Flexible vs. Rigid — the Lightweight Contender is Beating the Heavyweight Champ

July 29, 2014 | By Steven Hinesley

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In this corner, we have a heavyweight package and the defending champion — proven and tested over time, but also tired and worn, and perhaps on its last legs.

In the other corner is a new contender — flexible, light on its feet, quick, with speed to market and significant growth potential.

I am talking about the trend of consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) to replace traditional rigid containers, such as glass, PET, folding carton, and metal, with flexible stand-up pouches. While the stand-up pouch has been on the shelf for a good 25 years now, the transition from rigid packaging to flexible is picking up steam as the traditional rigid containers are giving way to shaped and spouted pouches. PCI Films Consulting forecasts that U.S. demand for pouches will continue to grow by around seven percent per annum, reaching close to 24 billion units in 2018. That is at least twice as fast as the volume growth that is projected for the flexible packaging market as a whole.

There is no longer any question that CPGs see the value proposition with shaped and spouted flexible pouches versus other packaging options, and that consumers are accepting them, even preferring them over traditional packaging. Historically, the flexible segment has had advantages in several areas. For example, the unit cost of pouches is lower than many other packaging options. Pouches are also proven as an effective barrier, protecting products from deterioration due to light, heat, oxygen, moisture and organisms. Because pouches are flatter, their ability to billboard (i.e., present a flat panel on the shelf) enables better branding, shelf appeal and identification.

Stand-up pouches are good for portion control and for products that are consumed “on the go.” The producers of organic baby food, which is now 25 percent of the overall baby and toddler market, have now incorporate shaped and spouted pouches into their packaging. In fact, there is ample evidence to predict that single serve shaped and spouted pouches, with their ease of use, will also become the packaging of choice for older consumers, too.

CPGs and retailers now know that the advantages of stand-up pouches will drive sales. To start with, stand-up pouches attract consumers in no small part because of the uniqueness of the package. Additionally, stand-up pouches now incorporate many convenient features into their design, such as zippers, Velcro™, rigid fitments that offer pour spouts and reclose, tear notches and laser score — all of these features, when added to packages, can improve functionality for the consumer.

We also see what has been referred to as the “Capri Sun® effect.” Because Capri Sun, the popular juice drink, has been successful on the market for more than 20 years, there are now a couple of generations familiar with stand-up pouches, and in many cases, actually prefer it over other packages.

One area where flexible packaging has played catch up is production line speeds, measured in “packages produced per minute.” For the most part, rigid packaging options that use PET containers or folding cartons, for example, have historically enjoyed line speeds much faster than flexible packaging options. On the other hand, the most recent Interpack show in Germany showed that the speed gap, perhaps the last hurdle for market share gain, is finally narrowing significantly. These changes were facilitated with the most recent generation of form, fill and seal, as well as fill and seal options.

Ultimately, pouches provide CPGs many new opportunities to distribute and market their products. Pouches are cheaper to store and transport, they present a positive image to the consuming public, and they appeal to a new generation of buyers. They are the new champions of packaging; if they haven’t already knocked out rigid packaging, the former champion is certainly on the ropes.

The Capri Sun brand is owned by Rudolf Wild GmbH and manufactured under license by Kraft Foods only in the United States, Canada, and Greenland.

Steven Hinesley is Business Development Manager for Fres-co System USA, Inc. He is a highly experienced packaging specialist, and his expertise runs the gamut from frozen food, to hot fill and retort, and low acid aseptic food and beverage products. Contact Steven at shinesley@fresco.com or by calling 615-306-4785 for help in solving your packaging needs.

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