When it comes to packaging, the one marketplace constant is that the needs and demands of brands, retailers, printers and consumers are always changing. As market trends evolve, ink manufacturers must be nimble and quickly develop solutions that meet those demands.

Regulatory updates change almost monthly as governmental entities strive to ensure consumer food safety. Almost everyone agrees to work on solutions that meet sustainability objectives. What grabs the attention of consumers remains the greatest challenge brand owners face. As the demographics of shoppers continue to shift, so do the requirements of the packaging and the inks that are printed on them. These four key packaging trends are some of the most important drivers in today’s latest innovations in ink.

Product Freshness and Safety

Brand owners and their supply chain partners have the responsibility to ensure safe packaging and compliance with all regulations worldwide. Focus on food safety is now at an all-time high, and brand owners need to scrutinize their supply chain from all angles to minimize risk.

This applies to packaging as much as to product sourcing and preparation. Where food or sensitive cosmetic products are concerned, it is vital that brand owners work hand in hand with their partner converters to ensure that the inks, substrates and adhesives are suitable for the application.

Using low-migration inks and coatings can provide a comprehensive solution to brand owners and converters who are required to address chemical migration concerns in food, pharmaceutical, personal care, and tobacco applications by exhibiting very low migration of chemicals that could affect the odor, flavor, taste, irritation risk, and safety of those sensitive consumer products.

The increasing scrutiny of regulators worldwide requires that brand owners consider shelf life a business-critical activity. Packaging must protect products, maintain product freshness, and even extend shelf life, whether in transit, in store, or at home. This applies as much to products with a long life as to fresh produce, which needs packaging that will preserve color, fragrance, texture and appeal.

Many external factors negatively impact shelf life and freshness, from oxygen and ultraviolet light to moisture and odors. One way to protect many of these fresh foods from light exposure is by using opaque white inks. These inks not only help to minimize the light striking a product, they also provide a good surface for printing superior graphics on the package.

Smart inks have been developed to tell the consumer the safety of the food itself with temperature and moisture indicators that change inks’ color or from black to color. The color change is triggered by chemistry. If meat or vegetables start to decay from what is required for maximum freshness, then those temperature/moisture indictors will cause the inks to make the change also.

Shelf life can also be enhanced using oxygen barrier coatings which can be applied or pre-coated onto packaging films to allow packaging to both be seen through a window on the packaging. Oxygen barrier coatings can provide a smooth, homogenous, pinhole-free layer that can be easily overprinted with inks and laminated to a variety of secondary films and are cost-effective, recyclable, biodegradable and press-ready.

Making Packages More Sustainable

Oxygen barrier coatings do more than just enhance shelf life, they also offer solutions for lightweighting the packaging. Historically, to create packaging in a way that enhances shelf life, they must be carefully structured — in some cases using a considerable number of layers.

In a typical barrier structure, a familiar three-ply laminate composed of PET/mPET/PE can be replaced with a barrier-coated PET/PE structure. Besides the obvious reduction of the one film layer, there are economic benefits from using less adhesive and improving the visibility of the product. Barrier coatings of this type also offer an advantage in flex cracking, as they often are more flexible than mPET and oxide-treated films.

By removing extra layers on pouches, oxygen barrier coatings contribute to the packaging market’s need for products that deliver sustainable and compostable solutions. In today’s eco-conscious society, businesses and consumers alike strongly care about products that are manufactured using sustainable practices.

Eco-friendly inks that use a very high percentage of bio-renewable materials and that are printed on a substrate designed to be biodegradable, can be considered compostable in addition to being non-toxic to the aquatic environment.

Inks that meet these requirements should be free of or only have trace levels of heavy metals and reduce volatile organic compounds that are released in the atmosphere.

Ink suppliers that develop inks formulated with significantly higher levels of bio-renewable resin content compared to other previous market offerings and meet all of the important adhesion requirements of a printer, can play a critical role in helping converters, brands and ultimately consumers meet the eco-efficiency standards and expectations that have been set in the industry.

Shelf Standout

When you walk down the supermarket aisle, the vibrant colors of the various packages help to attract consumer attention and facilitate a purchase, but standing out on the shelf is critical to making a difference with a sale.

One approach to help achieve the required shelf differentiation is the use of soft touch coatings which create a matte surface with a soft feel. Other tactile coatings can come in a range of particle sizes for different effects and offer gloss, matte or satin finishes, allowing for very rough to soft and silky feel options.

Increasingly, unique visual effects are used to help with package standout, such as unique foil stamp coatings, glitters, or even pearlescents. There is also growing interest in using seven-color process printing to help create unique visual effects.

Convenience Still in Demand

Young single households are always on the go and typically don’t cook much from scratch or plan large meals. This means the package becomes more important in aiding the safe cooking of food.

Microwaveable packaging with inks that don’t migrate into the food is mandatory. One historically troubling area revolved around carbon black inks which created hot spots in microwaves. Dense black inks have now been developed to overcome this challenge. It is also important that the brand colors of the inks hold up in high heat and moisture situations.

Printed bottle labels offer another unique challenge for the ink industry. The inks on the labels are required to stretch with the films when label is applied in a shrink tunnel or they’ll get distorted. Different formulations can be and have been created to help maintain the integrity of the colors and flexibility to address these challenges.

Choose Inks Wisely

No matter what the market trends dictate, ink suppliers are ready to work closely with converters and their brand owner customers to continue developing new innovative systems that will improve packaging contents to meet the needs of consumers.