Guenther Hering, vice president, flexible packaging North America, Henkel Corp. 

Flexible Packaging: Please provide an overview to this segment.
Hering: The market has shown accumulated 2.5-3% growth over the past decade. The effect of the recession meant that 2009 was one of the very few years that we didn’t see growth.

FP: What are the major trends and drivers?
Hering: There has been unforeseen increases in raw materials prices, which has put a lot of pressure for cost reduction measures. There has been a lot of innovation over the past few years. One challenge for the industry is the unknown impact of overseas companies. There is a lot of added pressure from imported materials and converted packaging from Asia. If, in the long term, products will continue to be exported from China, will the packaging be created in where the products are produced? That could have a secondary effect on flexible packaging. When you add in the mergers in positions and consolidation, there are a lot of different dynamics occurring.

FP: What are the effects of the cost pressures you mention?
Hering: There has been consolidation of raw material supplies and capacity constraints caused by lack of investments when the industry wasn’t profitable. It’s been almost like a “perfect storm” set of circumstances.

FP: Drilling down into adhesives for flexible films: What’s the reason that solventless adhesives are growing in popularity?
Hering: Basically, it’s due to the faster line speeds, the fact that there are large savings in energy cost not having to dry water or solvents, and finally from the reduction in emissions. The technology was quickly accepted in Europe, but has been seeing more acceptance over the last 10 years in North America. Today, most of the new laminating equipment is solventless.

FP: What role do you see for electron beam (e-beam) technology in curing?
Hering: We have been working in e-beam for about 10 years now and offer a full range of products for those applications. There has been only limited use of the technology due to a fairly high investment cost in the equipment along with a higher cost of chemicals compared to traditional materials. However, I see opportunities for this technology, especially in the area of source reduction, to replace some laminations with coatings on monolayer materials.

An operator takes a close look at a film lamination. Most new laminating equipment use solventless adhesives, which offer operational benefits.

FP: What can you say about the packaging films that are laminated using your company’s adhesives?
Hering: The most-used materials remain polyethylene and polypropylene, the latter fairly inexpensive and appropriate for applications including snacks and confections. Polyester is particularly appropriate for higher-heat applications, though certain market dynamics the last several months have created almost a shortage-like situation and significant cost increases for PET film. 

A major trend relates to sustainability and the use of recyclable materials to replace traditional PE films; for example, films made of polylactic acid (PLA) films or cellophane. These materials are based on natural resources, but also have performance limitations. Longer-term, perhaps companies will alter-lower-their existing specifications or film providers may be able to increase the performance of these films without sacrificing the sustainable aspect.

FP: Related to sustainability: Are you seeing much in the way of simplified and downgauged film structures?
Hering: There is some of that activity from a source reduction point of view and sometimes from a cost-reduction view to eliminate a layer or eliminate a lamination by having a monolayer material. Doing that without sacrificing the performance of the package is a bit of a challenge.

FP: How would you assess the flexible packaging market for foods and beverages?
Hering: There are basically two broad-based applications in these markets. On the beverage side there are stand-up drink pouches for juice drinks and other noncarbonated products along with laminated labels for bottles that yield higher quality graphics. Companies are working to move carbonated beverages into pouches, but that is a [technical] problem. 

Stand-up pouches are also finding more uses on the food side, especially through convenience and particularly with reclosable features. It started with [press-to-seal] zippers, but now there are other closures on the market that basically eliminate the zipper but have the same effect. Convenience is becoming more and more important along with printability that makes the package stand out on the shelf.

FP: Where do you see the market headed?
Hering: I foresee more opportunities for flexible packaging going forward to replace traditional containers. Examples include eliminating cereal boxes and replacing aluminum cans with retortable pouches. All of these are driven by costs, the energy footprint, and other environmental advantages and with more convenience for consumers such as for closure mechanisms.

Henkel Corp.