Demand for aseptic packaging to rise sharply
Although aseptic packaging still represents a small fraction of the overall U.S. packaging market — 3.2 percent of a $147 billion industry as of 2015, according to the Freedonia Group in Cleveland — demand is forecast to rise sharply in the next few years. In fact, in its March 2016 “Aseptic Packaging” report, Freedonia forecasts demand to increase 6.8 percent per year, with the package format accounting for $6.5 billion of the U.S. market by 2020.
Although pharmaceuticals remain the largest U.S. market for aseptic packaging, sizable gains for aseptic cartons are predicted for shelf-stable dairy-based food and beverages and for the beverage industry overall. Demand for bag-in-box and other large-format aseptic bags, meanwhile, will drive growth in aseptic pouches and bags, Freedonia notes.
Reap the benefits
Retailers that make the leap to aseptic packaging for certain private brand products could realize many advantages. Perhaps the most significant of those is the delivery of potentially fewer undesirable ingredients.
“Because aseptic cartons protect what’s inside without the need for preservatives, retailers can offer clean-label foods and beverages that meet consumers’ ever-increasing demands for pure, natural products,” explains Eliseo Barcas, vice president of sales for Denton, Texas-based Tetra Pak USA.
Aseptic packaging also needs no refrigeration and is compact and lightweight, driving efficiencies into the supply chain, he says.
“Not only can this save money, it can also help retailers meet environmental goals through reduced emissions from transportation and refrigeration,” Barcas adds.
The sustainability picture doesn’t end with transport, however. Aseptic cartons, made with renewable resources, are recyclable.
“Our research found that 62 percent of consumers would be more likely to consider a brand that uses environmentally friendly packaging,” Barcas says, “offering retail brands another point of differentiation.”
Additional advantages of aseptic packaging — aseptic cartons, in particular — include a large “billboard” surface that supports quality graphics, the availability of cartons with closures and a bisphenol-A-free status, Freedonia points out.
Aseptic packaging also can help retailers differentiate store brand products in categories underrepresented by the packaging format. Two such areas are ready-to-drink tea and nutritional products such as meal replacement shakes, Barcas points out.
Recent advances in aseptic packaging also present a potential plus to retailers and their private brand programs. One such advance comes in the form of new “crystal clear” PET stock bottles and preforms from Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Amcor Rigid Plastics. They are suitable for aseptic, as well as dairy and high-pressure-processed, liquid beverages. Labeling alternatives include wrap, shrink and pressure-sensitive labels, the company says.
Available in round, hourglass and square shapes, the bottles come in 12-ounce, 16-ounce, 32-ounce and 64-ounce sizes, Amcor says. A broad range of preforms enables stock and custom bottle designs ranging from 8-ounce to 16-ounce single-serve options and 28-ounce to 68-ounce multiple-serve applications.
“Along with consumer appeal, our comprehensive PET package portfolio for dairy and juice provides brand owners and manufacturers with convenience and reduced product line complexity, enabling efficient and cost-effective product management,” says Alex Warren, manager of marketing and strategic business development for Amcor’s Beverage Business Unit.
For its part, Tetra Pak recently introduced a number of advances, many of which aim to increase the amount of renewable material within the aseptic packaging itself, Barcas explains. For example, the company’s Tetra Rex Bio-Based product represents the first fully renewable package for liquid food. It is manufactured from paperboard and plastics derived from plants. The paperboard comes from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified and controlled sources and is traceable to its origins, and the laminate film, neck of the opening and cap are made from sugarcane.
The company’s new Tetra Top carton bottle with bio-based plastic, meanwhile, features 82 percent renewable contact with no impact to recyclability, he says. Like the Tetra Rex option, all of the paperboard comes from FSC-certified and controlled sources and is traceable to its origins. The cap features sugarcane-derived high-density polyethylene.
And Tetra Pak’s new Tetra Brik Aseptic 1000 Edge with Bio-based Lightcap 30 offering is the first aseptic carton to receive the highest class of certification from Belgium-based Vinçotte for its use of renewable materials, Barcas says. Made with 80 percent renewable content, the package boasts up to a 17 percent lower carbon footprint than a standard package, according to an independent lifecycle analysis conducted by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
For its part, SIG Combibloc, headquartered in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland (with North American offices in Philadelphia and Toronto), recently introduced the combibloc RS composite structure for its aseptic carton packs. The structure improves system stability during processing, while contributing to even better environmental performance, the company says. The new laminate will become the standard composite structure for all combibloc and combifit formats used to fill liquid dairy products and non-carbonated soft drinks on SIG Combibloc filling machines.
“For customers, the use of the new combibloc RS structure will mean a further improvement in our system robustness,” says Norbert Garitz, SIG Combibloc’s head of product management technology. “The fact that less material is required also reduces the overall weight of the package, which in turn has a positive effect on environmental performance. The carbon footprint of each package will be reduced by up to 6 percent with the use of combibloc RS — compared to the previous structure.”
Think outside traditional sterilization
Not all recent advances are tied to the packaging materials or format. Ecoclean AB, a packaging supplier based in Helsingborg, Sweden, is one of a growing number of companies that is now using electronic beam (e-beam) technology instead of hydrogen peroxide and water to sterilize its aseptic packaging. The company is integrating the e-beam technology into its packaging material plants — taking responsibility and cost away from food processors at the filling machine level and enhancing safety.
According to Ecoclean, the e-beam treatment relies on a system of electron accelerators that are similar to television tubes. As the aseptic packages move through the generated electron beam, they are sterilized throughout. The company then individually wraps and protects the sterilized ready-to-fill package reels before shipping them to food producers.
“With traditional sterilization approaches, the producer is responsible for not only sterilizing both the inside and outside of the package, but in many cases, also initial forming and sealing, filling, final sealing and final forming,” states Anna Annerås, Ecoclean’s marketing director, in a company-published article. “With the Ecoclean system, producers only need to handle sterilizing the outside of the package, filling of the product and final sealing.”
Canning is a freelance writer from Libertyville, Ill.