Ready, Willing and Able


Secondary packaging trends demand durable, marketable and sustainable options

Two-packs, four-packs, six-packs, Fridge-packs, club-packs — none would be possible without secondary packaging. From carrying aids to containers with added function, manufacturers are expanding options with consumers in mind. Consumer and retailer conservation concerns also are shaping the category’s future, as sustainability becomes an important issue.
Ready to carry
Carrier handles for single, double and multi-packs continue to be widely used. PakTech’s TwinPak and UniPak are some of the Eugene, Ore.-based company’s most popular options, according to Amie Thomas, marketing manager. Thomas says the TwinPak handles are available on a wide variety of 32-, 48-, 64- and 96-ounce beverages in club stores, while the UniPak is popular for gallon-size beverages in both club and retail outlets. Its 3Pak and QuadPak handles are common for 1.5- and 2-liter products as well.
The latest innovation from PakTech is its can handles with dust covers. The new handle innovation completely covers the top of beverage cans for added safety and cleanliness. The handles are injection molded to cover and unitize the cans and the covers can be implemented with many of PakTech’s handles as well as on automated applications.
“Our ‘dust cover’ handles and canned beverage handles have provided innovative alternatives for beverage processors,” Thomas explains. “The dust cover handles basically have a thin layer of HDPE molded across the tops, such that the tops of cans are protected from the elements. This is in response to consumer safety concerns.”
Carrying aids also are on the innovation list for flexible packaging company Exopack, Spartanburg, S.C. As Mark Pfeiffer, national account manager, explains consumers often use the opening in the sides of shrinkwrapped packages, or bullseyes, to carry the packages. Exopack is “looking into alternative carrying methods,” Pfeiffer says.
Multiple concerns
As PakTech has experienced, the pull of club stores has affected secondary packaging. The popularity of these retail outlets, which specialize in bulk items, have led manufacturers to create materials that will withstand hefty loads.
“We’ve had many customers looking for larger case counts in their packaging, such as 24- and 32-packs for club stores,” Exopack’s Pfeiffer says.
For Exopack, the requests require shrink-wrapped cases durable enough to hold 18 to 20 pounds of products. In addition to sturdiness, retailers want the packages to be immediately ready for display. To comply, the company is continuously developing stronger films to hold the multipacks.
On the innovation front, Exopack is looking into easy-open features and ways to dispense the bulk packs. Pfeiffer says methods for breaking a bulk package into smaller packages or easily dispensable options are in the pipeline.
Also accommodating 18-, 20- and 24-packs is MeadWestvaco’s award-winning Duodozen carton with reinforced SturdiGrip handle. The package design received three awards at this year’s Paperboard Packaging Council’s competition, including the Innovation Gold Award for the multi-piece Duodozen corrugate replacement and Excellence award for the Duodozen Maxi-Pack.
Duodozen can accommodate up to 24 packs of glass or PET bottles and currently is being used by Anheuser-Busch, the company says. Another innovation by Mead-Westvaco under the Duodozen brand name is the Ice-Pack carton, which features a special lining and design to accommodate seven pounds of ice to chill the 12-pack inside.
Printing innovations
For instant consumer appeal, manufacturers have created printing innovations. Exopack has integrated high-speed inkjetting onto its shrinkfilms for unique codes as part of loyalty programs and contests. Zumbiel Packaging, Cincinnati, has the capability to create a special-edition package nearly eight hours after the conclusion of a big event. To catch the eye of consumers, Graphic Packaging International, Marietta, Ga., debuted holographic packaging.
As part of gaming, contests and brand loyalty programs, Exopack has the ability to print mass amounts of individual codes on its shrinkwrapped packages. Exopack’s lines are outfitted with high-speed inkjets to print codes for such marketing programs. In the marketplace, “Consumers receive a code from the package and enter it on the Web site and receive points for their purchases, in which different sized packages receive higher point values,” Pfeiffer explains.
At Zumbiel, the need for speed can be dictated by a big sports game or other event.
“Let’s say you have a big ballgame going on, such as the NBA finals, we have the ability to immediately go to press after the game is over and create a unique package with the box score, star of the game or anything custom,” says Tom Zumbiel III, director of marketing for the company’s beverage division. “We’ll be able to deliver that package eight hours after the game is over.”
The packages allow specific market penetration and custom memorabilia with a short turnaround, Zumbiel explains. The company also has an alternative to holographic printing that is at least two times less expensive and sustainable compared to traditional holographic printing, he says.
Also implementing holographic processes is the maker of the Fridge Pack, Graphic Packaging International. The company used three-dimensional graphics for packages for Miller Brewing Co.’s  six-pack as well as Coca-Cola’s holiday line, which were well-received, says Franck Vidal, manager of product development.
In addition, the company is working on technology that will increase interactivity with brands. 
“We are working on a technology embedding invisible digital watermarks in the graphics readable by cell phone camera,” Vidal explains. “Interactive packaging will add another media for the younger consumer to interact with its favorite products.”
Ensuring sustainability
Innovations in options and printing methods aside, many companies emphasize their sustainable practices as well. Whether it’s consumer or retailer dictated, concern for the environment, or just good business, many of the companies are incorporating sustainable practices.
For some companies it’s been part of their business mission for a long time. PakTech’s Thomas says since the company was founded more than 15 years ago, its handles have offered a “low-waste, recyclable alternative for bulk secondary packaging.” The company also recently joined the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and continues to innovate.
“In the past few years, we have been reviewing and implementing design options to ‘lightweight’ our parts and testing non-petrol based material,” Thomas says.
The pressure from retail chain Wal-Mart was a main motivator for Graphic Packaging International, Vidal explains. The company has fit its Fridge Packs, which have debuted for wine, premium tea, juice, dairy, energy and sports drinks, on a disappearing pallet standard to eliminate tertiary packaging.  Inspired by international packaging trends, Graphic Packaging International also is working on paperboard wraps for multipacks that use less board than a fully enclosed package.
“Hybrid” has become a catch word in Earth consciousness and Graphic Packaging International is working on creating a packaging option called Hybrid, which is a mix of film and paperboard packaging, for small packs. Vidal says this may “bring the convenience and billboard of the printed carton while reducing cost using unprinted shrinkfilm.”
In addition to the package minimization featured on its Z-Pack and Z-View options, Zumbiel Packaging uses Forest Stewardship Council-certified board. According to Zumbiel, the company is the first in the beverage industry to use FSC board, which it imports because no U.S. company produces it yet. As well as being environmentally friendly, the material is lighter and stronger than traditional board, Zumbiel says. Lighter weight board offers another advantage, “When you’re using a whole lot less board it means you’re hauling less stuff and using less fuel,” he explains.
At Exopack, sustainability efforts have resulted in “lightweighting” of packaging. “Replacing a paperboard beverage carrier with one made from shrinkfilm provides for a source reduction and improves transportation efficiency,” says Paul Kearns, director of sales and technology for consumer paper.
Lightweight packaging is just one of the ways Exopack is looking at sustainability. “Beyond lightweighting are renewable and recyclable material options,” Kearns says. “We’re looking into bio-resins and other materials that are derived from something other than petrochemicals, which is a big focus of sustainability. We also are trying to find better recyclable or compostable materials for flexible packaging.”
Recycling is another part of Exopack’s sustainability plans, he says. “As members of the Flexible Packaging Association and Sustainable Packaging Coalition, we are actively working on a systematic approach to get post-consumer materials back into products,” he explains. “The glass and aluminum industries developed model solutions to which we aspire to achieve.”
Overall it’s an important issue, Kearns sums up. “One thing my customers relay is how important sustainability is to them. Retailers are pushing the issue hard. As a supplier, the requests come back to us and it’s something that’s on the front burner and is very, very important to the future of Exopack.”