Flexible Packaging’s Trending Topics
Cannabis. Sustainability. e-Commerce. The past year was a dynamic one in flexible packaging – and there are various trends and talking points that have shaped it and will continue to shape it moving forward.
You could feel the buzz at this past October’s PACK EXPO International in downtown Chicago. There was enthusiasm, new products and innovations, and lots of things to discuss. While the packaging industry is always changing and moving forward for the better, this past year has been a particularly exciting time to be a part of it. Here’s a look at some of the trending topics from 2018 that will certainly help shape things moving forward.
First came medical marijuana, now the recreational march is on – and flexible packaging is poised to grow with this emerging market.
And while the cannabis market is expected to be one that is fast-changing as well as fast growing moving forward, there are certain issues that converters are going to have to address. One, there’s the pouch itself, which is regarded as one of the least secure packages. Two, there’s child-resistance. And on top of all of this, there are costs that will have to be kept in check.
“The cannabis market is transitioning to relatively generic exit bags to the producers of the individual products making it part of their primary package,” notes Chuck Ditter, Presto Products Company’s North American Sales Manager. “Our customers are putting the package itself, including the closure, through child-resistant testing. They’re verifying, as the user of this package, the resistance and our Child-Guard is obviously a major component of that. But it has to be the whole package that gets tested because the child can bite into the package or tear into it. The finished product, the finished pouch, needs to go through the child-resistant testing.”
There are more than just bags and pouches to package cannabis products, and Berry Global is one converter that has developed a line of packaging for this market. Berry debuted its Embark line at the 2018 PACK EXPO International, and the trio of packages that make up this family were designed with the user, child-resistance and freshness in mind.
Embark Fresh is particularly applicable to flexible packaging, as a film layer across the top of a rigid container is designed to optimize freshness by sealing in the package’s compartments. This helps lock in moisture and freshness until time of use for flower, as well as up to three bite-sized edibles or other products. The package also features a hermetic seal which locks in odor, providing a true air-tight solution.
The year 2018 might be known as the year where sustainability morphed from being just a trend to being a necessity. At least that was the vibe from just about everyone Flexible Packaging spoke with at PACK EXPO. Everyone from brands to converters are establishing sustainability goals and targets, equipment is being designed to minimize waste and materials – such as film – are being produced from more recycled content.
Still, while inroads are being made, widespread recyclability isn’t likely imminent.
“Usually, there’s about a 10-year adoption cycle,” says Anantshree Chaturvedi, vice chairman and CEO of FlexFilms International.
FlexFilms is one film maker that currently offers a 90 percent, FDA-approved PCR (post-consumer recycled) film. Chaturvedi says it’s the most popular film that the company currently offers.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the front-end benefits of flexible packaging (i.e., less resources to create, reduced transportation costs, etc.) as well as other benefits like reducing food waste have been well documented. However, public perception of plastic waste is one issue that the industry is being increasingly forced to navigate until a widespread end-of-life solution is viable.
According to Dache Davidson, the vice president of marketing of Pregis, e-Commerce packaging doesn’t just necessarily have to serve a protective role — it can be experiential as well.
“Opening a home delivery package should be a joyful moment, a moment of truth,” she says, noting that research has shown that consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with conventional protective packaging formats, such as loose fill.
Pregis is one company that has made significant investments in e-Commerce over the past year, from continuing development of its Inspyre protective packaging offering to its acquisition of Free-Flow Packaging International.
Pregis’ Inspyre brand consists of a 12-inch wide, low-density polyethylene hybrid cushioning (HC) packaging film. Though initially released only in a water blue color, the company now offers it in pink and black colors.
“Because consumers continue to shift toward e-Commerce purchasing, companies no longer have the opportunity to physically connect with them at the point-of-sale,” says Clint Smith, Pregis product manager. “Increasingly, the unboxing experience is when the first physical connection takes place. Using color can go a long way in heightening that experience and solidifying the connection between the brand and the consumer, especially in an environment where clear or neutral protective packaging is the norm.”
Pregis also offers a low-density polyethylene EP Flex film that is made into air pillows and widely used in e-Commerce applications as void-fill. The film stretches rather than pops and also offers puncture resistance.
More Products on the Rigid to Flexible Transition
Though flexible packaging growth has slowed since the initial rigid-to-flexible wave, there are still a number of products that are transitioning from conventional rigid formats into flexible pouches and bags. Here are some of the products that Flexible Packaging observed in transition at PACK EXPO: