The April 2007 meeting of Australian Institute of Packaging was about alternatives to the traditional can.
Peter Banfield and Kelvin Davies of Visy combined to update the assembly with the new trends in food packaging using alternatives to the traditional tin can or innovations on the same.
Peter had compiled a kaleidoscope depicting trends and concepts. The underpinning message was that unless a package delivers the message and the contents the promise, it will struggle in the marketplace (especially with the aging population).
Researches differ widely about canning numbers in traditional forms; however, Visy experience indicates that metal cans are definitely not in decline, but are growing in some parts of the world by being enhanced by the combination of technologies with that of the proven can. Foil and easy open ends applied to metal cans is one example, as is the enclosing of single serve or portion pack food in cans in a paperboard sleeve to indicate high value. Ghee in a can with a foil lid was not only innovative but the marketers had made the metal can bulbous to stand out in the crowd.
Private Label (EU) is also a key driver toward innovative alternatives to metal cans and the brand manufacturer that ignores the trend may be left behind. Private label Suppliers are strong that there is a Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), which is growing and organises exhibitions (Amsterdam) that are now globally recognised as the place to be.
Milk in glass and can containers that is retorted and having a different organoleptic profile is gaining ground in the premium market of traditional UHT paperboard boxes and is now on sale in ten countries and is poised to expand. Premiumising is a new word for packagers’ lexicon particularly in brands that want to segment and Private Labels that are launching new brands not only against multinational bread and butter marques but often against a totally new technology.
In the Australian and North American segments Private Label products are increasingly being packaged in China, Thailand, Latin America and Africa, and imported at prices below local costs. Peter Banfield indicated that metal cans continue to have good volumes in Australia, although many are now imported.
The development of a substitute flexible package in the United States has also allowed the off shore manufacturer to take the advantage of supply chain cost savings, ramp up production and using those economies ,drop the excess in the North American theatre.
One packer in the Philippines imports Australian dairy products processes them and re-exports the finished shelf stable consumer pack to Canada. A branded African company has food packaged in France and exported home for sale, while a Greek operator launched plastic as an alternative to glass, and as it reached maturity reverted to higher premium glass offering with success.
Shelf stable is leaning to segmentation for these newer plastic packs and some are also targeting the chilled markets. One example from France, which when reported raised some debate, is for shelf stable products to be displayed in supermarkets exactly as the traditional chilled range. Concern from the audience was that consumers may become confused or complacent and end up with spoiled product.
Some emerging European trends market the advantages of new clear plastic barrier technology and has delivered retorted hot dogs with included sauce, which has not displaced cans, but glass. Extrusion blow moulded self heating packs (Wolfgang Puk) for the on-the-run consumer is an example
Kelvin explained the science of packaging food in alternative package forms and the manner in which a process [casually referred to by many] retort may be carried out. The important thing is to heat the product long enough to render the product sterile without degradation. Retorting may be done by traditional steam, other processes using electricity, microwave, pressure, light or chemical technology are also being developed. Much was advised about computer technology and logic systems in the control of retorting in the burgeoning market for ready to eat meals.
Metal cans have been light weighted and combined with high speed filling lowered costs with significant success, which when added to inherent advantages in tamper evident and tamper proofing, combined with the 100% recyclability and high-volume return in kerbside collections adds to longevity and continued acceptance.
However, plastic alternatives have more ability in the areas of shelf awareness and stand out shapes. Consumers are slowly converting to the message that a plastic package represents high quality and will pay a premium for a package that actually arrives on the shelf at a higher unit cost than the one it replaced.
While the introduction of plastic packages continues unabated, the message was that plastic is more complicated and careful evaluation is the important thing to consider when making the change. While realtors shout position-position-position the plastic package technologists would say evaluate-evaluate-evaluate and benchmark against a proven package in the same genre.