Lessons from Japan: Getting Smarter about Roll Stock

May 2, 2018 | By Jeff Beer

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I am an ardent supporter of flexible packaging and the colorful, custom roll stock that goes into it. We know that almost anything that comes in a rigid package can go into a flexible one, and we have learned that lesson from a surprising source.

Lessons from Japan
There are quite a few advantages to flexible packaging and the roll stock that comprises it when compared to rigid, traditional packaging. We have learned more about these benefits in the U.S. from the Japanese. Japan is a nation of few natural resources, and therefore they had to make do with what was available for much of their history.

The makers of Japanese consumer goods utilize a variety of flexible pouches for packaged foods. Stand-up pouches are lighter, use much less raw material, take up much less space, and they are easier to dispose of than rigid packages. Also, the Japanese have smaller refrigerators than Americans do, and fewer of them. So they rely on more shelf-stable food, which is protected better in pouches. They also prefer retort sterilization with pouches, as the thinner materials allows shorter cooking time to keep more of the natural color, flavor and texture of food.

It’s not just food driving the Japanese demand for sustainable packaging in printed roll stock. Plastic pouches are being used more often in that country for refill packs in beauty and personal care. In fact, more and more so-called “premium” brands are providing refill packs, giving up the “snob appeal” of fancier rigid packaging. In this way, their companies can be perceived as environmentally friendly. In addition to food and personal care, laundry detergents are becoming more concentrated, so they’re packaged in smaller sizes, too.

The Japanese rely on more shelf-stable food, which is protected better in pouches.

Another big factor that is driving the adoption of flexible packaging in other countries across the Pacific Rim is cost. Pouches are less expensive to produce than cans, especially in countries like these, which must import metal and other durable materials. The growing sales of packaging equipment in the Japanese food industry show how pouches are becoming more popular, while cans are on their way out. Pouch forming and filling machines showed the highest demand among all types of packaging machinery in Japan last year, outpacing canning equipment more than 35 times! (The Japanese spent the equivalent of 509 million U.S. dollars of pouch-making equipment compared to 14.3 million U.S. dollars for canning equipment.)

Applying More Flexible Packaging in the U.S.
Now let’s consider some of the ways we can apply custom-designed roll stock to flexible packaging here in the U.S.

  • Cereal is sensitive to moisture and oxidation; it can be preserved in an airtight bag with a zipper much more effectively than in a cardboard box.
  • Peanuts spoil easily because of their high oil content. An airtight flexible container can keep the nuts fresh even longer than is necessary.
  • Shampoos, Soaps and Laundry Detergents would be much easier to carry in a stand-up pouch with carry handles and a zipper for pods. The same goes for windshield washer fluid.
  • Nutraceuticals and other dietary supplements are expected to increase in demand in the U.S. over the next few years. Flexible packaging offers many benefits to producers of these fortified foods. It’s a given that flexible packaging protects against oxidation, moisture and dehydration, and the space and weight savings are obvious, too. But dispensing these products is also much easier in a flexible package. You can also print instructions, potential interactions with prescription medicines, and other helpful information right on the package.

Opportunities and Possibilities
Roll stock as part of a complete flexible packaging system (also including machines and service) can meet the most demanding strength and barrier protection requirements for a wide variety of goods, whether dry foods, wet foods and industrial & agricultural products. Furthermore, high-definition custom print options help promote brand image. There are so many needs that can be fulfilled by these wonderful materials if we choose to learn from others and think outside the box (no pun intended).

Jeff Beer is Technical Director at Fresco System USA, Inc. In this role, Jeff ranks as the senior technical professional with the highest level of skill and knowledge of flexible packaging systems. He directs Fres-co’s Research and Development team.

Jeff is just one of Fres-co’s many highly experienced packaging professionals who consult with our customers and helps provide “flexible thinking” to their unique packaging challenges. Reach out to us at contact@fresco.com or call us at 215.721.4600 to learn more about Fres-co’s wide range of flexible packaging solutions for coffee, liquid food and beverages, agricultural and industrial products, and more.

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