Pouches: Standing Up and Standing Out
Harney & Sons provides quality craft tea blends from around the world and has done so for more than three decades. But when it wanted to advance its mission to provide more recyclable and environmentally conscious packaging, it connected with TC Transcontinental Packaging to develop an innovative solution. The result was a recyclable stand-up pouch with a barrier that not only meets the tea business’s desire for a sustainable package but also provides a strong, durable solution that preserves the tea’s integrity.
Before the process with Harney & Sons could begin, Rebecca Casey, VP of marketing and consumer market development at TC Transcontinental Packaging, says that the company knew that it would need to implement a multilayer, co-extruded film to “preserve the delicate flavor of the tea.” There wasn’t, however, a multilayer, flexible packaging film that could be used for this purpose, so TC Transcontinental decided to create one.
“In collaboration with Dow and Charter NEX Films, we developed one of the first commercialized packages for food that hits all notes: 100% recycle ready for in-store drop-off, EVOH barrier for product preservation, seal strength and durability,” she explained in an email. “We know that EVOH delivers an outstanding barrier to gases, organic vapors and moisture, and prevents deterioration of the product and extends its shelf life.”
Sustainability Shines in Stand-Up Pouches
Although the Harney & Sons’ packaging is only one example of the increasingly diverse options in stand-up pouches, it points to a trend of more environmentally conscious consumers interested in packaging that aligns with their lifestyles. Philippe St-Cyr, general manager of Hamilton, Ontario-based Rootree, a provider of digitally-printed flexible packaging focused on compostable and renewable resources, says that consumers are driving this desire for more sustainable packaging. Brands are looking for recyclable and compostable packaging that meets shelf life and barrier properties needed to guarantee the integrity of their product.
To convey the sustainable properties of its packaging to consumers, Rootree encourages its customers to highlight the recyclable and compostable components directly on the packaging.
“There is a premium associated with these films right now,” he says. “Companies are paying more money to get into them and they’re doing that because one, their consumers are asking for it, and two, it impacts the way they’re perceived in the marketplace by those same consumers.”
It’s not just consumers driving change though, according to Rodolfo Haenni, director of global business development at Aptar, a global provider of packaging dispensing solutions headquartered in Crystal Lake, Ill.
“The big CPGs are also paying a lot of attention to [recyclability],” he says. “A lot of them made pledges that they want to have all of their packaging recyclable by 2025. I think that is adding a lot of pressure to the whole packaging industry, and it’s no different for the pouch industry. There is definitely a race in the marketplace for companies to come up with a recyclable solution for barrier pouches. While stand-up pouches are not yet fully recyclable, they have other sustainability traits such as improving shipping efficiencies when compared to rigid packaging, and preventing food waste.”
In terms of compostability, St-Cyr points to a similar issue. He says that although there have been major advancements made recently, compostable offerings are still in their infancy. Rootree worked with HP to add compostable ink to its 100% home compostable pouches, but there is still one aspect of the packaging that St-Cyr says is a “missing link.”
“There is work to be done on the adhesive side,” he says. “The adhesive layer represents a small percentage of the total package waste. We are at 97-98% home compostable components.”
He also explains that there are some drawbacks to using closure solutions — such as zippers and valves — on compostable packaging, since they won’t necessarily break down in home compost and may need to be processed through industrial composting situations.
Lifestyle Drives Change
One of the biggest factors driving advancements in stand-up pouch innovation is the need for packaging that aligns with the on-the-go lifestyle that so many consumers adhere to. Casey explains that there have been more convenience attributes added to packaging, such as easy-to-open pouches, with resealable options.
“Features like zippers, handles, spouts and micro-perforation to allow ventilation during microwave cooking are good examples,” she writes.
Individually portioned products, or on-the-go snacks, are also increasing in popularity.
“Consumers are looking for products they can consume on the go, that open and close easily,” she adds. “They want to snack quickly and healthily without sacrificing quality. Individual portions are also trendy; single-serve and controlled portion packaging appeals to several different consumer demographics.”
The increased demand for consumer convenience has led to another trend: the inverted pouch.
“The inverted pouch adds something interesting,” Haenni says, “which is the possibility that consumers can squeeze until the last drop, a sustainable feature, as it helps prevent food waste and create a much more enjoyable experience for the consumers.”
When the inverted pouch is paired with Aptar’s no-spill technology, Haenni says that it is “a really powerful combination.” The silicon valve technology prevents the product from spilling out of the pouch if it is knocked over. It is commonly used in sauces, condiments, jellies, honey and spreads, but is also a sensible option for children’s drinks and baby foods, he explains.
Moving past the structural aspect of stand-up pouches, it’s important to note a shift in what consumers expect to see on shelf when it comes to packaging. St-Cyr explains that traditionally, large companies would supply products in the same packaging repeatedly, but today’s consumer expects big brands to transform their products and packaging to more closely align with their lifestyles.
“[Today’s consumers] want to feel like [products are from] smaller, craft companies, that it has more ethically sourced ingredients or that it has something different,” he says. “There’s a big diversification in terms of what we see, companies trying to look more craft.”
He explains that it’s similar to what happened in the beer industry, where labels and marketing evolved to speak to an audience that was seeking a more local, craft experience. In fact, he says that a lot of big brands are now developing separate brands to appeal to the craft beer audience.
Adding to the desire for a more craft look, brands are also seeking increased shelf appeal with their stand-up pouches. Casey describes advancements in coating technologies such as registered soft touch matte, gloss and tactile coatings, as an interesting trend to take advantage of.
“Some of these tactile coatings add grip functionality to the stand-up pouch as well,” she explains. “CPG companies are always looking for the ‘wow’ advantage and ways to stand out on shelf and differentiate themselves within the center store.”
Because stand-up pouches can be a sustainable solution for brands and because they are generally easy to use for consumers, more markets are shifting to the use of this packaging format. In particular, Casey says that she has seen more nutritional wheys and powders transitioning from traditional rigid packaging to stand-up pouches.
“Flexible packaging is lighter in weight than tubs and has a larger facing for branding and communicating the product’s value adds,” she explains. “The ability to open and reclose with ease also appeals to this consumer base.”
Reclosability and child resistance is something that St-Cyr says has been necessary to develop in Canada, where cannabis is now legal. He explains that there’s growth in stand-up pouches for the cannabis market, but with more restrictions on this market than on others, there has been an effort to make sure there is proper infrastructure to provide packaging that adheres to the regulations of cannabis packaging.
Haenni sees a lot of movement in the home and personal care area, in products such as laundry detergent or shampoo.
“People will buy the rigid packaging and then buy the refill in a pouch format to refill the rigid packaging,” he says. “I think in the food and beverage side of the market, it’s not a trend yet, but I’m seeing more conversions now happening in categories that weren’t common not too long ago."