A closure may be the last thing that happens to a package on the production line, but it is far from the last thing you should be thinking about. With the latest innovations, you can top it off with utility and style. Joy Ross writes for Packaging.
Caps, closures and dispensers have a fairly straightforward function: to keep the contents in the container and protect it from contamination. In food and pharmaceutical applications, the overriding consideration is product integrity, and that means tamper-evidence. In household and garden products, child-resistance is essential.
Other necessary functions are to give access to the consumer - of course - and, in some applications, re-sealability.
The closure is the first point of contact between the consumer and the product. Brand owners know that if it is a great experience, consumers will be happy and buy again. Equally, if it is a messy or frustrating experience, they will buy a competitor’s product next time.
Successful closures also look good and feel good, creating a point of difference on a crowded supermarket shelf.
So, the challenge is to create closures that are “all things to all people”: safe, ergonomic, economic, and eye-catching. Suppliers are meeting the challenge with innovative solutions that bring together new materials, technology, and engineering.
When the silicon(e) valve first appeared in the Australian honey and syrup markets, it was very successful.
“It was successful because it met a consumer need,” Cormack Packaging managing director Matthew Cormack says.
Although there has been delayed market acceptance in some other applications in Australia, valved closures are widely accepted in the United States and Europe across the food and beverage, health and personal care, and household industries.
“Valved closure technology is revolutionising the way we use products and the format in which they are presented to the consumer,” Seaquist-Valois Australia (SVA) account manager Karl Vass says.
“In either an upright or inverted package, it creates a no-mess leak-proof pack that is easy to use with one hand. There is even a valve suited to dispensing powders such as talc. The valve is now a stock closure item.”
SVA is taking silicon a step further with its new beverage closure which incorporates a valve that shuts off to prevent spills if the drink bottle falls - ideal for kids’ beverages.
Lose the liner and the leaks
Whether it is a simple cap, a push-pull sports closure or the latest hinged one-piece drink dispenser, if it passes through a hot-fill line you need to seal it tight.
Until recently the only effective solution was an aluminium foil that does the job too well? Drink manufacturers do not just want them to be easier to get off, they want to get rid of them altogether. This should be possible with the development of liner-less closures.
Amcor recently released a liner-less cap closure for bottled water applications.
“The seal is integral to the closure with no gasket or elastomer liner,” Amcor Closure Systems general manager Richard Stedman says.
“It is more competitive and efficient to make and delivers superior performance. When liner-less technology is applied to hot-fill products such as fruit juice, it will eliminate foils.”
Some milk bottlers are heading in the other direction.
“They are adopting the more expensive induction seal liners that are used extensively in Europe,” Cormack says.
“But we can solve the leak problem with existing equipment, clever closure design and caps without liners.”
Triggers are the most common dispenser for many household and garden products, but safety is an issue as well as sometimes being difficult to use.
The problems are being solved with child-resistant trigger sprays, remote triggers for big bottles, battery-assisted power dispensers, and more.
“Trigger sprays that can be used upside down and sideways are now at the prototype stage and should be available in the near future,” Cospak state manager Victoria John Upstill said.
Available now is a range of personal care dispensers that have lost their caps, so there are no caps to lose.
“Market research identified that this is what consumers want,” Vass says.
“SVA makes hood-less aerosol actuators and mist sprayers that rotate on and off, and lotion dispensers that lock down on the shelf then pop up for the consumer but can still be rotated off after use in the ‘up’ position.”
Message on a bottle
Marketers and manufactures also want to use closures to communicate with their customers. This is increasingly possible with high-quality printing, branding and embossing, as well as materials that combine colour and texture.
Amcor recently commercialised Banguard, a cap that combines plastic for the tamper-evidence component, and metal for high-resolution graphics.
SVA’s two-tone bi-injected closures suit families of personal care products. The first colour can identify the brand while the second distinguishing products in the range. Thermo-plastic elastomers create soft, non-slip finger pads.
“These extra features are developed because marketers want a pack that says: ‘Pick me!’, explains Vass.
To do this, the closure has to be considered at the outset as part of product design, and not as an afterthought. It also has to be applied correctly.