Developers of flexible packaging solutions are constantly responding to change, in terms of regulation and customer requirements. Packaging & Converting Intelligence speaks to Elizabeth Staab and Andreas Meyer of leading global adhesive supplier H. B. Fuller about how it is helping its customers to create optimal flexible-packaging solutions in a dynamic market.
The strong growth in the flexible-packaging market brings many challenges for converters and their customers, who have to respond not only to evolving regulations regarding issues such as safety and the migration of food contact materials, but also to the need to extend shelf life and to incorporate new materials that emerge to improve sustainability.
"Flexible packaging is the area where we see the most growth. Anything that improves shelf life or portioning to avoid food spoilage is growing fast. Most packaging markets grow in line with GDP, but flexible packaging is growing at two or three times that rate in some markets," says Elizabeth Staab, marketing manager, H. B. Fuller.
"Stand-up pouches are showing great growth now and will do so in the future," notes Andreas Meyer, technical manager, flexible packaging.
H. B. Fuller, which will be exhibiting at the Emballage packaging exhibition in Paris in November, has been at the forefront of the development of adhesives throughout its 125-year history, and its continued success is largely built on its commitment to innovation and close cooperation with customers to address each new challenge that emerges.
One of the company's recent innovations is Flextra Fast - a solvent-free system that allows faster line speeds on barrier films, lower overall cost and shorter curing times. Among its benefits is the fact that food contact standards compliance is usually achieved within 24 hours.
"It has been very successful. It takes the bottleneck out at the converter stage; productivity and output improve, so products get to market faster, which can be crucial if a company is running a promotion. Laminates must be fully cured to slit, and we can ensure that happens within a day," says Staab.
The kind of innovation H. B. Fuller is known for demonstrates a clear understanding of its customers' needs and a commitment to anticipating the challenges they face. Its ability to do so stems from its skills to work with customers to not only address regulatory issues, but also explore the implications of new packaging designs and new materials.
"We provide strong support through our global regulatory group and when regulations change we can always talk to customers about formulating new adhesives. Our R&D capability can look at very customer-specific issues. Adhesives for flexible packaging cannot be bought off-the-shelf, so there must be close collaboration and cooperation to ensure our customers choose the right product. Barrier properties come from the combination of customers' substrates and our adhesives, so we select our adhesives
to suit our customers' solutions," explains Meyer.
"One of our differentiators is that we have experts in our team with long experience and good reputations, so we combine very good product and technical support with people who have a good rapport within the market," adds Staab.
The insight its experts have into the commercial needs of its customers have given the company the ability to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate the key trends that will shape the future of flexible packaging.
"As new materials emerge, partly because sustainability is so important, we must screen all our adhesives for them. We also have to look at the growth of stand-up pouches, which are important for many market segments, and at the hot topic of easy opening that maintains standards of food safety but is more convenient. We are scouting for new materials and are constantly trying to improve the performance of our products. A proactive approach is essential," notes Meyer.