Portable Packaging for Food, Beverages, and Dietary Supplements

June 1, 2012

Dietary supplements are meant to make it easier for consumers to fill daily nutrient gaps. But getting consumers to commit to a daily supplements regimen? That can be another story. For marketers, then, it just makes sense to put some thought into product packaging—how and when consumers will use it, for instance. The more encouraging a package is to use, after all, the more likely a consumer is to use the product at all.

With this in mind, package portability is something more nutraceutical marketers are seeking. And if savvy marketers can build an image around a message of portability, the right package paired with the right product may also boost a brand’s image.

“Product manufacturers are always looking to capture a niche market, a way to stand out among the competition,” says Tim Brickle, president of contract packager Ruspak (Lyons, NY). “So they are now looking at ways to make taking supplements easier.”

Chewable-supplements marketer Chews-4-Health recently worked with Ruspak to launch IGNITE, a large, chewable energy tablet packaged in a single-use pouch. Ruspak sourced the high-gloss film, which is a coated paper laminated to foil, from Integrated Packaging Solutions. The pouches are formed and filled on Ruspak’s Bartelt horizontal pouching machine.

A Honey of a Healthy Snack

Julie O’Steen, cofounder of HoneyPax, set out to make honey more accessible and more easily eaten anywhere. She says that while many might not think of honey as a traditional nutritional supplement, the health benefits of honey have been gaining notice, especially for allergy sufferers. Traditional honey packages are difficult to tote around, however.

By packaging honey in individual 10-ml packs from unit-of-use packaging supplier Xela Pack (Saline, MI), HoneyPax is repositioning honey as a healthy snack that’s easy to enjoy often.

O’Steen says that the desire for portable honey started with her own. When traveling, she lamented that not all honey tasted like Tupelo honey, which she had grown up eating. “I traveled a lot for my past jobs, and I missed being able to find Tupelo honey wherever I was—so that was one of the inspirations for the company.”

HoneyPax is Tupelo honey, which is harvested only a few weeks every year when the Tupelo gum trees are in bloom in Florida’s Apalachicola region. O’Steen says that Tupelo is considered honey’s gold standard. It has an unusually high fructose-to-glucose ratio, so it won’t crystallize. This also means it is quickly absorbed by the body, providing a “quick boost,” then maintains steady absorption for sustained energy. As such, “It is perfect for athletes but would also be beneficial to anyone during any type of strenuous activity,” explains O’Steen. “Our individual packs are so functional and provide a new way to consume honey. Finally, you can take good honey with you to the gym. For the first time, it is convenient to eat outside the home.”

Another part of HoneyPax’s mission is to help connect consumers to the source of their food. “Every packet is traceable back to its hive,” says O’Steen. On HoneyPax’s website, consumers can look up the hive code, which is printed on every packet and box, to read about the hive’s location.

And the natural look and feel of the packet made from 100% postconsumer recycled kraft paperboard was also ideal for the brand. The packet’s thin poly/foil barrier also provides product protection and shelf stability, according to Anthony Gentile, director of art and marketing, Xela Pack.

Product in a Cap

A dispensing cap not only inspired the idea for one company’s sugar-free, calorie-free beverage, but has also defined the brand’s image. “We developed our product lines around our cap design,” says Luke Zakka, cofounder and vice president of operations for NYSW Beverage Brands.

The company’s bottled water brands VBlast and kids’ VBee are packaged in bottles with caps that contain a vitamin/flavor concentrate. Twisting the bottle’s cap, which is made from HDPE and LDPE, releases a brightly colored liquid concentrate into the water. Watching the water change color is part of the product’s appeal.

But there are also performance benefits, the brand says. “The potency of the vitamins is preserved in the cap until the beverage is consumed,” says Zakka. According to the brand’s website, the nutritional value of other vitamin-infused beverages may dissipate over time. Zakka says that accelerated shelf life studies showed that while the potency of the ingredients in the water decreased over a longer period of time, while in the cap, the vitamin nutrients went unchanged.

Zakka said he first had the idea for this type of cap back in 2007. A similar type of cap already existed, so the company tried working with it; however, there were many issues with the existing design. “The first cap we tried wasn’t intended to hold a liquid product, and it didn’t look the way we wanted it to,” says Zakka. “It was also difficult to use and wasn’t made from quality materials, so we knew we had to design one ourselves.” The company finally came up with a design that worked and could be manufactured, and Zakka found a supplier to injection mold it.

Filling the caps with liquid product required customizing NYSW Beverage Brands’ machinery. Developing a powdered product for the cap would have been much easier, but Zakka said he knew a liquid would be more appealing to a younger generation and also offer a better user experience. Preventing the liquid from leaking out through the top of the cap was a challenge. “A simple valve can hold a powder, but a liquid is more difficult to contain—it keeps trying to escape,” he says.

The company’s hard work is paying off, and Zakka believes that “in the future, innovation in the beverage business will lie in packaging.”

A New Kind of Probiotic Straw

Packaging is critical for ingredients that must stay stable and viable. This is especially true concerning probiotic cultures.

Ganeden Biotech (Cleveland) recently partnered with Unistraw International to manufacture a probiotic-filled straw that it touts as “a technological breakthrough in the beverage industry.” It says this type of straw is making possible the development of new types of probiotic drinks.

A major part of the innovation is Unistraw’s patented delivery system, first developed in 2008. Hundreds of Unibeads line the inside of the straw. Unistraw had already marketed flavored straws using this encapsulation technology.

Mike Bush, vice president, business development, Ganeden Biotech, says that other companies have developed probiotic straws already on the market but that those probiotics are encapsulated differently. By contrast, he says, “The probiotics in Unistraw are highly stable and remain beneficial to the body.”

Many stability tests have been done, using different probiotic strains, and Ganeden’s GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) strain has proven to survive the manufacturing process and supply chain conditions, according to Bush. The dry probiotics don’t need refrigeration and have a shelf life of up to 12 months.

“Consumers want it to be easier to take probiotics every day, any place. This probiotic straw can turn any product into a grab-and-go supplement,” Bush adds.

Capturing New Customers with Stick Packages

More companies are turning to stick packs for their convenience. Nordic Naturals recently switched its Omega-3 Effervescent from sachets to stick packs.

“My husband bikes a lot, so we noticed a trend. More people were using supplements on the go, in portable packages like this that could fit in a bike bag,” says Alea Lampman, materials manager, Nordic Naturals.

Ease of use was the main reason for the switch, says Lampman. “Our old sachets were a bit bulky, didn’t open easily, and were difficult to pour into a drink,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that the package was easy to pour without spilling. Since [stick packs] have a small opening, even a child can pour a stick pack into a water bottle without making a mess. As a busy mom, that was so important to me.” Environmental friendliness was another reason, she says, because the stick packs are smaller than the pouches—which also enabled a smaller outer carton size, making retailers happy.

But packaging a fish oil powder presents specific challenges, not the least of which is preventing odor. “Powdered products aren’t encapsulated so the packaging must keep them fresh and prevent oxidation. Proper seals were critical, and we had to do a series of stability tests,” says Lampman.

The type of packaging material used often affects the quality of the seal and determines the sealing process. Nordic Naturals’ stick package is made from foil, with a liner and coating on the inside. Performing a nitrogen flush before sealing ensures a shelf life of three years, the company says.

“We performed tests on the inner layers to make sure the material would seal in nitrogen and not let in oxygen. During stability tests, we looked for any signs of oxidation,” says Lampman. “We ended up changing suppliers and using a different foil because the first seal we tested was allowing oxygen to seep in. Instead, we decided to choose a material that adheres to itself by interlocking, much like a good Ziploc bag.” Once the packaging materials were chosen, the company employed various suppliers to print, form, and fill the stick packs.

Choosing a stick pack material that would be easy to open was a concern of another supplements brand, Coral LLC. “We compared our stick pack with others that are on the market to make sure that ours opened more easily,” says Alberto Galdamez, director of sales, Coral LLC.

Coral LLC is a manufacturer of coral calcium mineral products. It markets its Cell Ener G powdered electrolyte and vitamin supplement in a 30-serving jar, but decided to add a stick package to the product lineup. “Lots of people are starting to take supplements on the go, and we thought this product was ideal for a stick pack,” says Galdamez.

Health club patrons are Coral LLC’s new target customer. “Cell Ener G is perfect to drink before and/or after exercising because it provides revitalizing benefits. You won’t carry a pill in your gym bag, but you may carry a stick package,” says Galdamez. “And, you can purchase just one at your gym and use it immediately.”

Sealing the stick pack properly was a concern. “The product is humidity sensitive. When exposed to moisture, the ingredients will clump, so our contract manufacturer uses a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment during the production and packaging processes,” explains Galdamez.

“We tested the product in the package after a year, and so far we haven’t had any issues. The product has remained stable,” he adds.

Help from Suppliers

To deal with demands, many packaging suppliers are offering new types of packaging options, customizing machinery, or adding filling capabilities.

Ruspak manufactures many types of on-the-go products and fills all types of packages, such as blisters and pouches. The company has capabilities to modify machinery to increase production speeds when necessary.

“We’ll be adding a stick pack capability within the next three to twelve months,” says Brickle. “It’s a logical progression for us and fits well into what we do best.” It’s also a nod to the increasing popularity of stick packs. “Pouches and packets aren’t the best for pouring. We’ve been getting lots of requests for sugar and salt substitutes in stick packs,” he says.

Pharma Tech Industries (Royston, GA), which calls itself the largest pharmaceutical contract manufacturer and packager of powder products in the world, is also taking notice of the portable packaging trend. The supplier recently expanded its capabilities by acquiring a Ropak Stik Pak 10-up S/N 307 machine. It forms, crimps, fills, and seals stick packs. It produces up to 600 stick packs per minute across 10 lanes, and has the ability to perform in-line collation and cartoning.

“A lot of our customers are attracted to the stick pack because it’s the smallest and most portable solution of all the different types of unit-dose packages there are for powders,” says Tee Noland, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Pharma Tech Industries.

Pharma Tech’s expertise lies in its manufacturing ability and sealing experience. Getting a better seal is often a matter of adjusting the temperature on a machine’s seal bars, and an experienced supplier can help advise the right temperature, says Noland. When taking on a new packaging project, Noland looks for a material that will seal well and perform well on the company’s machinery. “We’ve done stability trials with different types of film structures,” explains Noland.

Noland offers this tip: “Surlyn [a type of polymer] is a great option for powdered products because during the sealing process, it is very tolerant of airborne particles—some of which are unavoidable when packaging powders.”

With the ubiquitous candy Pixy Stix in mind, direct-to-mouth (DTM) dosing from a stick pack could be the next big thing in nutraceutical delivery systems, according to T.H.E.M. (Marlton, NJ), a specialist in stick pack technology.

T.H.E.M. says that DTM technology is becoming a growing trend particularly in the energy category, pointing to dietary supplement Energy Stix, manufactured by Encaff Products. The product can be poured directly from its stick pack into a consumer’s mouth. T.H.E.M. points out that the DTM trend is also being seen in the over-the-counter drug category, with cold and flu products from Reckitt Benckiser and GSK.

T.H.E.M. says consumer benefits of DTM technology include portability, convenience, and ease of use, as well as minimized materials usage and post-use waste. Additionally, the format may enable a larger dose. Says the company, “An orally dissolving tablet typically allows for about a 200-mg formulation, far less than the 1000 mg offered by the DTM stick platform.” It also points out that DTM technology is suited for liquids.

Neil Kozarsky, president of T.H.E.M., says that although this delivery system concept is still rather new, it shows promise. “It is decidedly in the ‘still catching on’ stage,” he says. “While DTM sticks will not take the place of alternative dosing options for all products, this delivery system offers significant efficiencies to consumers for a number of on-the-go usage occasions: no need for bottles or mixing. That’s huge.”

However, there can be challenges when dealing with DTM technology for nutraceuticals. “While flavor and other formulation challenges will be a deterrent in certain instances, the potential for further expansion is very strong,” Kozarsky explains. “The key to further market expansion resides in the areas of flavor masking, solubility, and product efficacy. No matter how good the idea or product concept may be, the consumer buy-in will only take place if the product tastes good consistently.”

“We also work very closely with our stick pack customers here at T.H.E.M. to ensure that the formulations run well on stick pack machines at commercial rates of speed. We have accumulated extensive know-how concerning getting products to flow and pouches to seal. It sounds simple, but in fact it is very complex and has taken years of experience to get everything to taste good and run well.”

Beyond Unit of Use

Packaging suppliers are also helping to inspire innovation in other areas of nutraceuticals packaging.

Marny Bielefeldt, director of marketing, Alpha Packaging (St. Louis), has been fielding many requests for new bottle sizes to accommodate gummy products, such as Disney’s Gummi Vitamins. “Chewable products such as gummies tend to clump together, and the wider neck size allows them to be easily shaken out,” she says. “We have had many customers ask for bottles with wider necks. They don’t necessarily need a larger bottle, so we expanded the neck size in relation to the bottle for more of a straight-sided ‘cylinder’ style.”

One new bottle that Alpha Packaging developed for the gummy vitamin segment is a custom, contoured 250-ml PET bottle with a 53-mm neck designed to fit a 53-mm child-resistant closure. Prior to this custom bottle, Alpha offered its 250-ml bottles with smaller necks (38 and 45 mm).