Global Pouch Forum was a sprawling affair that went beyond its name,  not only showcasing new technologies that are driving forward the growth of the pouch but also reimaging a packaging market that offers more potential for conversion and growth in flexible packaging.

The Forum also lived up to its billing as a premier event for the pouch industry, attracting a near-record crowd of 350 people to the conference, held June 7-9  in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

We continue our coverage of the 14th annual Forum by showcasing some of the key technologies, trends and opportunities discussed at the event.

What Are the Major Growth Drivers for the Pouch?

In his conference keynote address, Dennis Calamusa, president of AlliedFlex Technologies, offered his take on how pouches can address the major economic challenges for today’s packaging companies: maintaining market share during an economic downturn.

“There is an urgent necessity to stimulate flat sales,” he stated. “We have to develop ways to compete better for the consumer and the retailer.”

Calamusa outlined some of the growth opportunities, using video and ad campaigns to make his point. For instance, he discussed how spout formats are on the rise, using examples from Sunkist and Lysol, He discussed the advent of multi-component meal kits from the Friday’s restaurant chain and private brands (such as Walmart’s Great Value) using pouches.  He mentioned new target areas in snacks, instant beverages, and confections and the development of the ZipBox, a combo folding carton/zippered pouch from T.H.E.M. and Zip-Pak that is now being piloted.

And he touched on how higher-speed equipment can produce, for example, as many as 1,200 stick packs per minute. His major claim: “Multinational consumer packaged goods (CPG) producers will gradually begin to replace aging assets with flexible packaging alternatives.”

New Pouches, New Messages

Technology was a predominant theme in the rise of new pouches, several speakers reminded the audience that pouches can deliver a unique consumer message, too.

Among those was Christopher Nunes, CEO of Cornerstone Strategic Branding and a leading design/branding firm for consumer products. Nunes turned his attention to retort food pouches and their market advantages. While ticking off such advantages, he said consumers trust steel cans and glass jars more than pouches for durability.

“There is familiarity, trust, and accessibility with many pre-cooked foods in cans, jars, and frozen formats,” he said. “A barrier to increased retort consumption is skepticism that pack formats can deliver good, even gourmet, quality and taste.”

However, new pouches are jumping over that barrier and adding to acceptance. A global packaging audit from his firm showed such areas as new rice and tuna pouches, complete meals, and meat sauces among a new proliferation of pouches selling premium taste and quality.

On a similar marketing note, Unilever discussed its evolutionary new condiment pouch, used for Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and its advantages as a marketing tool. Myra Onesimus, Unilever senior packaging engineer, showcased the pouch’s advantages in clubstores and cash-and-carry outlets, where it holds 75 smaller pouches in a larger stand-up format with a zippered opening.

 Working with Ampac Flexibles, the drivers of the new pouch format included larger billboard space and a retail-ready tray that can hold the pouches. The pouches offer a large window to view the product and the bold Hellmann’s logo at the top. “The graphics and billboard space were a main advantage,” Onesimus said.

The Evolving Pouch Markets

A series of presentations focused on new innovations and technologies that could drive pouches to a more commanding market.

In a short talk on the pet foods and pet treats market, David Staker, president/ CEO of Plastic Packaging Technologies (PPT), said that area has been somewhat forgotten, even though $50.3 billion in U.S. pet food expenditures are estimated in 2011. Yet, the market is highly fragmented and presents a complex web of multiple distribution channels with differing needs.

Staker said pet food is on the forefront of a transition to flexible formats. While some of that market has already been captured by woven polypropylene bags, new single-web cube bags with fold-over bottoms and quad-seal bags are penetrating the market. Staker also mentioned the advent of the Box Pouch, a new cube-shaped format with a flat bottom and five panels for graphics.

Laurens Last, president of IPN Europe, offered new technologies in spouted pouches, another area poised for breakthrough. Last showcased a new aseptic pouch with a drinking valve, for a fruit beverage in Europe, and even an aseptic pouch with a nipple for baby food. The Netherlands-based company also offered a Brick Pouch with a rectangular shape and a spouted closure.

And Don't Forget About Japan

Sakaru Takahashi, president of prominent Japanese converting firm Chokolku Plast, offered an exclusive look at some new technologies from Asia that may transfer to the North American market in the near future.

Already in the introductory stage is Edge Stand, a box-like pouch with a square bottom, a side gusset, and a heat-sealed flap around the bottom. The unique-looking pouch construction can stand upright and holds high-quality graphics, offering a substitute for the carton or rigid plastic container. A wide range of film constructions can be used with the new pouch format, requiring a minimum modification of a form-fill-seal machine.

Takahashi also presented a new microwavable pouch, the MicroSteamer, that includes small vents on the top of the package that make it ideal for chilled or frozen products. Takahashi said the demand for self-venting, microwavable packaging is growing, especially for single portions of food.

Pouch Innovations: The Dual Chamber

The Forum also offered exclusive introductions of several pre-commercial technologies poised to launch in North America.

The first of these was introduced by David Wallan, director of IP and licensing with DuPont, and Joe Kornick, president of package design firm Kornick Lindsay. The pair discussed the development of a dual-chamber pouch with a new frangible seal, holding compartments for both dry and wet substances. When the pouch is squeezed, the substances are mixed.

Kornick said that previous dual-chamber pouches had difficulties with leakage, something the new Genesis Duo-Pouch avoids with a high-performance seal design and stand-up or spout features. The lock-up seal also offers longer shelf stability than products that are pre-mixed, he said. Markets for new design include infant formula, children’s drinks, and even egg products that need mixing, he said.

Pouch Innovations: High-Speed Pouch Filling

Another joint technology was the development of a fill-seal machine that could further help the pouch compete with the can for high-volume applications.

“High-speed pouch filling is necessary to compete with the can and provide a beverage alternative,” said Jeffrey Crangle, general manager of Packaging Technologies and Inspection (PTI).

PTI worked with equipment provider Hermann Waldner of Germany to develop an inline, rotary fill/seal machine with output of as much as 100,000 units an hour. The equipment can work with retort filling, offering more alternatives for high-speed filling with improved taste and food quality, Crangle said.

The unit operates on a single packaging line, providing considerable infrastructure cost savings over existing pouches, he added. Hermann Ultrasonics, another partner, offered ultrasonic welding to further provide protection from leakages.

An eventual outcome could be the replacement of the #10 can with a high-volume pouch, Crangle said. By taking the pouch from premade formats to form-fill-seal, retort applications, both large-size applications and single-serve beverages could be the recipients of enhanced penetration.

Pouch Innovations: The Hook-To-Hook Closure

In a surprising twist to close the 2011 Forum, Karlville Development and Velcro USA offered a new closure technology that could transform pouches.

Christopher Lerra of Velcro presented the Press-Lok, a hook-to-hook molded technology that replaces zippered closures for ease of opening and alignment. Machinery developer Karlville plans to apply these new fasteners to three-side seal and stand-up pouch formats for a variety of dry food, pet food, and agri-chem applications, said Jim Pease, director of Karlville’s pouch division.

Lerra laid out many of the benefits to the soon-to-be-commercial, Velcro-brand closure: these included a secure, tactile feel, improved package presentation, exceptional burst strength, and an audible, easy-to-detect opening and closing mechanism. “There are market opportunities to replace the zipper and slider pouch,” he said.