While it’s easy to get caught up in the latest research on supplement ingredients or new regulatory requirements, often it’s just as easy to overlook recent advances in packaging technology and design. The right package, however, can add value to products by attracting consumers, conveying important nutritional information, and protecting sensitive ingredients.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the latest research on supplement ingredients or new regulatory requirements, often it’s just as easy to overlook recent advances in packaging technology and design. The right package, however, can add value to products by attracting consumers, conveying important nutritional information, and protecting sensitive ingredients. This month, experts from three innovative packaging companies-Alpha Packaging, Tetra Pak, and Süd-Chemie Performance Packaging-are here to discuss the latest options for natural products manufacturers.
Custom Packages Are Just a Few Steps Away for Supplement Manufacturers
by Carol McLerran
Manufacturers of vitamins and nutritional supplements often muse about the interesting shapes and styles of personal-care packaging. Sometimes they even bring their favorite bottles and jars to trade shows, looking for companies that make stock packages with similar appeal. But all too often, supplement manufacturers overlook the option of custom packaging, either because they think their volumes are too low to make them cost-effective, or they fear a long development cycle in which they lose control of an unfamiliar process.
In reality, the development process for custom plastic packaging is not nearly as long, as intimidating, or as expensive as most manufacturers think it is. As with any creative process, it helps when the customer knows some of the key criteria for his or her new package, but with the help of the right design team, custom bottles and jars can be created in a matter of weeks.
Also, custom solutions are not always used just to give added style to a packaging line-often, packages are customized to protect supplement manufacturers from counterfeiters who can easily duplicate the look of a stock bottle and label, but who would have difficulty replicating a unique bottle design or a bottle embossed with the real manufacturer’s logo. These practical considerations are another reason more vitamin and supplement companies are working with packaging firms to create their own custom molds.
If a customer has never been part of a custom-tooling project, he or she should feel comfortable asking questions at each step of the design process. And one of the best ways to feel in control of the outcome is to understand the steps and approval processes that are built in to protect customers from winding up with a package that does not meet all their needs.
THE INITIAL DESIGN
As package designers, our job is to take a customer’s idea and make it into a manufacturable solution. When customers bring us a bottle they like, we can usually make a similar bottle that captures the qualities they like about their sample. Often, though, they will bring us a concept-and then it is our job to translate that concept into a working container. A two-dimensional drawing is a first step in getting ideas committed to paper, and then more-elaborate drawings are done with design software.
As one example, a customer who makes supplements for professional weight trainers wanted a custom bottle shaped like a barbell. Our designers looked at real barbells to identify the key characteristics that were needed to make the finished package say “barbell” when you see it on the shelf, and then they incorporated those elements into the design. The end result was several sizes and styles of supplement bottles in high-intensity colors that supported the brand identity.
MAKING IT A SOLID REALITY
The mechanical design process begins with an evaluation of the neck size needed for the package, and the determination of which preform will produce the end result for the customer. The preform is essentially a fixed quantity of plastic with a specific neck size, but that fixed amount of plastic may be blown out into a variety of shapes with various dimensions. For example, the same 70-mm, 24-g preform is used to make both an 8-oz jar with a 70-400 neck and a 4-oz jar with a 70-400 neck. Both jars have the same neck and width, but the material in the 8-oz jar is blown to twice the size with thinner walls. The 4-oz jar has much heavier walls, because the same 24 g of plastic are distributed over a much smaller package.
Using existing preforms saves a significant amount of time, and also saves costs. Alpha has approximately 40 different preforms for polyethylene terephthalate (and also has a library of parisons for high-density polyethylene packaging), and these preforms are utilized in over 500 different bottles, jars, and canisters because of our thorough understanding of the properties and limitations of the various preforms.All of these calculations are done in design software in the Alpha Technology Center, so the customer can see what the bottle or jar will look like at its finished size. Three-dimensional images then allow everyone to visualize how the end-user will handle the package, and how label areas will provide space for branding and product information. At this point, all the creativity has been done on paper or with the assistance of computers, but nothing has been committed to metal yet-this is the last real opportunity for a customer to voice concerns before tooling costs are incurred, so it is a good time for the customer to mention any questions or concerns that have arisen during the design phase.
Before making an entire set of production tools, the Alpha Technology Center builds what is called a unit cavity. This is an actual, single mold made from the same aluminum that our real molds are made from, cut by the same lathe and polished smooth just like a production tool. The unit cavity must undergo testing on blow molding machines to make sure the finished bottles or jars pass all structural requirements. Here, too, is when the customer can verify that the new package’s volume yields enough space for their product-for example, can it hold 2000 cc of powder, or can it hold 50 tablets with the correct amount of space remaining for desiccants or cotton? The unit cavity is a relatively cost-effective way to make sure we are all getting it right the first time, because once the unit cavity is approved, full sets of production tooling may have anywhere from 6 to 20 bottles per tool.
Once a customer approves the unit cavity, production tooling is created. Multiple and identical cavities of the approved tool are replicated, polished, and assembled for use on blow molding machines. Now, any special colorants or coatings required by the customer are integrated into the production cycle, and within a few weeks from when the unit cavity was approved, the new bottles or jars are ready to ship to customers.
THINGS TO ASK
The package design process is different depending on which packaging manufacturer you work with, but if it seems like your company is ready to investigate this option, here are a few questions you should ask before you decide on a partner.
1. How long does it typically take you to develop a new package, from initial concept to finished product? A fast development cycle is about 12 weeks, but some companies take six months or more, especially if they have to make new preforms for the container.
2. How much of the process is done in-house, and what elements are outsourced? If the tooling process (for either the unit cavity or the production tools) is outsourced, you should usually double the time it takes to complete that phase. And if these processes are completed overseas, triple it.
3. Will you be using preforms or parisons you are familiar with? Unless a company is familiar with the preforms, there may be surprises in how the plastic is distributed during the molding process-and surprises usually cause delays.
4. How involved can I be in the design process? This is a matter of preference, but if you want to be highly involved, make sure the company can work that way-especially if their design team is scattered at different locations or works as a subcontractor.
Whether you want to blaze new territory with a completely original design, or only need to modify an existing package to fit your unique application, the options available to supplement manufacturers have never been more attainable. So the next time you see something that inspires you, talk to a packaging manufacturer to see if it can become your very own.
Carol McLerran is director of marketing at Alpha Packaging (St. Louis). For more information about Alpha Packaging, call 800/421-4772 or visit www.alphap.com.
Using Aseptic Packaging to Lock Out Air and Light
by Jeff Kellar
Aseptic packaging has been called the most significant food science innovation of the last 50 years by the Institute of Food Technologists (Chicago), a nonprofit scientific society working in food science technology. The aseptic process sterilizes food outside the package using an ultra-high temperature process, which rapidly heats, then cools the product before filling.
Aseptic packaging puts the least amount of thermal stress on the product. As a result, aseptically packaged products retain more nutritional value and exhibit more natural texture, color, and taste than canned products. And since the lightweight, shatterproof aseptic cartons can be recycled into paper towels, tissues, and other products, it makes environmental sense. Additionally, the aseptic cartons are sealed tight, so products can be stored over long periods of time at room temperature.
Aseptic packaging also helps the food retain its flavor and nutrients. In 2004, an independent testing facility conducted a twelve-month sensory and vitamin retention study of lacquer-lined cans and Tetra Pak’s (Vernon Hills, IL) Tetra Prisma aseptic cartons. The products in the study were produced from the same highly fortified dairy beverage formulation and were stored in temperature-monitored chambers to mimic both refrigerated and ambient storage conditions. Blind taste-testing by trained panelists occurred six times over the 12-month period, while vitamin retention analysis, performed by the vitamin supplier, occurred at the same time points as well as at the initial processing time.
At ten weeks, the canned beverage was significantly less balanced and full than the aseptic beverage, had 35% more metallic character and 21% more “vitamin” flavor, and had significantly less vitamins C and B12 and less vitamins A and D. At six months, the canned beverage had 35% more metallic character and 20% more “vitamin” flavor than the aseptic beverage. At twelve months, the canned beverage had 30% more metallic character and 23% more “vitamin” flavor than the aseptic beverage, had less vitamin D, did not meet label claims for vitamins A and C (while the aseptic beverage met label claims for both), was consistently and significantly less balanced and full, and contained higher vitamin flavor.
As consumers are looking toward healthier food and beverage options, they are also looking for packaging that meets their needs. Taste and health benefits are very important to consumers when it comes to fortified-food choices, and as obesity and other health concerns become increasingly prevalent, the demand for healthy beverage and food options continues to grow. More than 40% of shoppers say they rarely give up good taste for health benefits, and as the natural segment goes mainstream, consumers will continue to seek purer products with fewer additives and no preservatives.
The largest study ever to look at aseptic packaging trends in the United States was recently conducted by Foodmix (La Grange, IL), a leading food-marketing firm. Survey respondents identified taste, freshness, and convenience as the most important considerations when it comes to choosing food packaging.
The study involved a series of consumer focus groups and an Internet survey of 6500 consumers responsible for food purchase. It identified nine key issues that impact a consumer’s evaluation of packaging, including protection and convenience. The survey found that more than 80% of consumers feel protecting taste is a key packaging feature. When asked “Which package format best protects taste,” twice as many consumers chose Tetra Pak aseptic cartons over plastic bottles, and eight times as many consumers chose Tetra Pak cartons over cans. The study determined that consumers feel that product freshness is important. More than 70% of consumers felt it is important for packaging to protect vitamins and minerals, and when asked which packaging format they preferred for protecting vitamins and minerals, 68% of women chose Tetra Pak cartons over cans and plastic bottles.
Aseptic cartons are convenient for consumers because they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be stored anywhere. The packages often have resealable closures, adding to consumer convenience.
These research results, which were driven by consumer demands, demonstrate how important packaging is to consumers. Consumers are looking for very specific things when it comes to packaging. Among the 6500 consumers questioned, the results established protection as the area of greatest concern-with two principal issues, protection from spoilage and protection of taste, being the consumer’s highest priority for packaging.
A Juice Wedge Issue
Knowing that convenience, flashy graphics, durability and parent appeal are important kids’ packaging features, Mexican juice producer Jumex launched Mundo Nautix vitamin-fortified juice drinks in Tetra Pak’s transparent aseptic stand-up pouches.
“Market research in Mexico has shown that the package is a clear hit with 6- to 12-year-olds, because it’s transparent and fun to play with,” according to Robert Graves, marketing director of Tetra Pak Mexico (Naucalpan, Mexico). Research in other parts of the world attributes the appeal to the pouch’s “squishy” feel, although mothers also appreciate the additional nutritional protection.
The 200-ml pouch is a proprietary structure that includes polyethylene terephthalate and silicone oxide oxygen barrier layers. The pouch is formed on a modified Tetra TBA/19 aseptic filler equipped with a Tetra Unit Conveyor 54, an ACHX 10 Helix Accumulator, a Tetra Cardboard Packer 78, and a Tetra Tray Shrink 51 shrink wrapper with stacker and grouping belt.
Tetra Pak is currently discussing rollout plans with a number of interested customers. Among the markets expressing interest are the United States, Germany, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Columbia, China, and Japan.
As the number of choices expands for consumers in packaging, traditional glass and metal containers are being challenged by plastic and Tetra Pak aseptic containers.
Tetra Pak is known as an innovation leader and uses new technologies to continue to adapt to changing consumer demands. An example of one of Tetra Pak’s new technologies is the Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear, which is the world’s first totally clear aseptic package. This package has been a major part of Tetra Pak’s ongoing product development program, which is a driver of innovation in packaging and processing solutions across the globe for a variety of consumer product brands. The Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear provides many benefits. This package uses aseptic technology, which allows for shelf stability of the product without the use of preservatives. The package also delivers clarity, play value, novelty, and fun appeal as well as functionality and convenience. There is a big opportunity for brand owners to use the Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear for existing products like milk and smoothies.
Portability is also a very important packaging issue today, especially with the fast-paced world we live in and with families always on the go. In a recent study by Kelton Research (Los Angeles), it was found that milk consumption is growing in quick- serve restaurants (QSRs). In fact, the study showed the majority of milk drinkers are kids under the age of 12 and the majority of milk is purchased in drive-throughs and then consumed in cars.
Tetra Pak’s Tetra Brik Aseptic carton and the Tetra Prisma Aseptic cartons are great examples of portable packages that are appealing not only to consumers but also for operators of QSRs.
The above research proves there is a huge opportunity for food manufacturers to be leaders in the functional food category. Obesity and other health problems are becoming big concerns among Americans today, and as a result, consumers are always looking for healthy beverage options in packaging that meets their needs. With the right aseptic packaging, which offers consumers spill-proof, kid-friendly, and safe out-of-the-fridge packages, food manufacturers have the opportunity to capitalize on consumer needs and drive sales.
Jeff Kellar is vice president of strategic business development for Tetra Pak (Vernon Hills, IL). For more information about Tetra Pak, call 847/955-6000 or visit www.tetrapak.com.
Active Packaging for Increased Product Protection and Appeal
by Robert Crossno
A package must do many things such as contain, protect, maintain, and sell. The design of great packages for nutraceutical products must simultaneously consider active components for protection against atmospheric elements like moisture, odors, and oxygen, as well as for increasing the overall appeal of the product. Luckily, a myriad of active packaging components that maintain product stability, prolong shelf life, and enhance marketability are available to package designers.
Moisture, along with temperature, causes chemical, biological, and mechanical deterioration of nutritional products. Whether it is the chemical breakdown of active ingredients, the growth of unwanted microbial activity, or cracking and crumbling of nutraceutical tablets and capsules, moisture is often a packager’s mortal enemy.
To combat moisture, many types of desiccants are now available in a variety of configurations so packagers can choose the most efficient form based on absorption needs, volumes, and line speeds. When designing a package, the type of desiccant used should be chosen carefully. The level of performance required, insertion processes, packaging preferences, and costs are all important considerations. The amount of desiccant needed depends largely on the package volume, the type of package used, and its moisture- vapor transmission rate (MVTR). Desiccants include those that are easily and efficiently dropped into nutraceutical bottles, but also include those that either fit or are integrated into caps or stoppers.
Most commonly used in the nutritional industry are desiccants such as canisters and packets that are either automatically or manually dropped into nutraceutical bottles. Canisters and packets are filled with a material that has a high affinity for water. The most commonly used desiccant in nutraceutical packaging is silica gel, which binds water molecules in its random intersecting channels. Another desiccant, Bentonite, is a natural, chemically inert clay that attracts and binds water molecules to its vast inner and outer surfaces, and at low relative humidity has a better absorption performance than silica gel. Molecular sieve is one of the most aggressive desiccants for use on the rare occasions when products are so sensitive that they require packaging in virtually 0% relative humidity; however, the high rate of absorption can make handling an issue. Activated carbon is often used to absorb odors and can be combined with one of the desiccants to absorb both moisture and odor.The desiccant canister has become the gold standard for drop-in-style nutraceutical and pharmaceutical desiccants. Canisters are rigid and available in a variety of sizes. Because of its rigid plastic body, the desiccant canister can be inserted at high rates of speed (up to 600 cpm) using widely available automatic insertion equipment, making it ideal for high-volume, high-speed continuous packaging lines.
Desiccant packets are widely available in multiple sizes and fills. Desiccant packets generally come in continuous strips wound on reels for automatic insertion of about 100 to 200 per minute. Continuous-strip packets with holes punched into each seal allow for more-accurate optical cutting of packets during insertion, avoiding accidental cuts through a packet. Individually precut desiccant packets are also widely available for manual insertion.
It is important to do the math and think ahead in terms of volumes and line speeds when considering whether to choose a canister or a packet. Packets are more economical on a per-piece basis, but slower insertion rates and reel changeovers must be considered. Furthermore, there are a number of desiccant insertion machines on the market that offer various options for automation and range in terms of performance and cost.
It is also important to “think outside of the bottle” when incorporating a desiccant into a package design. When a drop-in style desiccant is not preferable, desiccant stoppers, washers, and inserts are used. Desiccant washers and inserts are secured into the cap of a packaging container. Desiccant stoppers are used in combination with tubes of corresponding sizes, and are most commonly used for packing increasingly popular effervescent tablets, as well as other types of tablets. The stopper is usually made of polyethylene and the tube of polypropylene, ensuring a tight fit that limits MVTR. Tubes can be supplied printed or can be labeled with branding imagery and product data. The stoppers contain a certain amount of desiccant in a secure reservoir, are tamper evident, and are available with a spiral spring that keeps effervescent tablets in place.
There are also options for using desiccants in blister packaging. Sensitive drugs packaged in blisters can be protected using a thin desiccant capsule absorbing unwanted moisture in the headspaces of the blisters.
The newest form of moisture protection is desiccant polymers. Desiccant polymers incorporate a desiccant directly into polymer plastic and can be molded into virtually any shape. Thus, the package or packaging components themselves can be designed with desiccation characteristics, combining moisture protection with package functionality and marketability. This is important, as many new types of drug-delivery systems such as dissolvable cellulose strips, inhalants, orally disintegrating tablets, liquids, creams, and other types of products are being launched that require innovative protective packaging measures. An infinite number of package designs such as bottles, dispensers, dosers, droppers, etc., can incorporate a desiccant polymer component.
Although we can’t live without oxygen, it is often a contributor to the chemical degradation of nutraceuticals. Oxygen-absorbing canisters and packets can be utilized to absorb excess oxygen in packaging for products that are sensitive to oxidation. Unlike oxygen absorbers used in food applications, which need moisture to function, PharmaKeep oxygen absorbers can be used in low-relative-humidity packaging environments, a necessity for nutraceutical packaging. By using PharmaKeep and high-gas-barrier packaging, oxidation is minimized and product shelf life, coloration, and freshness are enhanced.
Odors or unpleasant smells can be a problem for some nutritional products, such as fish oil capsules, valerian tablets, and many herbal supplements, affecting marketability and product consumption. Odors can be addressed either through absorption or masking. Canisters or packets filled with activated carbon are used to absorb the gases that cause foul odors.
Newly launched by Süd-Chemie Performance Packaging (Belen, NM) are patented Aroma-Can scented canisters. Aroma-Can canisters are identical to desiccant canisters except that they emit a pleasant aroma that is impregnated into the polymer body. The aroma either masks unpleasant odors, such as fish oil, or enhances odorless products, such as vitamin C. Lemon and orange aromas are readily available and are the most common; however, customizable scents can be formulated to best mask specific types of odors. Aroma-Can canisters can also include a desiccant if needed. Other polymer packaging components, such as stoppers and caps, can also incorporate an aroma. Using aromas as an active component in product packaging can enhance marketability and product loyalty.
Ensure your desiccant and active-packaging components are compliant with all FDA regulations including 21 CFR for contact with food and drugs. It is also important to know that the manufacturer of these products manufactures under generally accepted good manufacturing practices and is ISO certified.
The future for active-packaging options for the nutritional industry is bright, and the focus is on packaging that is protective against atmospheric conditions, as well as functional and differentiating in competitive markets. Knowing the options is key to designing an optimal package.
Robert Crossno is regional marketing manager at Süd-Chemie Performance Packaging (Belen, NM). For more information about Süd-Chemie, call 800/989-3374 or visit www.sud-chemie.com.