Dennis Calamusa, President and CEO of AlliedFlex Technologies (Sarasota, FL), a machinery technology company, in his opening statement at the recent SPE Flexible Packaging and Association of International Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators conference in Phoenix.

AlliedFlex supplies stand-up pouch packaging machinery to food companies. “Connecting with consumers is key to the growth of our industry,” Calamusa said.

To meet changing consumer trends, brands are moving from rigid legacy packaging toward new and different ways of attracting consumers. “Converting brand owners from rigid to flexible is disruptive but it is making inroads into the legacy packaging market,” Calamusa added. “Repackaging into this new format is happening and boosting sales.”

While brand owners generally don’t like to “fool around” with a well-known package, they do realize a new package could reinvent a brand for a specific demographic and even reduce costs. “Flexible packaging brings that to the forefront,” said Calamusa. “Expanding markets drive change.”

Calamusa pointed out that there are a number of new opportunities for flexible packaging other than big supermarkets, primarily in ecommerce. “Packaging will change. It’s a logistical requirement. Cans of soup versus pouches of soup means less transportation costs, for example,” he noted. “We can effectively compete with rigid packaging through flexible packaging’s ability to add functionality and make that connection with the consumer.”

Capri Sun has eight billion packages of its juice products in North America. The fact that they add a spout to the pouch extends the demographics of their products from 2 to 10 years of age to 16 or 17, explained Calamusa. “Flexible packaging can add value by creating line extensions,” he added. “We’re seeing the early stages of transition in new markets for flexible packaging. It won’t happen overnight as brand owners start small and take baby steps, but once the big brands adopt it, the others will follow.”

However, Calamusa related the fact that Plum baby food took 90% of the baby food market with its pouches. “Big companies don’t revolutionize—they follow,” he said.

Another trend in flexible food packaging is transparency, and flexible packaging materials are enabling that. Tree Top, for example, has a transparent applesauce pouch for 6 to 12 year olds. Green Valley is replacing cans with pouches, and many new food companies are going to pouches from the beginning.

“Large companies have been slower to change and their inability to respond quickly to a changing consumer market means that many can’t get out of their own way,” Calamusa said. “So, they buy the small, innovative companies.”

How is all of this impacting the machinery business? Calamusa explained that partnering is creating new opportunities for food companies. Opportunities for refills arise when a company partners a pouch with a rigid container. The rigid container can then be refilled by ordering pouches of the product online, which is good for ecommerce. 

Calamusa said the company just installed 17 pouch machines at Procter & Gamble, as that large consumer brands company partners pouches with canisters for refills of its Tide pods.

All of this has a “huge impact” on the packaging machinery industry, said Calamusa. “It’s more complex to handle on the manufacturing side, using pre-made pouches for refills,” he added.

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