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Flexible packaging advances reap rewards

This year's FPA awards recognized converters for packages that permit product viewing--even touching the product--without compromising package integrity. Reclosable and/or stand-up pouches drive into new product categories.
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Earlier this month the Flexible Packaging Assn. announced this year's Top Packaging Awards with honors going to 10 companies for 14 separate packages.

"Everything from sofas and electrodes to fishing line and glue are better served with flexible packaging" said FPA President Glenn Braswell.

"The advances in controlled atmosphere packaging are reshaping the produce sections in grocery stores and ever more medical supplies are embracing flexible's waste reduction benefits" he added. "It's a very exciting field out there right now."

For the first time since FPA began honoring achievements made by flexible packaging converters in 1956 nonmember converters with U.S. operations were eligible to submit entries. This year 33 packages were considered.

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The fourth annual Green Globe Award for environmental achievement was given jointly to Rollprint (Addison IL) and Kapak (Minneapolis MN) for the Avitene® microfibrillar collagen hemostat stand-up pouch (see Enviroscope page 64). Pouches were also noted for advancing controlled atmosphere packaging in produce applications (see story page 54). Technical achievements were also honored for packages used in applications as diverse as welding electrodes medical sutures and glue (see story page 41).

Spiderwire hooks new market

A unique product combined with eye-catching award-winning packaging has cast Spiderwire(TM) fishing line (1) into prominence among fishermen. With two preceding versions priced at up to $70 Sturtevant WI-based marketer Johnson Worldwide hopes to lure a fresh crowd with new Spiderwire Fusion brand of premium microfilament line. Thinner and lighter this is the first version priced competitively with premium monofilament lines at $9.95 for 150 yds. The use of a flexible pouch is also a first for the company.

"There's a lot of innovation with this product" says Jeff Stava product manager at Johnson Worldwide "but most unique is packaging." A hologram was incorporated into the package marking the introduction of holograms into the fishing/tackle category says Stava as well as into the Spiderwire line. "Typically" he states "manufacturers who use holograms see an increase in sales by fifty to one-hundred percent. We expect an increase of about twenty to thirty percent."

James River (Milford OH) supplies the 4-mil pouch structure that consists of metallized polyester containing the hologram sandwiched between an outer polyester layer that is reverse flexo-printed in four colors and an inner polyethylene sealant layer. Scharr Industries (Bloomfield CT) embosses the holograms onto the metallized polyester. The pouch die-cut with hanger holes offers merchandising advantages over paperboard cartons used for the two other Spiderwire products says Stava. Each peg can hold either six cartons or eight pouches. "It's more durable" he adds and more conducive to peggable aisle or check-out displays. Another benefit comes in shipping as the pouch is 50% lighter than paperboard.

Adding a tactile dimension to the package is a 4" sample piece of the fishing line protruding from the sealed end of the pouch. This marks the first time believes a James River spokesperson that a product sample is exposed in a flexible package. It also impressed FPA judges.

The Delta Pac(TM) bottom-gusseted stand-up pouch is made on Klockner Bartelt's (Sarasota FL) Model IM-7-14 Pouch Packager. This form/fill/seal machine was significantly modified to make the fold-down tab surrounding the exposed sample of fishing line. A special die combined with a tab folder and creaser bar create a tab fold with a 125° angle. After the spool and product leaflet are inserted into the pouch via a customized inserter a special feeder/cut off/seal system inserts and seals the sample in the tab. The machine can produce this package at up to 45 pouches/min. Currently the machine is in production 24 hrs/day to meet demand. Spiderwire Fusion was introduced to sporting good stores nationally last summer.

Frozen first for flexibles

Introduced last Spring by spirits company Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide Louisville KY Tropical Freezes® ready-to-drink tropical drinks (2) quickly became a household name. At least that was its aim. Geared to female consumers aged 21 to 49 Tropical Freezes became the first alcoholic drink offered in a flexible pouch.

"This pouch provides an opportunity to sell the product warm and freeze it later" says a Brown-Forman spokesman. Shelf-stability offers retailers more freedom in merchandising. To consumers Brown-Forman touted the benefits of simple clean-up and preparation time.

But on the technical side things weren't so simple. "This product is designed to freeze into a slush--at between 0°F and 5°F in the freezer" the Brown-Forman spokesman says. The pouch structure therefore was integral to maintain this consistency. Materials supplier Lawson-Mardon (Arlington Heights IL) isn't at liberty to disclose packaging specifications but the multi-layer pouch contains foil for its compatibility with alcohol and its minimal taste transfer. Pouches are produced from rollstock on a horizontal form/fill/seal machine.

The graphics depicting tropical vignettes with stylized tropical drinks were designed by HKA (San Francisco CA). They're reverse-gravure printed in eight colors.

Five varieties were introduced in April of 1995. Suggested retail price is $1.69 for the 8-oz package or $4.99 for a three-pack that's sold in a die-cut folding carton.

Flexibles fly in pet market

Heinz Pet Products a Newport KY division of Star-Kist Foods introduced its Meaty Bone® brand dog biscuits (3) in January in a resealable stand-up pouch containing 6 lb of product. Converters James River (Milford OH) and American National Can (Chicago IL) supply the flexible structure that won FPA awards.

ANC's construction comprises 48-ga polyester that's reverse-gravure-printed in eight colors/10# PE blend/3-mil coextruded sealant film. ANC says the proprietary sealant layer provides strong seals puncture resistance and stiffness to help the pouch stand. The layer's clarity permits consumers to view product through an innovative circular-shaped window. James River's approximately 5.5-mil structure provides virtually the same attributes and is also reverse-gravure-printed in eight colors.

The bag represents a 40% reduction in material weight compared to a folding carton that would be required to contain 6 lb of the pet food. The film structure also provides moisture and oxygen barriers that maintain product freshness and hermetic seals that help prevent insect infestation.

"This packaging design is a first for pet treats" says Laura Young Heinz's external communications director. Packaging research manager Andy Gordon adds "There are many positive attributes and advantages to this packaging. Consumers [benefit from] the reclosable zipper that keeps the treats fresh the transparent circular window that allows them to see the product and tell when they need to buy more and a die-cut handle that makes the bag easy to carry."

The 6-lb bag may be displayed in its stand-up position or lying down on its side where a fully decorated bottom panel aids retail merchandising. Crisp graphics provide market differentiation as well.

James River and American National Can send printed rollstock to Minigrip/ZipPak (Manteno IL) for extrusion of the zipper onto the flexible film. Minigrip then forms three-side-sealed bags that it sends to Heinz for filling and sealing.

"The response from both retailers and consumers has been very positive" Young notes. "Consumers in the biscuit category increasingly seek large-size packaging for value and convenience. Mass merchandisers and pet superstores have demanded larger package formats to meet these consumers needs."

Flexibles for ferrets

Dog owners aren't the only consumers benefiting from flexible films for pet foods. Forti-Diet® Ferret food (4) from Kaytee Products Chilton WI is also sold in a 3-lb resealable package.

Duralam (Appleton WI) provides the 2.75-mil structure that includes 72-ga coated nylon that's adhesive-laminated to a 2-mil layer of white PE. Graphics are reverse-flexo-printed in eight colors four process and four line. Duralam also applies its DuraZip(TM) polyolefin-based zipper sending finished pouches to Kaytee for filling and sealing.

FPA recognized the pouch as the first commercially available easy-open reclosable pouch available in the small animal category. Introduced approximately a year ago the pouch replaced a 3-lb 2-oz serving of ferret food that was sold in a three-layer composite canister with metal bottom multi-layer peelable lid and metal ring for heat sealing the lid as well as a top plastic lid.

The pouch is reported to reduce packaging weight by 88.5% with landfill volume reduced even more by 95% to 99.6% depending on if the discarded former canister was crushed or not. Kaytee also benefits by no longer having to store the space-consuming components necessary for the canister.

Besides its material and storage space advantages the pouch provides structural benefits compared with the canister. When combined with the heat and humidity sometimes found in retail petstores the high-fat food occasionally stained or discolored the printed canister label. It also contributed to canister softening and denting. The pouch structure offers oxygen and moisture barriers that eliminated this difficulty.

Reclosability for meat snacks

Offering the on-the-go convenience of a reclosable flexible package multipack pouches of Armour Big Ones meat snacks (5) are a first for the category according to Dial Corp. Phoenix AZ parent of Armour. Previously meat snacks were available only in nonreclosable single-serve wrappers or in multipacks packed in high-barrier spiral-wound canisters.

The packages are designed for consumers who put a premium on portability. "You can't put a canister in your shirt pocket" offers Dial's Chris DeCoster senior packaging engineer who was involved in the package's development. The 5-oz package contains 10 individual meat snacks.

First appearing on store shelves in the southeast in September the packages are made from an ultra high-barrier 6-mil structure that contains nearly every popular barrier material except foil a requirement for the high-quality shelf life. A foil package would have been slightly cheaper but as DeCoster puts it "we're paying a premium for [the ability to] view the product."

From the outside-in the structure consists of reverse-printed biaxially oriented nylon coated with polyvinylidene chloride. That's extrusion laminated to a five-layer high-barrier coextrusion containing ethylene vinyl alcohol with an inner layer of linear low-density polyethylene for sealability. American National Can (Chicago IL) which converts and flexo-prints the film in seven and eight colors depending on variety declined to specify thicknesses. Rollstock is then shipped to Kapak (Minneapolis MN) for application of the zipper and forming the film into premade pouches. Zippers are supplied by Minigrip/ZipPak (Manteno IL). A hang-hole is also die-cut into the pouch header.

According to DeCoster one of the central challenges to this project was overcoming leakers. "Any time you incorporate your zipper inside your final seal you have a greater propensity for leakers because your seal is going over that zipper" he says. "Your pouch supplier really has to have the process under control" he says crediting Kapak's pouch manufacturing know-how.

The snacks still being rolled out in stages across the U.S. are available in three flavors and retail for between $2.39 to $2.89.

Film/foam for furniture

Flexible packaging for furniture? No sofas probably won't be flow-wrapped any time soon. But an innovative film/foam bag solution pioneered by Danbury CT-based furniture giant Ethan Allen Inc. in conjunction with Guilford Packaging & Fiber Inc. (Highpoint NC) marks the departure from the industry's reliance on corrugated. The actual material is converted by Astro-Valcour Inc. (Glens Falls NY).

Designated LockPak(TM) the new package (6) consists of an ensemble of materials. Upholstered furniture like a sofa chair or ottoman is placed inside a shallow corrugated tray atop a corrugated pad. A special bag made of 3-mil low-density polyethylene film laminated to a 1.4 lb/cu ft density LDPE foam is draped over the furniture and tucked into the tray. (Leather furniture is more prone to abrasion so the inner foam layer is covered by 1 mil of LDPE film.)

Bags are actually manufactured on-demand from rollstock. Equipment supplied by Guilford feeds the material cuts it with an impulse cutter and heat-seals the edges to form a bag. Since the sofas are transported on end a corrugated end cap and expanded polystyrene foam block are placed at the end on which the sofa will stand. After the protective bag is in place a standard 4.5-mil LDPE shrink-film bag is placed over the entire package. The piece is conveyed through an oversized shrink tunnel from Pneu-Mech Systems (Statesville NC) which shrinks down the outer bag around the bottom corners of the base tray. The furniture is essentially locked into place by the shrink bag preventing any shifting or movement during shipment.

The package is then loaded into trailers with items nested together so that only the corrugated base tray is exposed. "We spent a considerable amount of time developing loading techniques and preparing a manual for them" says Tom Lowery manager packaging engineering and diagnostics/research lab. Lowery designed the LockPak along with engineers from Guilford.

The benefits to Ethan Allen are numerous:

* Compared to the previous all-corrugated packaging Ethan Allen reduced material costs by 50%.

* Since furniture wrapped in the packages is nestable Ethan Allen can now fit an average of 128 items in a trailer versus 68 before. As a result fewer trucks are needed to move freight on a daily basis. Warehouse storage space is similarly reduced.

* Package assembly time has been reduced by 50% and trailer loading time has been reduced by 2.5 hours or about 50%.

* Damage has been reduced by a third.

* Inventory space is greatly reduced: the film is supplied on rollstock and the trays are stored knocked down. Staples special inserts and other items no longer need to be purchased or inventoried.

* Twelve trays and one end cap were engineered to fit the upholstery division's 650+ SKUs. The end cap itself made with a series of horizontal and vertical scores can be cut to fit the contour of each SKU.

* Used film/foam bags are recycled thanks to an internal recovery program. The bags are compacted and shipped to recyclers who pay freight as well as a modest amount for the material.

Prior to adopting this package corrugated boxes had to be hand-fabricated out of large sheets which was time-consuming and costly. The protective foam that had been used previously would sometimes slip off the edges of the furniture permitting the box to rub against the furniture. Also staples had the potential to pierce the box and abrade the product. Al-though the company relied on fabric blanket wrap it wasn't practical for storage only for quick deliveries.

The key to the whole package says Lowery is how it's loaded into the truck. He explains: "We did a lot of studies on loading techniques and drawings on our CAD system to determine how we could load like product mixed product and mixed product with cased goods. Then we did a lot of teaching of the techniques to the distribution personnel."

Although the packaging concept worked on a technical level the hardest part was getting the transit industry to recognize this as a viable alternative to time-tested corrugated boxes. "I went to the railroads and trucking industry and said every item is going through a test process so they granted me a special permit [to try out the new package]" says Lowery. "I could pack them up any way I want to as long as it meets certain test criteria." The packages passed several performance tests including the new Rule 180 test for LTL shipping ASTM 4169 and ISTA test criteria. Once the concept was proven Ethan Allen's five upholstery manufacturing plants adopted the package.

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