Why demand for thin walled food containers is growing

By Nigel Flowers, MD, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag

- Last updated on GMT

Nigel Flowers, Sumitomo Demag, thin walled food containers

Related tags: Food packaging, Plastic, Packaging

‘There has been a rapid growth in thin walled packaging, mostly for injection moulding and thermoforming applications, such as containers and lids for both food and non-food products.

Because of the rise in single serve packs and smaller size packs, plus the continuing requirements for light-weighting and pack size reduction, the technology is finding greater usage in many food packaging applications.

Benefits over thermoformed packaging

With thin wall thicknesses typically less than 0.6mm, food containers are lighter, cheaper to produce, easier to transport and store, use less materials and are more sustainable. Manufacturers can make substantial energy savings. And many containers, especially those using in-mould labelling, provide simple indications of product tampering.

It’s a fast and ever-growing segment offering multiple benefits over traditional and thermoformed packaging materials. Thin wall packaging can be applied to tubs, cups, pots, trays, clamshells and plastic jars and are used in everything from margarine, yogurt, meat, bakery, fresh fruit, vegetables and microwave, freezer and oven-proof ready meals.

AMI Consulting, market research consultancy, estimates over 2.8m tonnes of polymer are used annually for thin wall packaging in Europe. The food market is by far the largest end-use category. However, there are also non-food applications such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paint and adhesives.

Putting this into context, the global consumer goods packaging market shows rigid and flexible plastics account for 37% of all global packaging sales. Rigid plastics, which is the category thin walled containers sits in, is forecast to be the fastest growing packaging material up to 2016, with an estimated annual growth of 4%. Light-weighting and convenience are important factors in this expansion.

Catering to lightweights

There are occasions when being a lightweight is a clear advantage. A lower moulding weight means significant reductions in material and shipping costs. Stackability of containers is another reason food suppliers and retailers choose it over thermoformed containers.

What’s more, the price of oil directly correlates to the price of plastics, and this can have a ripple effect on businesses; when the price of crude oil is high, businesses will typically have to pay more for packaging, so this can increase demand for thin-walled plastics. Equally, with thin-walling, more product can be stacked into transportation vehicles, which does its bit to cut fuel emissions in the logistics supply chain. 

Thin walling allows for faster cycle times compared to thicker walled plastic parts. This naturally ticks the cost efficiency and productivity boxes for manufacturers of injection moulded food packaging who are always seeking shorter lead times and reduced cost per part, without compromising on quality or competitiveness.

To successfully succeed in the thin walling arena it’s vital for food packaging manufacturers to examine every potential application to ensure the selection of materials, machine and tooling give the optimum blend of speed, quality and consistency.

Demands to create smaller, lighter parts have made thin-wall moulding one of the most sought after capabilities for injection moulders in the fast-paced world of food packaging and production. 

Far from reaching its limits, there is significant growth in territories beyond Europe too. Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Middle East have increased their share of the consumer goods packaging market, now matching that of Europe. This, and the trend towards light-weighting and the rising sales of convenience meals and on-the-go snacks, means thin walling in the food industry looks set to stay.’

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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