Impact of beverage packaging on potential growth

27 April 2018

While beverage packaging focuses on the end product on a shelf, this is not a critical part of the chain for the majority of brand-owners. Poor filling, processing or package engineering has a dramatic impact on sustainability, revenue, consumer goodwill and potential future growth. To understand more about this crucial tool for brands, Beverage Packaging Innovation reached out to David Rose, an industry expert and packaging consultant, to learn more.

With more than 40 years’ experience in package development, and multiple professional training and teaching capabilities, it is fair to say that David Rose, director of David Rose Packaging Solutions, has a very clear understanding of what is needed to keep packaging plants running efficiently from a material perspective. When asked about trends, the drivers that impact the processing of packaging materials, and influences for engineers and bottling/canning operators, he explains that there are several key points to consider.

“The first major trend is for speed and efficiency, and this is one that is a constant trend or aim,” he says. “There is a trend for higher-speed equipment, which in turn places increased demand on the materials being processed, regarding performance and tolerances, and pushing the current packaging manufacturing processes to the limit. In order to address this, and prevent it from becoming a problem, more collaboration and partnerships are needed between the packaging material converters, brand-owners and the packaging machine manufacturers to ensure machine and material developments move together.

Weight reduction and other key trends

“In the bottling industry, many are actively working on the weight reduction of materials for environmental benefits, including reducing the amount of materials used, as well as the emissions and energy required to deliver the end product,” Rose continues. “However, lighter packaging and materials can cause issues with pack integrity, thus requiring additional secondary or tertiary packaging solutions to compensate. This can lead to a reduced overall benefit or greater costs and environmental impact. The key is to reduce in steps, while maintaining pack integrity and functionality to ensure that one is not simply moving the problem further up or down the line. It is also important to note that secondary packaging has no sales function, so plain packaging can do its job, but this may require different primary/secondary pack formats for different channels.

“As with metal, paper or plastic weight reduction, the move towards lightweight glass also brings its own engineering issues; the lighter the glass, the more susceptible the material is to impact damage. Bottles with thinner walls can also lose some of their structural integrity, making them less able to survive the stress of a production line. This, in turn, leads to equipment changes. It is, therefore, not worth saving 2–3g if a bottle cannot protect the product or complete the journey to its final destination. Remember, the carbon footprint of the contents is often much higher than the packaging,” says Rose.

The need for comprehensive testing that evaluates and guarantees key performance functions has never been greater.

He has also noted that there have been a number of developments in the retail sector of the supply chain, such as increased sales through discounter supermarkets. While their distribution network might look similar to the major retailers, they have a different operating philosophy, which manifests itself in a couple of key ways. They generally have a limited number of lines in any category, with a one-in-one-out system for stock keeping units. In addition, the stores also operate on a lower staffing level and rely heavily on shelf-ready packs or pre-filled merchandising display units to reduce the cost of getting products shelf-ready for consumers. This may require more packaging formats that add cost and complexity to the manufacturing operations in additional material variants, line or machine changes.

There has also been a surge in major retailers running local convenience shops, which presents the challenge of operating in a limited space, where smaller traded unit sizes are needed, as well as reduced shelf height limits. This means that the bottling and engineering teams need to change the configuration of their packaging and processing lines to account for different end shapes and sizes. Again, this may require additional pack formats that up costs and complexities.

The final retail-related challenges lie with e-commerce; this is an emerging supply chain that is significantly different, with many challenges. The needs and formats for this are still developing, but are likely to form a significant proportion of the total market. Some of the requirements for current supply chains will also be required for e-commerce packs; however, issues of damage and leakage have shown that there may be a need for changes to the primary and secondary packaging, including sealing alteration and new secondary pack formats that are specific to the e-commerce channel.

In a retail outlet, the packaging is the last opportunity for a manufacturer to persuade a consumer to purchase their product. With e-commerce, the consumer has already made their choice, so the packaging needs to deliver the product to the consumer and allow them to use it. The beverage section has also borne witness to increasing demand for packs to have a premium image; for example, glass bottles with no-look labels. Changing the packaging’s appearance impacts on machines and the supply chain needed to produce the product, which means that extra care must be given to ensure that everything operates seamlessly.

Materials processing

In regard to the core trends that are affecting materials processing, Rose says, “From a soft drinks perspective, the move to healthy lifestyle and functional drinks with vitamins and energy, as well as clean-label products, preservative-free and/or functional ingredients, and unique/ exotic flavours will drive the need for increased product protection. This will include the use of barrier – additive, multi-layer or coated – packaging for products that are oxygen/light sensitive. These products will require the use of ultra-clean/aseptic filling processes. They all have specific requirements from a packaging perspective, such as the use of H2O2 sterilisation.”

He adds, “Finally, the use of high-pressure processing for preservation has increased. This process puts a different set of demands on the pack because filled they are subject to very high pressure levels from using water or killing spoilage microorganisms, which have traditionally been designed to contain internal pressure, not external.”

Rose then goes on to discuss outside influences that affect how a company chooses and processes its packaging materials for beverage, and says, “Ultimately, the main outside influence is driven by consumer need and the product’s requirements. Next is cost and considering the speed to market, followed by the end sales outlet and customer type. Offline, internet and e-commerce needs a slightly different approach, as the internet has the ability to present a product to a much wider audience than traditional shops.” He expands on this, stating, “Social media will soon spread the word about a good product, which allows smaller start-up businesses to flourish. So a new pack that meets a consumer need or a niche function can take off much faster as people share details. Packs that fail, either due to poor design, quality failure or arriving damaged, will gain equal – or greater – prominence. The need for comprehensive testing that evaluates and guarantees key performance functions has never been greater.”

Another factor to consider is the rising age of the population and designing packaging to match changing requirements. Lightweighting has been key to reducing environmental impact and materials use, but little thought has gone to making opening a pack easier. Smaller caps/lighter bottles are harder to grip for those with reduced dexterity, making packs difficult to use for a growing proportion of the population. If a brand-owner or designer does not take this into consideration, they may unintentionally limit sales.

There is no such thing as the best material because metal, glass, paper or plastic will be situation and product-dependant. Glass may be seen as premium material with recyclability benefits, but its weight can be a disadvantage in certain sectors; for example, the entertainment industry, in which glass is not allowed in festivals and other public events. PET and cans have cost advantages and are still the preferred option in most cases. Other factors, such as plastic packaging deposits and the use of recycled ocean plastic will have an increasing influence on material decisions.

Changes in processing

Thus far, market contributors are in agreement that industry 4.0 has had a limited influence on the soft drinks sector, mainly due to the costs of near-field-communication- enabled packs. However, enabled technology, such as augmented and virtual reality, is starting to be used for niche products, and it can also be used for the training and development of packaging technologists and engineers. Innovation remains at the heart of all processing, as every improvement, however small, can eventually lead to the big industry-changing developments, helping to reduce costs and waste during production.

There are increasing rules, regulations and legislation that cover material contact and manufacturing processes.

Sustainability and innovation are much more important for processing.

“Getting the production line to run as efficiently as possible is the main objective, as this will drive down costs and benefit all in the supply chain,” Rose explains. “As sustainability increases, more consumers are looking for sustainable products and are seeking to understand what sustainability is, as it has different meanings to different stakeholders.”

The rising number of pressure groups has also led to a number of advancements, including plastic-free aisles in supermarkets and the goal of removing plastic from oceans.

Environmental impact also has an impact on processing decisions; for example, investing in equipment is necessary if a company decides to use bulk or returnable packaging for materials. There is the constant aim to reduce water and energy use in machinery and packaging processes. Manufacturers are also keen to grow their recovery of energy; for instance, capturing the high-pressure air or heat from bottle blowers for further use. The minimisation of waste, and boosting energy recovery and recycling efforts can be combined to ensure that 0% of materials go to landfill sites; from an engineering perspective, this is an achievable goal in processing. If the product can be made with no waste and reduced resource requirements, that will be great for the environment.

For Rose, there are several important factors that affect package processing machinery choices: the cost of equipment and installation; installation and increasing speed; machine reliability and overall equipment effectiveness; changeover times, and machine and material interaction, as well as the tolerance of materials versus the tolerance of machines.

“As machines – including blowers, fillers, cappers, labellers and packers – get faster, their material requirements get more exacting, in terms of the actual material and process tolerances,” he says. “In many cases, the current materials and/ or suppliers processes are not capable of meeting these tighter requirements. Machine speeds are getting faster, and efficiency requirements higher, so the material suppliers need a clear understanding of what is needed for the filling/packing machines of the future.”

“With the ever-increasing pressure for speed to market, there is a greater need for close cooperation to enable material manufacturers and converters to develop and invest in new/upgraded equipment to keep pace with the machine manufacturers. Time needs to be allowed for material suppliers to invest in and to develop new equipment for meeting new specifications.”

There are increasing rules, regulations and legislation that cover material contact and manufacturing processes, which must be factored into package engineering and processing. A further consideration is Brexit, and what some of the changes could be; for example, if a company has multiple sites across EU lines, how will they ensure that the pack is suited not only to its end destination’s requirements, but also to travelling between manufacturing and sale points? Environmental and sustainability concerns will also drive change, as will the push for plastic-free aisles and potential deposit schemes for plastic bottles that could alter how the industry selects packaging materials.

Manufacturers are under pressure to improve the efficiency of their production lines.

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