Packaging closure and equipment innovations address consumer food packaging concerns
As consumer demand for resealable, flexible packaging continues to grow, so do packaging closure and equipment innovations.
When it comes to baked goods and snacks, consumers increasingly look for products in resealable, standup pouches and flexible packaging. It boosts ease-of-use for consumers, and helps improve the ability to keep foods fresh. As a result, bakers and snack producers are helping retailers meet this demand by investing in equipment capable of making packaging with popular closures, such as press-to-close zippers and sliders.
Bakeries and snack producers have been actively shifting from rigid to flexible packaging, especially to standup resealable pouches. “Pillow pouches are popular due to the low cost and production efficiency of this style,” says John White, marketing director, Zip-Pak, an ITW Co., Manteno, IL. “In fact, they are the leading package format for candy and snacks. Pre-zippered film is still growing in the snack food and private label markets.”
Chris Loehman, regional sales manager, Kwik Lok Corp., Yakima, WA, notes that “on the bakery side, the trend has been toward heat-seal and zip closures, especially in the tortilla and pita bread markets. Bread and bun have stayed the same, for the most part, on the retail side. On the wholesale end, dealing with foodservice or restaurants, there seems to be a trend toward using heat seals to prevent foreign particles from entering bags.”
Terri Fountain, sales and marketing manager, Matrix Packaging Machinery, Saukville, WI, sees a surge in resealable packaging in the snack industry. “Food processors are looking for both the box store business, in which zipper closures are perfect for large standup pouches and for keeping product fresh,” she says. “We also have seen a rise in convenience packaging, with single-serve still playing a strong role in U.S. households.”
As recently as five years ago, hermetic closures with an easy-open feature on salty snack packages were not available, says White. “Flexible packaging with wide-mouth openings was not commercially available either,” he adds. “Today, our Zip360 packaging with full-opening access to content is in wide use. The Zip360 closure is a self-mating seal that requires no precise alignment. It also gives the consumer easy access to contents. If you used a regular press-to-close zipper on this package format, it would be hard to align the zipper.”
According to White, other benefits of the Zip360 include pour-spout functionality for easy product dispensing, a standup format for neat in-store stocking and convenient at-home storage. It also provides space for graphics on all package sides for maximum shelf impact.
In the area of bag closure capabilities, Loehman says he has seen more requests for increased safety, easier interface, lower maintenance and cost efficiency. “For Kwik Lok, these requests have helped increase sales of our Model 893 bag closing machine. This model has been around for 10 years, but only in the past few years have we seen increased sales throughout North America, despite it being one of our most-expensive offerings. We developed the 904 printer to satisfy many of these requests, as well.”
Growing consumer demand for resealable, flexible food packaging means more manufacturer demand for equipment capable of accommodating such packaging.
All Packaging Machinery, Ronkonkoma, NY, recently introduced the HCBSDM, a conveyorized band sealer for sealing flush-cut bags or standup pouches in a horizontal position. The company calls it the economy version of the fully framed HCBS, without the trimming features and adjustability.
The HCBS bag sealer is designed especially for “lay-flat” pouches. Applications include cookies, tortillas, flatbreads and other bakery products that can be sealed in a horizontal position. An 8-inch-wide-by-48-inch-long, synchronized support conveyor is built into the system. According to Lynn Miranda, the company’s sales and marketing manager, the sealer is easy to set up.
Matrix Packaging Machinery’s line of vertical form/fill/seal (FFS) equipment handles single-serve packaging and quad-style (flat-bottom) retail bags, which can be run on a single machine. However, the company’s pre-made, rotary fill seal machines are attracting great interest as customers recognize the value of a standup pouch and zipper format for all kinds of bakery and snack products, according to Fountain.
“We also offer a horizontal FFS machine for standup pouches with a press-to-seal option from rollstock,” says Fountain. “This has made a big impression, as food processors see the value of saving money on the rollstock option as opposed to the more-expensive pre-made pouches,” she notes. “Of course, the heavy laminate, pre-made pouches stay crisp during shipment to retail stores. Also, bakers and snack producers can utilize the larger format for box stores, as well as run smaller grocery-store-type formats on the same machine.”
In their quest to accommodate new food-safety regulations, packaging equipment and closure manufacturers are offering more tamper-evident closures. For example, Burford Corp., Maysville, OK, has developed the TCS-400M Tape Closure System and TEC200 Tamper Evident Closure System. TCS-400M places a piece of tape around the neck of a bag and connects the two end pieces with paper. When the package is opened, the paper seal breaks.
The TEC200 uses a non-contact method of sealing the bag with hot air fusing the plastic together. Along with the tamper-evident seal, it has an optional perforation for easy opening. The TEC200 is easily incorporated with the Burford tyer. The machine is used only as a tamper-evident device, not as a 100 percent seal method to ensure freshness, according to Mitch Lindsey, technical sales for the company.
Another recent offering from Burford addresses one of the newest packaging trends: point-of-purchase tagging. The company’s TGR200 tagger allows bakers and snack producers to add a tag along with a twist tie. “The tag can be used for multiple options—coding, dating, recipes, advertisements, health facts, discounts,” says Lindsey. “The consumer can use the tag at point-of-purchase simply by pulling it from beneath the twist tie.”
In terms of functionality, audial and tactile closures that provide an appealing sensory feel or sound that tells consumers when packages are closed are increasingly popular and driving sales, says White. “In the snack and bakery aisle, Inno-Lok and Pour & Lok are two package formats that satisfy consumer preference for resealability,” he says. “Due to the fact that the zipper is applied by their converter, bakers and snack producers can add a zipper to their package with little disruption to the manufacturing process, and little or no capital investment.”
Sustainability is an ever-growing trend in the food packaging industry, as manufacturers focus on reducing packaging size and energy consumption.
Because heat-sealing technologies have limitations, packaging manufacturers are investigating new sealing technologies to improve sustainability, according to Scott Weiss, ultrasonic engineering manager, Herrmann Ultrasonics, Bartlett, IL. “Ultrasonic sealing is getting a lot of attention in this area, because it offers benefits such as a reduced seal footprint and energy consumption, reduced waste from contaminated seals, and the ability to provide real-time process quality evaluation,” he says. “Standup pouches remain a common application, while zipper and snap closure products are continuously being developed.”
Sealing packages with ultrasonic vibration employs a vibrating tool called a sonotrode, rather than hot-sealing bars. The ultrasonic vibration forces product contamination out of the sealing zone without transferring heat to the product. “This allows a seal to be created hermetically, even in the presence of contamination,” explains Weiss. “In addition, the ultrasonic generator can identify bags with irregularities, such as folds in the seal area, and uses this information for quality measures.”
Herrmann Ultrasonics recently introduced the ultrasonic Top Seal Module (TSM), which reportedly offers increased production speed and eliminates leakage. A programmable, servo-driven jaw system caters to both rotary tables and horizontal filling machines, including multitrack lines.
Consumer demand for convenience, food safety and less product waste will continue to drive innovation in packaging closures and related equipment. “The need to provide consumer convenience continues to drive packaging trends,” White says. “Pouches with value-added features such as reclosure and easy opening have been shown to generate growth—with resealability the single most-important attribute desired by consumers on multiuse flexible packaging. Resealable pouches also extend the shelf life of foods, making them more desirable to small households.”
This translates into efficiency for the producer—and for the consumer, a classic win-win scenario.