Flexible packaging has emerged and evolved over the past few decades into a position of being the package type of choice used in as many as 4 out of every 10 packaging opportunities. In the past, rigid types of packaging dominated the market in forms such as expanded polystyrene foam, cans, bottles and cardboard. Plastic packaging then began to make inroads, utilizing constructions made from polyethylene, polypropylene and multilayer barrier bags. Today, one of the largest emerging packaging product categories is pouches. Pouches represent a useful form and function while delivering convenience and incorporating features that consumers have come to like. The advances in the technology used to produce and laminate the various substrates used to build a custom flexible pouch have facilitated advances in shelf life and how long our food stays fresh after the package is opened. The products in the marketplace have not changed, however, their utility has been significantly improved due to the modern packaging that is used.
Versatility of Custom Pouches: Features
Pouches can be manufactured in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, either flat or as a stand-up pouch. A stand-up pouch literally stands upright when filled with the product due to a flat bottom panel (a gusset) being part of the construction that folds up and allows the pouch to lie flat when empty. This design feature converts the stand-up pouch into a “mini-billboard” when filled, becoming an effective marketing platform. More versatility is afforded with key features that are designed to enhance customer satisfaction and convenience. These key features include:
Pouches can be made from a wide range of materials to ensure product-specific performance characteristics. The materials include plastic films and thin gauge aluminum foil. Different combinations of films and foil produce different degrees of protection from the migration of moisture and various gases, e.g., oxygen, from the atmosphere into the sealed package. A common method to join the multiple layers is call lamination which is applying an adhesive and then running two layers of the materials through rollers under pressure. Whether there are 2, 3 or more layers in the final construction, the inner layer is polyethylene because it seals well when a heat bar is applied.
Barrier properties are extremely important especially in the food industry to protect the integrity of the product, i.e., limit the amount of moisture or oxygen that can potentially migrate through the packaging material. The industry terms are MVTR (moisture vapor transmission rate) and OTR (oxygen transmission rate). The barrier properties of the different films used to make a package protect the contents from moisture and oxygen migration that may cause the product to deteriorate. The films can be made transparent or opaque. Transparency allows the consumer to see what is inside the package and opacity can provide protection from direct sunlight.
2. Sealing Options
The ability to incorporate a closure that would quickly and easily allow a consumer to reseal an opened bag was a coming of age moment for the flexible packaging industry. Before zippers and other styles of closures, bags that were opened were not resealable in an effective fashion. One could try to fold the top or use bag clips but these approaches never resulted in a seal that provided any degree of protection of the contents. Zippers allow the consumer a degree of convenience when the package is opened and closed multiple times while concurrently adding a layer of protection that extends the safe and useful life of the contents.
3. Printing Options
The materials used to produce custom pouches are also engineered to accept and present printed custom graphics in their best form. When used in conjunction with a custom stand up pouch, a product (and the brand) can stand out on the shelf among its competitors and influence the consumer’s choice. In the form of a stand-up pouch, it not only contains and protects the contents, but it also it acts as a small billboard. Advances in printing technology mean that packaging manufacturers can translate stunning graphics created in any of the latest graphics software programs into an eye-catching rendition on the package. Additionally, the printing is done on the inside of the outer layer of film so when it is laminated to the other layers, the printing is captured within the structure of the package obviating any concern about unintentional contamination of the product with ink residue that may be on the consumer’s fingers.
4. Flexibility and Pliability
The fact that pouches are flexible and pliable is a huge advantage for both the manufacturer and retailer. From a manufacturing point of view, the packaging will take up less space in the box, on the pallet or in the container. These means a brand owner can ship more per unit volume because the packaging takes up less space on the transportation vessel thereby decreasing the overall cost of shipping. For the retailer, flexible packaging compared to rigid packaging in many instances takes up less space on the shelves resulting in more product per square inch of shelf space and therefore more sales volume per square inch without adding more aisles. With more products on the shelves at any given time, the time, effort and costs associated with restocking are decreased whether measured as man-hours or loads of new shipments that need be unloaded from the dock.
Flexible pouches are inherently lightweight when compared to other types of packaging, i.e. rigid. The lightweight characteristics enable optimization of product shipped per weight of freight cost. Ultimately, this leads to shipping cost savings and improves the bottom line.
Versatility of Custom Pouches: Markets
Custom pouches have found homes as packaging in many different markets and applications. Two examples of the largest markets are:
The biggest market is the food industry where advances in the barrier films have resulted in improved convenience for the consumer, longer shelf lives and less food waste. Examples of applications include bagged salad greens that stay crisp for many days, steam-in-bag microwaveable frozen vegetables that open a wider range of healthy meal options and cereals that stay fresh for much longer due to zipper closures.
Another big market is packaging for pet food and pet treats. Dry pet foods and treats have a mortal enemy, moisture, which can be held at bay longer than ever before with new barrier films. Moist food needs to be protected from oxygen migration through the packaging walls to ensure the contents stay safe to consume for prolonged periods. Dog and cat foods, fish food and bird food are all using customized flexible pouches.
Custom Pouches with LPS Industries
Custom pouches have taken over the food packaging industry and their versatility is a true testament to why so many manufacturers are moving away from historical solutions and adopting custom flexible pouch packaging. Some advantages are realized by the manufacturer, such as the weight, printability and space savings. Other advantages are seen by the consumer such as extended shelf life, convenience and obtaining products in packaging that comes with many environmental advantages vs. rigid options. As a result, custom pouches are a dynamic solution for all.