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Close encounters

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When it comes to consumer confidence and brand loyalty, manufacturers rely heavily on packaging, and according to some local producers it’s all in the closure. Packaging magazine’s Laine Lister tracks down the trade secrets that will close deals with consumers.

he value of modern closures will be obvious to anyone who remembers tentatively unscrewing the metal roll-on cap from a soft drink bottle.

Tussling with the bottle and gripping the cap in your shirt to protect your hands often resulted in drink everywhere but the glass.

However, a generation of young fizzy drink lovers is blissfully unaware of these pains, having grown up on the plastic variety.

The US-based Freedonia Group estimated the caps and closures industry at $AU27 billion, with demand to grow by 4.8% annually to 2009.

The best gains are expected in the emerging markets of Asia, with a shift towards value-added closures that improve a product’s safety, convenience and shelf appeal.

Visy Industrial Packaging technology manager (closures) Robert Rumian explained many companies are looking to improve on what is available.

“Most people are doing work to develop next generation closures to license world-wide,” he said.

Convenience

Consumer demand for convenience is a key driver of growth in the closure market, and closures designed to address this have focussed on ease of opening and closing (and re-closing), as well as accurate dispensing.

George Weston Foods (GWF) brand Don is among those leading innovation in the smallgoods industry, and Don innovation manager Kevin Young explained the company’s move to an enhanced packaging came in response to a call for greater convenience from its consumers.

Don’s 97% fat-free shaved meats range, stored in a Zip-Pak container, has been on shelves since December 2005.

Before developing the zippered package, Young said, consumer feedback was consistent:

“There was what we call re-closable packaging, but we found that most consumers were quite sceptical about its ability to re-close and provide a tangible seal,” he said.

“Most consumers were re-containing the products after they’d been opened into a Tupperware container, so what we’ve done is come up with a storage solution for them, so they don’t really need to transfer the product at all.”

The new thermoform machine built for GWF produces the Zip-Pak packaging on site.

Consumer focus group feedback to GWF clearly showed the desire for functional packages.

The demand was equally strong for veteran Sydney can-maker Irwin & Sheehan (I&S).

According to I&S CEO John Irwin, packaging that allows the product to easily and accurately dispense is a big consideration.

The third generation steel can company opened its composite can division a little over 12 months ago, and at the same time, redesigned the standard ‘teardrop’ closure for greater convenience and ease of application.

“Part of the reason for developing the new product was to redesign the sprinkler holes, and the new teardrop configuration in the holes pretty much guarantees non-clogging,” he said.

Irwin said such closures also ensure product integrity, which is critical to customer confidence in food products.

Integrity

The tamper-evident theme is important to many food and beverage manufacturers, who constantly research new ways to visually demonstrate safety to consumers.

For example, the European-designed ‘Fullytop’ beverage cap, under license to Visy in Australia, may soon change the way we open our soft drinks.

Visy Industrial Packaging have invested in the latest technology for high speed compression moulding for the new Fullytop closure that is currently being supplied for still water and according to Visy Industrial Packaging, retain carbonation more effectively, particularly at elevated temperatures.

Visy’s Robert Rumian said customers are seeking lighter weight high performance single piece closures to replace current two piece closures for CSD applications.

Single piece caps are required to perform efficiently in terms of CO2 retention at high carbonation levels and elevated temperature, and provide tamper evidence and trouble free application for high speed capping equipment. “The technology in the [Fullytop] tamper-evident band appears very advanced, and performs well from a capping and user perspective.

“A good [beverage] closure should provide good protection of the package, be easy to remove from the container and the tamper evident band should separate cleanly from the cap.

The company is pleased with the overall performance of the cap.

Likewise, I&S decided to redesign their closures to ensure the sprinkler top lid provided adequate product integrity.

The company dealt with flaws in previous sprinkler closures.

The patented lid’s teardrop holes protect the tamper-evident side, and the top’s segmented area has a push-through flap that will not disengage from the lid.

“A lot of existing sprinkler tops have a plastic flap that disengages from the bottom, so you risk having the plastic drop into the product; ours actually hinges and stays there,” he said.

The material used for the sprinkler top is a rigid plastic that fits snugly into the base, and according to Irwin, eliminates plastic shavings falling into the product when perforated.

“We’ve designed it so the opening is big enough to accept a tea spoon, unlike other tops it is possible to spoon out the product if desired.”

“The lid historically had two parts: the rotor top was attached to the stationary base with a hole that gave access to the product, and potentially liable to contamination.

“It is now tamper evident, and you can’t get to the product unless you remove the whole sprinkler, and that’s not easy to do.”

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