Creatively engineered fitments and closures are adding value to flexible packaging, addressing requirements such as spill control, convenience and food safety.
Among the innovations are fitments and closures that are compatible with food processing technologies such as aseptic filling, retorting and hot filling. Indeed, manyof the new fitments and closures are specifically designed for foods and beverages.
For both types of products, controlled dispensing for on-the-go use has emerged as a key differentiator.
One Japanese film manufacturer, Hosokawa Yoko Co. Ltd., has pioneered some high profile innovations for controlled dispensing, including the Cheer Pack. This package is a stand-up pouch outfitted with a fitment that includes a straw. The product is dispensed bypouring, sipping or squeezing the pouch. The threaded closure that fits over the spout is child-safe and tamper-evident.
Cheer Pack builds on the increasingly popular concept of flexible containers “that function like bottles, only with thinner walls,” explains Neil Kozarsky, president ofTechnical Help in Engineering and Marketing (T.H.E.M.). “You have a flexible equivalent to a bottle and, just like a bottle, it needs a convenient way to pour and to be reclosed.”
In countries like Japan, where the focus on source reduction has led to early adoption and fast growth of flexible packaging, structures that offer this level of functionality are in high demand. “It’s really taken hold throughout Japan and other parts of Asia as well as in the [European Union],” says Kozarsky. “The scale of the Cheer Pack on a global basis,excluding the United States, is measured in the billions of units.”
The package can be used for products ranging from fruit juice, sports drinks and tea, to viscous products such as ice cream and herb pastes; it is compatible with retorting,hot filling, gas flushing and freezing. For ready-to-eat foods like yogurt, the package’s squeezability eliminates the need for a utensil.
Beyond food and beverages, the package can be used for lotions, cosmetics and shampoos as well as industrial inks and gels. Pouch sizes vary from 2 to 32 ounces, and the fitment is compatible with a variety of laminates. Options for filling includeform-fill-seal and filling pre-formed pouches through the spout.
Another new fitment, which focuses on controlled dispensing for on-the-go beverages and semi-liquid products like yogurt, is the Clean Valve from IPN. Developed in conjunction with SmartSeal AS, the fitment features a suction-activated, spill-proof valve. As the consumer applies suction, the valve incorporated into the spout opens andthe beverage flows. When suction stops, the valve closes and stops the flow. Squeezing the pouch does not open the spout.
Only light suction is needed to open the valve, so the fitment is suitable for products targeted at seniors and children. Because the design eliminates spills, “You avoid what all parents experience when kids go in the back seat with a juice box,” says Luis De la Mora, director of sales and marketing at IPN USA. He adds that the fitment is a low-cost option for controlled liquid dispensing.
Filling can be accomplished using pre-made pouches and filling through the spout, or via form-fill-seal, with the spout applied after filling. The fitment is compatible with hot-filling, retorting and aseptic filling. Pouch laminates require a sealable layer such as polyethylene or polypropylene but are not limited otherwise. Newly introduced, the Clean Valve is not yet in commercial use.
Finally, a variation on the familiar zipper closure offers an option for controlled dispensing of dry products. Called the Corner Zip, the closure is a zipper attached diagonally across the corner of a stand-up pouch. From Hosokawa Yoko, the recloseable zipper provides the functionality of a spout.
“You give the consumer what is intuitively a better, more directional pour,” says Kozarsky.
Variations on convenienceConvenience for foods and beverages consumed at home, at work and in restaurants relies less on controlled dispensing and more on ease of use and food safety. For convenience in dispensing liquid and liquid concentrates, IPN developed the Clean Pump system.
The Clean Pump package-a disposable pouch with pump fitment-is inserted in a dispensing unit stationed in the kitchen or on the foodservice counter. The fitment incorporates a metal O-ring that is activated through a solenoid valve.
Esio Beverage Co. has introduced a line of beverage concentrates in the Clean Pump pouch. Each pouch contains 3 ounces of beverage concentrate, and the pouches fit into Esio’s on-demand beverage dispenser.
Esio offers numerous products in the pouch, including coffees, teas, juices, juice drinks and lemonade. Each beverage is dispensed through the pouch fitment at the same time water is dispensed, with the concentrate and water mixing in midair before hitting the glass or cup.
The operator swaps out pouches to dispense different drinks, and there is no cross contamination when switching between beverages because the pouches seal airtight between uses.
A different concept, from International Dispensing Corp. (IDC), takes aseptic technology in a new direction. IDC’s Multiserve SafePak is a bag with a fitment that dispenses aseptically. The package can be used to fill highand low-acid products and is compatible with both aseptic and hot filling.
In contrast to the taps on conventional bag-inbox packages, which do not maintain product sterility after the package has been opened via the fitment, The Answer tap from IDC assures product sterility after opening.
Consequently, refrigeration is unnecessary during shipment, storage and use of the product. Although refrigeration may be preferred for aesthetic reasons, the lack of refrigeration poses no food safety threat.
In fact, the respected Journal of Food Protection published findings of a study that tested the efficacy of IDC’s aseptic tap. As part of the study, nozzles were inoculated with bacteria and mold to test whether microorganisms would migrate into the package after the hermetic seal was broken and dispensing began.
Even in this worst-case scenario, the tap maintained the sterility of the growth-promoting liquid inside the bag for 20 days without refrigeration and in conditions simulating realistic foodservice use and operator misuse.
“You press the button, the product comes out, and the tap creates a hermetic seal every time. Even when they swabbed a lethal concentration of bacteria [on the fitment] in a sabotage fashion, we still got 20 days of life out of this. So, in reality, it’s going to last a lot longer,” says Greg Abbott, founder and chairman of IDC.
IDC is targeting both home and foodservice users with its aseptic dispensing technology. The new Juan Valdez Iced Lattes, a line of premium, ready-to-serve coffee drinks marketed by Coffeecol, are packaged in the IDC pouch. The dairy-based lattes will be sold in foodservice outlets.
The lattes are packaged in a 2.5-gallon Multiserve SafePak bag designed to fit the Juan Valdez dispensing unit, which keeps the product cold. The dispensing unit’s simple design eliminates tubing, which can be tricky to manipulate. Foodservice employees load the latte package into and out of the dispensing unit like a cartridge, reducing handling costs and virtually eliminating operator error.
Next generation zippersIn the realm of closures, zippers continue to evolve with a focus on functionality beyond recloseability. Presto Products Co. and Zip-Pak, an ITW Co., have introduced retortablezippers for packaging applications such as tuna, seafood, prepared rice and pet food.
Looking to the future, research and development projects at Zip-Pak include:
- Adding an oxygen-absorbing component to the zipper. This eliminates the need for an oxygen-scavenger sachet inside the package, which in turn simplifies filling. The concept also eliminates the possibility of consumers ingesting sachets.
- Incorporating printed-electronic radio frequency identification (RFID)semiconductors into zippers, for item-level authentication.
- Adding a time indicator label to the zipper that self activates when the package is opened. The label displays elapsed time since opening as well as the freshness status of food or pharmaceuticals in the package.
- Making aroma part of the zipper. Zip-Pak created a mock up of a flexible package for candy-coated chocolates in which the zipper’s resin is infused with chocolate essence.The product itself does not release much aroma, but each time the zipper is opened, the package releases a burst of chocolate scent.
Another take on zippers-long overdue, in the opinion of many potato chip aficionados-is the postapplied zipper. Developed by A&H LLC, the Stick-N-Zip reclosure device is applied to the package at the point of use. The consumer makes a slit in the package, applies the pressure-sensitive Stick-N-Zip device over the opening and can then zip the bag open and shut as needed.
A different type of reclosure technology, called PG-Tape, provides an alternative to zippers. Developed in Japan, PG-Tape incorporates a light-tack adhesive that enables 10 to 12 reclosures of the package. The concept provides a benefit for children and seniors, who may lack the manual dexterity and/or strength to reclose a conventional zipper.
Although not suited to dusty products, which would affect the adhesive’s performance, the tape is suited to a variety of moist and dry products, including cookies, dried fruit and pet snacks. The first commercial use of the technology is underway in Japan, for shrimpflavored crackers.
Although some consumer education may be needed for PG-Tape and the other new fitments and closures, their benefits are expected to ultimately drive marketplace acceptance.
Referring to his company’s aseptic dispensing technology, IDC’s Abbott says, “One of the hardest things to do in business is bring a new technology to market and get people to change their habits. But I feel like we’re at a tipping point where everything is ready to roll.”
IPN USA Corp.
Presto Products Co.
856-988-8436 x11; www.them.net
Hosokawa Yoko Co. Ltd.