Robert Hogan, director of global business development for ITW Zip-Pak, spoke about the current and emerging trends in flexible packaging, for food and other markets.
Hogan said Japan continues to be leading the pack in terms of high-quality, innovative packaging. In several areas, packaging engineers and designers surpass their Western counterparts in terms of aesthetics and convenience, Hogan said.
"In North America, consumers complain that packages of chewing gum are difficult to open and reseal, resulting in packaging failure and the gum falling out,” he said. “Japanese gum packages open neatly, and consumers can access each piece easily; there are even instructions for use on the Japanese packaging, another example of their extreme attention to detail.”
Hogan pointed toward consumer studies indicating a preference for value-added packaging features, such as a resealable closure on a snack bag. Increased speed to market, he related, is putting such features within reach of an increasing number of brand owners.
“Retailers can readily afford a new consumer-preferred technology, such as the front-panel Inno-Lok zipper found on Target’s Archer Farms potato chip packages,” he said. “Technology converters can apply a zipper or other consumer-friendly feature to flexible packaging in as little as six weeks, with minimal disruption to the manufacturing process and little-to-no capital investment.”
Convenience is king
The need for ease continues to be a prime driver in the decision to buy, Hogan said. Packaging offering enhanced convenience is more likely to get put into a shopper’s cart.
“There’s little question providing consumer convenience enhances brand appeal," he said. "Independent market research indicates that consumers instantly recognize the ease-of-use that resealable packaging offers, and are more inclined to choose such a package, regardless of price."
A category with a particular importance placed on convenience is snacking. Consumers want packaging able to keep the product fresh and tasty as long as possible, and that makes it easy to nibble from.
“Giants Sunflower Seeds is one store brand that has made the shift toward greater customer convenience with Zip-Pak Pour and Lok resealable pouches that feature pour spout functionality,” he said. “To the delight of the consumer, the seeds remain securely protected inside the package between openings while product shelf life is significantly extended.”
With the majority of consumers putting store-brand food and beverage items in their carts, private-label producers are stepping up their packaging game. An increasing number of these products are pouring into flexible packaging to attract shopper attention.
“Store brand manufacturers are realizing increased consumer confidence as well as production efficiencies when they turn to packaging solutions that are distinct to the market,” Hogan said. “Zipbox, The Resealable Box, for example, combines rigid with flexible packaging in a surprisingly novel way; not only is Zipbox a new design, this packaging innovation also results in savings because there is no inner liner required (think sealed cereal boxes).”
Hogan reported New York retail chain Dash’s Market introduced its Plantation all-natural raw cane sugar in Zipbox cartons last year. The market reportedly enjoyed sales success with the packaging, and consumers queried about the Zipbox pack responded well.
“More than 85% of consumers surveyed said they loved the value and convenience of being able to reseal their cereal, sugar, cookies, and crackers with the press-to-seal feature,” he said.
Cutting cost and materials
Food firms and packaging producers are flocking to flexible from rigid formats because of cost and sustainability concerns, Hogan said.
“Taking a product from glass to plastic saves on production, lowers the weight of its packaging, and reduces the number of trucks required to distribute the product,” he said.