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Articles from 2020 In May


Kao’s ‘Air’ Bottle Leverages the Virtues of Lightweight Packaging

Kao’s ‘Air’ Bottle Leverages the Virtues of Lightweight Packaging
Kao’s patented “Air” Bottles are made with three layers of flexible film filled with air pockets around the perimeter of the bottle to make it stand upright.

Kao’s new recyclable package for MyKirei personal care products — which uses up to 50% less plastic by weight than traditional rigid plastic bottles with pumps — embodies functional, emotional, and social benefits of a holistic sustainable design.

While the recyclability challenges of lightweighted packaging are of increasing importance to producers and consumers, the tremendous benefits of smaller, lighter packages must be acknowledged to find solutions that balance their virtues with more intuitive resource management.

Less material by weight equals fewer resources extracted from the planet, and less waste if disposed compared to heavier packages. For producers, less packaging brings down production costs overall, and with lighter, less voluminous shipments, transportation costs by weight, which are additionally offset by the ability to fit more items on a truck or pallet.

This translates for consumers, who enjoy increased access to products by the pricing and delivery of packaged goods in-store. Ecommerce relies heavily on lightweight packing material to maintain product quality from point A to B, and even “non-packaged” items such as clothing, fresh produce, and durable goods like furniture and automobiles are often packaged for distribution.

Lightweight packaging also lends itself to beauty and utility. Many packages are lightweighted by using plastic and other synthetics, which have near-endless potential for colorization, shaping, printing, and textures, often rendered to resemble wood, glass, and other high-value, aesthetically pleasing materials.

Flexibles and films, ubiquitous across the packaging supply chain, have versatile characteristics. In sachets, pouches, cling wraps, and bags (which recycling critic John Tierney calls, not inaccurately, “a marvel of economic, engineering, and environmental efficiency”), these thin plastics are cheap, strong, and often elegant in design, making lots of sense from a utilitarian and practical perspective.

It cannot be overstated that no lightweighted packaging material, namely plastics, in and of itself is at the crux of our issues with recyclability, pollution, and waste. It’s the way we use them, intentionally designing items to be thrown away in a global recycling system that isn’t equipped to effectively recover it for additional cycles of production.

But just as the material, shape, and size of package is part of the design, the creation of systems that ensure it is recovered and reintegrated it into the supply chain are, as well.

MyKirei is a new lifestyle brand launching in the US by Kao Corp. (makers of Bioré, Jergens, and Curél), with whom TerraCycle is partnered with in Japan. They are debuting the brand nationally with three products — Japanese Tsubaki & Rice Water Nourishing shampoo and conditioner, and Yuzu and Rice Water Nourishing hand wash — all of which are packaged in Kao’s patented “Air” Bottles, flexible film bottles filled with air pockets around the perimeter of the bottle to make it stand upright.

The innovative Air Bottles are said to use up to 50% less plastic by weight than traditional rigid plastic bottles with pumps. The brand promises the Air Bottles are 100% nationally recyclable through the recycling program we manage, free to consumers to use with the points incentive they can use to donate cash to charity.

Inspired by the Japanese philosophy of “Kirei” (which favors sustainability as well as beauty, cleanliness, simplicity, and balance), this collection of products is founded on the belief that care and respect for ourselves, our societies, and the world around us is key to simple, beautiful living. The brand hopes to inspire a gentle, more sustainable way of life.

With a recycling program and charity component developed as part of the product launch, vs. reactively down the road, MyKirei by Kao maintains and reinforces the functional, emotional, and social benefits of a beautiful, but typically non-recyclable, package with a holistic design approach.

Healthcare Packaging

Early Advocate for Senior Friendly Packaging Dies

Early Advocate for Senior Friendly Packaging Dies
Photo credit: eggeeggjiew – adobe.stock.com

John Bitner enjoyed life, from his birth on June 4, 1944, until his death on May 14, 2020. For more than 50 of those years, John served the packaging industry with an illustrative career that blended packaging design and engineering across multiple markets and disciplines. Join us on Friday, May 29, to celebrate his life and accomplishments.

Imagine you can’t see well, that everything is blurry, and you can’t read the instructions on a package. And you can’t hear what the person helping you is telling you to do. Your hands fumble and your fingers don’t have the dexterity to do a simple task like opening a bottle.

Welcome to old age.

John Bitner realized that packaging engineers could make the world a better place by designing packages that were easy for senior citizens to read, handle, open, and reclose, while still being safe for the rest of the population, especially young children. In his career, John advocated for child-resistant packaging designs that were also senior friendly, especially for pharmaceuticals.

I participated in one of John’s experiments that, through direct experience, taught packaging developers that pharmaceutical packaging desperately needed to be better designed by considering the plight of the user.

At a Chicago Chapter meeting of the Institute of Packaging Professionals sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, John had people in the audience pair up, with one person acting as a “senior” and the other as their caregiver. The senior was given glasses smeared with petroleum jelly, ear plugs, and rubber gloves. This instantly turned them into a typical elderly person with bad eyesight, who was hard of hearing, and had arthritic hands that didn’t work well.

These seniors then tried to open different pharmaceutical packages, like a pill bottle or a blister pack. The caregiver was there to help, but without actually opening the packages for the patient. Of course, there was a lot of laughter. Us seniors (I got to play) looked ridiculous, decked out as we were.

But then something remarkable happened. The play turned serious and, as the task to open the packages failed over and over, the frustration of both parties rose to yelling-and-throwing-things levels. Really.

What a great way to make an important point and to spur packaging designers on. Since then, we have seen some improved package and closure designs that are easier to open without compromising safety — efforts that continue with today's emphasis on user-centric design.

Thank you, John, for helping to make all this possible.

John Bitner, 1944-2020

What else John taught us.

He stayed busy and involved with packaging. In more recent conversations with John, he and I talked about better packaging for contraceptions and cannabis.

Here are a few of John’s insights, advice, and wisdom over the years:

“The packaging requirement for medical marijuana exceeds that for other controlled substances requiring special packaging. The package must be intuitive and easy to use. It is not enough to pass CPSC [Consumer Products Safety Commission] protocol. It must be a package that patients want to use in their home. There can be no exemptions such as we now grant to the elderly or debilitated. Because THC acts directly upon those brain cells called cannabinoids that influence memory, thinking, concentration, time perception, and coordinated movement, which are all required to properly open and re-secure a medical vial package for safety and adherence, packaging design must address impaired coordination and difficulty with thinking, concentration, and problem solving.”

From December 2013, “Letter to the Editor: A Packaging Prescription for Medical Marijuana”

“Motivating a patient through fear does not enamor her to use a compliant package. [Instead,] a package can function as a patient partner by providing motivational passion of joy rather than fear.”

From March 2012, “Changing patient behavior with packaging”

“When packaging technology interacts directly with research, marketing, and sales, all parties benefit. Ultimately the company as a whole thrives, and the patient survives. Packaging must take its position in marketing, sales, research, discovery ... the early stages of product/market conceptualization/development. Millions of dollars are lost and opportunities for patients sacrificed because of late-arriving catastrophes.”

From August 2014, “Employees report: Doing more with less is mandatory”

“…there is an inordinate amount of information in the literature that is neither pertinent [nor] relevant to the patient. The drug manufacturer is mandated to provide a road map–sized amount of literature folded multiple times and wadded up into a one-inch square. What begins as a massive insert becomes nothing more than a single sheet of paper when delivered to the patient at the pharmacy.”

From September 2011, “Quality in packaging”

“The number one reason for nursing home admittance is the inability to manage one’s medication regimen. That said, everyone should want to support every aspect of compliant packaging. Designers and engineers who are not aware of a child’s thought process or are not intimate with the daily struggles of the elderly are an impediment to their own initiative. Technical intellect exists within the realm of the multitude of packaging industries. It is their willingness to unleash it that drives success.”

From May 2010, “Pharmaceutical packagers: Compete through innovation”

“Seniors sometimes really do forget, but alarms and buzzers won’t make patients take medications if they don’t want to. What does make them compliant is knowledge. Meaningfully educating the patient more than anything will work — not fear-based motivation. If technological innovation can increase communication between a doctor or a pharmacist and a patient, improved adherence will follow.”

From July 2014, “Preparing for patients of the future”

A full life and career.

In his online obituary, we learn more about the husband, father, uncle, grandfather (pop pop), as well as about his professional accomplishments. Here is an excerpt:

His accomplished 50+ year career blended art, and design and engineering in packaging, and spanned multiple market signets and disciplines.

Recognized internationally for his work with the Consumer Products Safety Commission for over twenty-five years to protect the lives of our children while improving the quality of life for seniors, John was in the forefront of investigative research related to improved seal integrity and higher barrier performance through adhesion technology, advanced tooling design, equipment innovation, and award-winning structural design.

The Wall Street Journal has hailed John Bitner’s efforts as “evangelical” for senior-friendly packaging and the Public Broadcast System produced a documentary on the challenges of universal design, featuring John’s achievements. He never tired of testing and pushing packaging and technology to make life safe and secure for the young and the elderly. Nor did he tire of a good 18 holes of golf, a drink with a friend, singing with his wife, or thinking of how to make life better. Artist, designer, packaging industry icon, friend.

Share your stories and memories.

To celebrate the life and career of John Bitner, one of his colleagues — Peter Schmitt, managing director at healthcare packaging consultancy Montesino — has arranged a virtual wake. The packaging community is invited to briefly share their stories of how they met and worked with John in a Zoom call on Friday, May 29, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

To attend, click this link on the date and time:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85441074735?pwd=UXhSM2hTbUxleWYzWDMxbytTdEtvdz09

Meeting ID: 854 4107 4735

Password: 994021

One tap mobile

+19292056099,,85441074735#,,1#,994021# US (New York)

+16699006833,,85441074735#,,1#,994021# US (San Jose)

Or dial by your location

+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)

+1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)

Meeting ID: 854 4107 4735

Password: 994021

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kdR3xyCmAO

Robotics

7-Axis Cobot Reaches Farther Without a Higher Price

7-Axis Cobot Reaches Farther Without a Higher Price
Suitable for many packaging applications, the new OB7-Stretch cobot can reach a little more than four feet, serving a workspace diameter of about eight feet at an affordable price.

For packaging operations like case packing or palletizing that need a collaborative robot (cobot) to stretch farther in the workspace to get the job done, a new teachable robot has a reach of 1.25 meters (4+ feet) with a payload of 4 kilograms (almost 9 lbs). Like other cobots, this 7-axis system learns tasks without programming.

The OB7-Stretch from Productive Robotics Inc. is the fourth product in the company’s line of 7-axis cobots. Any of the OB7 models — OB7, OB7 Stretch, OB7 Max 12, and OB7 Max 8 — have extra dexterity to reach around obstacles and perform well in confined spaces, compared to 6-axis systems. How? Because each joint can rotate 360 degrees — both clockwise and counterclockwise. Zac Bogart, Productive Robotics’ president, says, “The extreme rotation capability of each of OB7’s 7 axes give OB7 unmatched maneuverability.”

The OB7-Stretch sells for $25,000, which, Bogart tells us, is substantially less expensive than other long-reach cobots. To hit this price point while extending the reach of the standard OB7, the OB7-Stretch shares the engineering design of the standard 5kg OB7 but with a lower payload capability.

Bogart explains how the new OB7-Stretch fills the need for a longer reach at an affordable cost for packaging operations: “Packaging applications require more floor space than machine tending. The longer reach is needed to support the larger area required for packaging.”

Here’s how the new OB7-Stretch (second from the top) compares to other products in the OB7 line.

Cannabis Packaging

Cannabis Packaging: The Way to the Millennial’s Heart is Through a Cause

Cannabis Packaging: The Way to the Millennial’s Heart is Through a Cause
Rebel Spirit uses recyclable paperboard for a lot of its packaging, including this cigarette-style box for pre-rolls.

Look at some of the emotional and social drivers that make Millennial consumers such a great fit for cannabis, and at how marketing and package design can deliver the kind of experience that will ensure long lasting loyalty and growth.

In a scene from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, the friends are high while watching a TV commercial about two teenage stoners. In the spot, one kid is persuaded by his friend to try pot for the first time. After taking a hit, the kid proceeds to stick a gun in his mouth, claiming “Nothing can hurt me!” The fictional commercial ends with a dire warning, “Pot Kills.” Harold and Kumar giggle and start looking for a place to eat.

As they say, “you’ve come a long way baby.” “Pot Kills” is a far cry from the current status of cannabis. Rather than warning about “reefer madness,” the government sees pot as a way to generate tax dollars — and the culture welcomes it as a form of intoxication less dangerous than alcohol or hard drugs. 

Perhaps no group looks forward to its legalization more than Millennials. According to the Quinnipiac University Poll, 85% of voters ages 18-34 are in favor of this move, while only 44% of boomers feel the same way. Here is a product the younger crowd resoundingly endorses. But how do you market to them?

Let’s look at some of the emotional and social drivers that make Millennial consumers such a great fit for cannabis, and at how marketing and package design can deliver the kind of experience that will ensure long lasting loyalty and growth.

A potent form of cause marketing.

Marketers have been nervous about reaching Millennials ever since this group became the most sought-after audience in consumer history. Younger people seem like mysterious creatures who display a curious trait: They actually want brands to stand for something, aside from a good deal or quick buck. They demand capitalism with a conscience.

This trait gives cannabis marketing and packaging a distinct advantage. Many cannabis brands want to be thought of as something more than just a great high. The product itself integrates naturally with a whole host of causes. 

There are brands that support the fight against mass incarceration. Others promote green farming practices. The product can also plausibly be connected to campaigns against, say, domestic violence — as cannabis seems relatively harmless, when compared with alcohol and hard drugs and their role in abusive behavior. 

Says Millennial market expert Brad Szollose, “Ask any police officer, when was the last time he or she locked up someone who was using pot. Doesn’t happen. But when you ask them about violence in people who use coke or alcohol, they’ll say it happens all the time.”

Best of all, these causes are intrinsically related to the product; there’s nothing forced about making the connection. This lends cannabis marketing a claim to authenticity, a trait said to be treasured by the younger crowd.  And this can touch on a range of issues, such as where the plant was grown, how it’s packaged, the ingredients, and the communities that are being helped by this emerging business.

When the connection between the cause and the product is real, it allows cannabis brands to tell a compelling story that avoids clichés and the feeling of being manufactured. Says Szollose, “Millennials can be a tough crowd. They can’t be bought with virtue signaling, such as ‘Look how good we are.’ The cause has to be relatable and verifiable.”

Marketers and package designers are already hip to the connection between cannabis and the causes it supports. Here are three salient examples…

1. Marley Natural — champion of social justice.

Among the many popular causes this brand supports, Defy Ventures aims to redress problems caused by mass incarceration. Since 2015, more than 100 companies have been started by Defy’s entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs). The program teaches job readiness, entrepreneurship, technology basics, and personal finance and development to incarcerated men and women.

As is fitting for a high-profile brand connected to Bob Marley’s legend, the country of Jamaica is a focus of much of their cause work. Projects include support of sustainable fishing, teaching farming techniques to students, and restoration of Rastafari cultural sites and traditions. 

As stated on its website, Marley Natural aligns “…with causes that reflect Bob Marley’s vision of positive social change, environmental sustainability and social justice.” Appropriately, the brand’s label features the iconic Rastafarian Lion of Juda.

2.  Rebel Spirit — promoting the virtues of being green.

Rebel Spirit takes inspiration from the founder’s Uncle Mark, an early pot grower who died in prison in the 1990s. The brand concentrates its message around environmental responsibility — all packaging is reusable and recyclable. The company uses rainwater and well-water to grow crops and recycle it to prevent waste.

                               
3. A cut above.

One California brand is making sustainability the centerpiece of its entire business — from how it grows the plant, all the way to its biodiverse packaging. Above Cannabis features packaging sourced primarily within the United States. What sets it apart? The boxes are produced using wind energy and non-toxic vegetable dies for printing. Child-resistant tubes are made of hemp plastic. 

How does this score with younger consumers?

The commitment to social responsibility has helped brands like Marley Natural, Rebel Spirit, and Above Cannabis establish a secure foothold in their respective markets. Marley is in two states: California and Washington. As stated in Leafbuyer, “Millennial consumers control $200 billion in buying power and are 90% more likely to buy a product that benefits society and the environment. Not only will they be more likely to purchase from you, but they’ll feel good about doing it even if it means they have to spend more.”

New Push-Button Jar Lid Unlocks ‘Shockingly’ Good Sales

New Push-Button Jar Lid Unlocks ‘Shockingly’ Good Sales
An exciting new option in food packaging proves a big hit with consumers.

Surprisingly successful EEASY Lid opening for jars of Darci’s private-label pasta sauce lifts sales nearly 350% in three months.

Before there were touchscreen interfaces, push-button simplicity was the gold-standard indicator of the ultimate in user convenience for numerous products. However, that same kind of opening today applied to a jar lid for sauce is pushing the envelope for consumer convenience for jarred foods.

EEASY Lid from Consumer Convenience Technologies (CCT) is a breakthrough food packaging technology Packaging Digest reported on last November (see Push-button jar lid redefines ‘easy open’). The Eeasy Lid allows consumers to easily open vacuum-sealed jars with a gentle press of a button. That’s a benefit for all users and especially for older consumers and those with challenges.

A consumer study has been released that confirms the technology is a winner in the court of public opinion. In fact, the results have been “shockingly” good.

The study looked at the impact of using the Eeasy Lid on Darci’s jars compared to Boyer’s private label brand that occupied the same shelf space during the same time period one year ago. Both sauces were the same quality – the only differentiator was the Eeasy Lid on the Darci’s jars.

An interview with CCT President Brandon Bach and Managing Partner Jim Bach yielded the following 4 things to know.

1. Study results were, surprisingly, shockingly good.

It's an understatement to note that CCT was extremely satisfied with the results of the 12-week study with Boyer’s Food Markets. Darci’s pasta sauce sales increased shockingly by 341% compared to a similar brand (Brand A) sold last year with the same shelf space and same price. Not only did Darci’s outsell Brand A, it also outsold a few nationally recognized brands. CCT feels that this proves there is high consumer demand for a product like the Eeasy Lid.

CCT went into the study with reasonable expectations — the initial goal had been to increase Darci’s sales by 30%. They never expected sales to skyrocket as high as they did, yet consumers took to the Eeasy Lid right away. In fact, demand was so high that CCT had to ramp up production just to keep Darci’s stocked on shelves.

Although CCT knew the lid would impact the market, the case study proved the success of the lid in a representative market and allows CCT to apply the concept elsewhere as well.

2. Another study confirmed consumers’ dissatisfaction with conventional lids.

Since the first article, CCT partnered with North Cliff Consultants to run consumer testing on the Eeasy Lid to see just how difficult it was for everyday consumers to open jars with traditional jar lids. The study included a wide age range of participants as well as both genders. Results showed that nearly 49% of the respondents said they struggled to open traditional jar lids — that’s not even counting people with disabilities or physical limitations. The outcome of this study proved the need for a product like the Eeasy Lid, and CCT believes the Boyer’s case study solidifies the demand with the dramatic increase in sales.

[Ed Note: That study in PDF format is available here].

3. A safety button is now part of the Eeasy Lid.

Safety is the company’s number one priority, and a safety button in development for the past several months now gives consumers and CCT’s partners peace of mind.

The company was also excited to announce the launch of a new website, EEASYLid.com, which showcases the product and the exposure to the packaging and grocery industries.

4. They’ve had meetings with nationally recognized brands in the packaging and grocery industry.

They’re currently working through all of the details, though CCT can confidently report that Boyer’s case study has gained the interest of major brands.

As for the next likely markets, CCT's sights are set on surpassing the international industry standard for the pasta sauce market segment.

CCT is currently setting up a state-of-the-art facility at its Dayton, OH, headquarters where the Eeasy Lid in both CT and lug versions will be manufactured. While the pandemic has shifted the company’s timeline slightly, it's on-track to start production in Q4 of this year.

For more information, visit Consumer Convenience Technologies.

3 Packaging Lines Improved by IoT Data

3 Packaging Lines Improved by IoT Data
Photo credit: Poobest – adobe.stock.com

What’s the greatest asset on your packaging line? Real-time data, when connected to your secure IoT network. These three projects show you how and why.

Seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has led major portions of society to work remotely. Like everyone else, industry pros — ready or not — have to reconsider their relationship with the internet. Even those in manufacturing and packaging who have been apprehensive of the Internet of Things (IoT) may need to reassess their attitudes.

In addition to offering virtual support that can reduce in-person service calls, IoT-connected networks are likely in use in other ways as you read this. Somewhere, someone is poring over enterprise-wide key performance indicators (KPIs), overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) aggregate scores, shifts, and schedules to eke-out every drop of capacity to get more hand sanitizer out the door. If you doubt this, consider: Why else would Bacardi have had to switch over filling lines in six countries to run sanitizer instead of its branded liquors?

Amid talk of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, what’s really going on with technology is a slow, steady evolution and a convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT). On the OT side, for instance, industrial automation offerings benefit greatly from the adaptation of commercial IT standards. In turn, data visibility opens new possibilities from the plant to enterprise level. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to achieve transformative results.

Unilever’s digital journey.

“We’re on a journey to become a data insights driven company,” said Jane Moran, Unilever’s global chief information officer (CIO) last July when discussing her company’s ambitious plans. The consumer packaged goods (CPG) leader implemented digital twins — models of factory processes, people, systems, and devices — streaming data from a handful of sites to cloud-based servers, and announced plans to stream data from nearly all 300 of its factories through 2020.

Unilever has been working with Microsoft offerings in areas of IoT, edge-and-cloud services, analytics, custom software app-building, and team collaboration. The company cites early successes across Dove soap brand’s factories, including improved in-batch process times, alarm triggers, and reduced energy usage.

As IT organizations gain experience with cloud technology, packaging professionals are gaining ability, agility, and future-proofing standardization for today’s monitoring, predictive analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and Big Data, as well as for tomorrow’s conquest of competitive realms yet unknown. To give packaging a place in those future gains, the theory is that all sensors, drives, robots, controllers, and software — sources of data — should be connected in an edge network. (Need a refresher on edge computing? Read, "Why you need the edge in packaging production operations.”)

Beverage enterprise gets it right.

The ability to connect entire lines to enterprise-wide IoT networks opens new potential for enterprise-wide benefits that were impractical if not impossible using pre-internet technology. “Connecting to servers in 10 different countries used to require logins all over the place. Now that’s all handled in one IoT-accessed cloud account,” says Christopher Hough, general manager of ZPI, a real-time production data collection and integration company owned by Pro Mach. “So a large bottler can make an improvement on one particular machine at a particular site, and pull metrics comparing it to all the other machines of that make and model anywhere on the network.”

That’s an actual example from a current project for a leading brand owner. Hough says this has been “one of the smoothest projects I’ve worked on, a real breath of fresh air” because the customer knew what they wanted to accomplish. He says that to achieve any practical success, a team needs to define its goals and scope, and secure the appropriate management buy-in.

This customer, he says, has done this well. Working toward a goal of greater visibility into corporate-owned plant operations, the team spelled-out the details with statements such as: “Here’s what we want it to look like, and what we want to be able to do with it; here’s why we want to be able to do it, and here’s how it’s going to help us get cases out the door.”

The project, co-managed by engineering and IT, encompasses primary and secondary packaging, with future plans to move upstream to processing.

This demo screen shows KPIs for an entire line with OEE, output and time utilization, and historic trends. (Source: ZPI)

Mobile app screen shows Forensics on a filling line with stops (in red), which in this case did not include any unplanned downtime, says ZPI’s Hough.

Starting with a single machine.

An implementation doesn’t have to be complicated, as flexible film converter American Packaging Corp's experience illustrates. In 2012, APC purchased a single laminating system from Bobst outfitted with technology and services from IoT partner ei3. After some success, top management decided, "not a single piece of machinery will be brought into the facility without the ability to be connected,” says Lee Blythe, senior process engineer at APC.

Today, APC operates 50 laminators streaming live data, all remotely accessed, monitored, and serviced. Every morning, supervisors and operators log into their OEE screen (photo below or click here to see a video), check production and order status, and, at the end of the run, download automatically generated Certificates of Analysis for shipments to the brand.

This OEE screen is one way APC supervisors and operators use the remote Bobst Connect Portal, with IoT from ei3.

A basic configuration of IoT can be as simple as connecting a gateway to a machine’s controller and human-machine interface (HMI) network. (A manual key switch enables/disables access.) For ei3, the Amphion S14 edge device serves this purpose (photo below). The 35mm DIN-rail mountable edge device isn’t much bigger than it has to be to accommodate ports for 10-gigabit Ethernet and 24-volt DC power, and hosts a single-board quad-core computer with the power to acquire, consolidate, compress, and cache data before sending it cloudward. For packaging lines with multiple machines, ei3 recommends putting a separate S14 device at each machine to cordon-off data access for security (such as when a vendor comes to service the machine), with each feeding one main box, which aggregates the data before sending it onward.

Widespread standards and protocols make connecting a packaging line to the cloud as easy as connecting your home to the internet…but with better service.

Evidence of OT/IT convergence is right there in the box, as well as edge devices from most vendors in the form of the Linux operating system. It’s an environment supported by a bristling community of developers who are part of what InfoWorld has hailed as the “container revolution," a movement familiar to IT analysts and increasingly popular with engineers. Spencer Cramer, CEO of ei3, says “Techies will appreciate it because it enables customers or OEMs to do their own advanced applications using Python or other data-science oriented languages that can promote things like machine learning and AI.”

Cramer’s firm and others that specialize in industrial IoT typically offer compatibility with controls of all makes and major protocols from Modbus OPC-DA, OPC-UA, as well as legacy and even proprietary protocols.

These three examples show how packaging operations can improve productivity by leveraging current automation technology. Now, what can you do?

Food Safety

COVID-19: What Food Packagers Can Do to Ensure Safety

COVID-19: What Food Packagers Can Do to Ensure Safety
Photo credit: littlewolf1989 – adobe.stock.com

Safety protocols already exist for food packaging facilities. Here’s how you can use them to analyze and mitigate your COVID-19 risks.

A lot of news articles written during this pandemic focus on grocery store/food shopping safety. Experts seem to have allayed consumer anxiety about the safety and security of raw, processed, and cooked comestibles. However, some medical experts have said the risks associated with human hand contact on food packaging are worth discussion and mitigation.

Information on the internet about the possible risks runs the gamut. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website provides the following guidance, current as of May 1, 2020: “…there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if (shoppers) wish, (they) can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution.”

News reports suggest otherwise, relaying that the virus is viable for contact spread on permeable paperboard (paper grocery bags) for up to 24 hours and as long as 72 hours on non-permeable surfaces (rigid packaging). At least two media outlets suggest leaving delivered items in the garage for at least 24 hours before handling. Others suggest letting purchased goods sit for longer periods.

There has not been enough validated scientific experimentation to accurately quantify and qualify transmission characteristics. Case in point, a medical professional from the University of Massachusetts stated in a TV-news soundbite that a minimum of 1,000 Covid-19 virions would be necessary to cause “infection,” whereas another internet source wrote that 100 were capable. According to some sources, sneezes and coughs aerosolize hundreds of millions of virions.

Who knows what to believe — and therein lies the point.

Consumers are left to obtain and believe information from myriad sources. Answers to questions involving longevity, viability risk scenarios, and transmission of COVID-19 are works-in-progress because scientists and researchers simply haven’t had the time and resources to perform technically and statistically defensible experiments, let alone analyze and validate data from same. Nothing I have read suggests when viable resources will be freed up to perform such experiments.

What packaging changes for safety should you make?

Following that background, how can available packaging technology resources best support supply chain safety? Are resources best spent ideating changes to packaging materials or processes to help reduce virus contact viability or, similarly, contact contagion?

Part of my answer is based on precepts of consumer products marketing I learned during my time spent with major food marketing companies. Marketing professionals are usually inclined to support new packaging technologies, but they need to see supportive evidence that consumers consider the improvements or innovations as value-added and, most importantly, functional.

Put in plain English, does the change achieve the objective in a real-consumer environment under a number of challenging real-world use situations, and, if so, to what degree? The last thing a consumer products marketer wants is a media blitz announcing a failed claim. Alternatively, if the marketer is disinclined to make a claim in the first place (“This new package will do/eliminate 99% of all things the other packaging didn’t!”), then what is the point of spending the money for research, development, and commercialization?

With COVID-19, consumers are hanging on every claim or observation that makes it to the internet or news outlets. So, whatever positive information is disseminated, it better be value-added, useful, believable, and accurate against some statistically defensible model.

Food packaging plants already do risk analysis.

Generally, food and food packaging safety professionals are continuously ideating and adjusting best practices to reduce the risks to the food supply chain. Food-safety experts may not have specifically anticipated the insidious and relentless virus that is COVID-19, but they have focused efforts on anticipating and providing control guidance and practices for calamitous events.

For as many years as I can remember, food and food packaging professionals have considered and addressed risks of contamination, tampering, tamper evidence, and food defense, as well as other catastrophic risks to health and safety.

The bottom line: Consumers have the right to expect that the foods they buy are legal, approved for human/pet use, unadulterated, safe, uncontaminated, truthfully labeled or described, and so forth. Suddenly, an insidious pathogen with incredibly broad health impacts is upon the world. Experts, actual and self-styled, suggest mitigations, best practices, and related guidance, and then, suddenly, information arises suggesting that said guidance was partially or wholly inaccurate.

Considering these limits and challenges, how best can you use limited resources? My suggestion is to revisit existing food safety systems — such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) or Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) — in the face of many unknowns. The process is a back-to-basics or reboot of situation and risk analyses that exist for each food supply touch point.

Whether one is analyzing the risk of COVID-19 contamination or transmission to an existing, new, or revised process, expert eyes need to (re)initiate hazard analysis and mitigation methodologies. What is the level of presumption that goods, processes, materials, and infrastructure may have somehow been contaminated or may facilitate transmissible of COVID-19 virions? It’s likely we don’t have enough information to answer that with absolute certainty. And, keep in mind, as of this writing, not everyone can be tested and, of those who are tested, false positives/negatives may be in the 20% range.

What are the specific challenges today though?

Here are several food packaging safety-related situational challenges to consider when assessing point-of-purchase risks:

• Supplier and providers cannot yet be assured at a statistically validated level that any product or item will be free of viral contaminants. Products come in contact with too many hands or surfaces along the way to verify microbiological purity at the point of purchase or whenever the consumer receives it.

• Even if a product is overwrapped, such as the example of how an envelope protects the contents inside from many exposures, the risk is that the envelope or external package itself is at risk for contamination. Thus, if consumers intend to be copious and diligent, they should wear gloves and use sanitizing media on the exterior before it is removed.

• Similarly, consumer attitudes matter. Following a posted advisory for lettuce contaminated with E. coli, for example, consumers saw pre-bagged lettuce in the store with graphics suggesting that the lettuce had been washed and otherwise treated to insure it was contamination-free. In the absence of a certificate of analysis (COA) and test methodology summary, shoppers had to impulsively decide if the claim was legitimate and the risk eliminated. My suspicion is that, in this atmosphere of COVID-19 scientific uncertainties, consumers will be skeptical.

• Packaging and Quality subject-matter experts (SMEs) are asking whether safety is the new sustainability. From my experiences of viewing focus group comments at the time when sustainability and recycling began to significantly impact purchase intent for consumers and retailers, respondents strongly advised that their purchase intent would be impacted by sustainability and packaging qualities and quantity (over-packaging) with the intent to “save the planet.” Hence, they strongly desired a change from packaging business as usual.

Fast-forward, I suspect they’d respond very differently when asked about their purchase intents on products intended to “save their lives.” I’ll bet that now if you told them that their foods would be safer with more packaging, they’d be very positive to concept. “Packaging sustainability” remains defined, at least in part, as best practices intended to protect the food, the end user, and the planet’s future. Packaging safety in the age of COVID-19 mitigation is basically intended to keep us alive and healthy for the foreseeable future.

My advice to those in the food and packaging supply chain would be stay the course and avoid a rush to alter packaging materials. Because not enough is known, or absolute, about the life-cycle, potency, and transmission risks of the COVID-19 virus on surfaces.

Alternatively, I would embrace the sensible recommendations of BRCGS in the recent Managing Food Safety During COVID-19 guidance document, which restates best food and food packaging standards and practices to address risk categories that have existed for decades:

• Establish, revalidate, or revisit cross-functional team approaches for assessment, analysis, and mitigation.

• Review HACCP and HARPC objectives, purposes, and execution.

• Review and revise new, existing, and emergency supplier and raw material approval processes.

• Review, revise and improve internal/independent audit programs used to verify adherence to food safety standards and best practices.

• Review and revise processes for approving employee, temporary worker, and visitor health and hygiene.

• Upgrade sanitation, housekeeping, and hygiene protocols based on latest literature by validated experts.

During these times of limited knowledge, information, resources, work protocols, factory employee positive tests, and so forth, I respectfully suggest that a “back to basics” approach to food and packaging supply chain safety is the best use of time and resources.

Leave the issues of how to shop safely and how to handle consumer goods brought into the house to the microbiologists, sanitarians, and public health experts. Manufacturers and packagers are best positioned when focusing on presenting unit loads of safe, sanitary products to the shipping dock — and then it’s up to the next link in the chain to perform similarly.

Food Safety

COVID-19 Raises Consumers’ Packaged Food Concerns

COVID-19 Raises Consumers’ Packaged Food Concerns
Consumer study shows that food packaging safety concerns have grown with the spread of the coronavirus.

A study by G&S Business Communication found that 69% of Americans said they were more concerned about food safety than they were a few months ago.

Sustainability has for years been the key driver for material suppliers and food packaging manufacturers, but COVID-19 has pushed another long-held food priority back to the forefront — safety. It’s a double serving of safety concern, both for the food and for the packaged food.

According to a recent consumer intelligence snap poll from G&S Business Communications, 69% of Americans said they were more concerned about food safety than they were a few months ago — an insight that creates a window of opportunity for those in the food packaging industry.

With 44% of Americans saying they now clean their food packaging with a disinfectant, it’s clear that the packaging supply chain should elevate safety to the same level of importance as sustainability across all messaging. COVID-19 has created greater consumer awareness and with that comes the demand for greater transparency, as well as reassurance that the packaging surrounding the food consumers eat is doing its job.

Key findings:

  • 54% of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus through the food they eat;
  • 95% of Americans agree it is at least somewhat important for companies to communicate the safety measures they are taking to ensure customer safety;
  • 65% said that research indicating food and packaging are unlikely to spread the coronavirus would prove reassuring.

Americans say all types of people or organizations across the food supply chain should proactively communicate to the public about how they are keeping our food supply safe including: grocery stores (83%), restaurants (75%), food processing facilities (68%), food packaging companies (66%), food shipping companies (56%), and farms and ranches (45%).

G&S Managing Director – Chicago, Brian Hall, responds to Packaging Digest’s questions about the timely study.

Summarize why and how the information was gathered.

Hall: We’ve all seen the tremendous stress on the supply chain in the past few weeks. We recognized an opportunity to inform the food, agribusiness, and supply chain industries about how Americans are changing their attitudes and behaviors due to the coronavirus through a Consumer Intelligence Snap Poll. This G&S snap poll was fielded on April 17, 2020, with a representative US sample of 1,058 adults, ages 18+. The sample has been balanced for age and gender using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

What was most surprising result?

Hall: There is an unprecedented level attention being placed on the safety of food and food packaging. Two out of three Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting COVID-19 through food packaging.

Additionally, nearly a third of consumers (31%) say they are making changes to where they purchase food and groceries.

With all the uncertainty, the concern around packaging safety is likely to stick with shoppers well beyond the COVID-19 outbreak and impact purchasing decisions. Consumers are taking extra precaution when bringing food and food packaging into their homes; 47% of Americans say they are spending more time washing their produce when they return home from the grocery store; and 24% say they are washing with a disinfectant. Meanwhile, 44% say they are cleaning food packaging with a disinfectant.

What other questions were asked?

Hall: The survey also explored consumer sentiment on the safety and availability of food itself. Compared to a few months ago, a majority of Americans say they are more concerned about food availability (77%), food safety (69%), food affordability (58%), food waste (55%), and food quality (52%).

Moreover, these concerns are directly rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic: More than half (54%) of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus through the food they eat. What consumers want now is reassurance: Nearly three quarters (74%) would feel reassured knowing about safety protocols at grocery stores. Further upstream, consumers say they would feel reassured about food safety if they learned about safety protocols put in place at food processing plants (70%), food transport and storage (57%), and on farms (41%). A majority (65%) of Americans say that research indicating food and packaging are unlikely to spread the coronavirus would also prove reassuring.

What specific advice do you have for packaging industry stakeholders?

Hall: In the near-term, the entire packaging supply chain should continue to help share the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that help consumers understand how to appropriately handle food products and food packaging during this pandemic. Longer-term there will be a crucial need and opportunity to elevate messaging regarding the safety delivered by food packaging. Communication and transparency are essential. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say stakeholders in the food packaging industry should proactively communicate the actions they are taking to secure a safe and quality supply.

Anything else to mention that’s not apparent?
Hall: Sustainability in food packaging has driven conversation in the industry for the past several years, but looking ahead, packaging producers will have to navigate how to assure business partners and consumers alike how they are enhancing food safety while still meeting important sustainability goals.

You read more about the study in this blog.

Should Brands Sanitize Packages to Reassure Consumers?

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While it’s unlikely anyone will become infected with the COVID-19 virus from touching a contaminated package, a valid question is: What can you do to reassure consumers that your package is safe during this pandemic?

A couple weeks ago, as deaths in the US due to the COVID-19 coronavirus spiked, people were asking me what brand owners could or should do better or different to reassure consumers that their packages aren’t carrying today’s plague. While it’s unlikely anyone will become infected with the COVID-19 virus from touching a contaminated package, the question is valid: What can you do to reassure consumers that your package is safe?

One possibility might be to wrap a package in a clear, easily removable film (like a perforated shrink wrap). Once stripped, the surface of the now-exposed package might be seen as pristine. But that would add significant cost — not just in packaging material but possibly in capital expenditures if you need to buy a machine to apply the film. It would add another step in the packaging line operation, too.

Although it’s debatable that disinfecting a filled-and-sealed package before it is packed by machine or robot for shipping would make a discernable difference in protecting against a virus, I believe cleansing the outside of a package would comfort highly concerned consumers. Many consumers are washing packages themselves before handling or storing them at home, regardless of if they bought them online or at a physical store.

Would they appreciate it if a package was disinfected before being shipped directly to them — free of another human’s touch from the time is was cleaned until the time it was received? Perhaps.

Following this thought then, how do you clean the outside of a package effectively and efficiently? Pulsed light has been an option for some time to decontaminate the inside of packaging. It could probably also be used to sterilize the outside.

But there are other options.

What if you sprayed the outside of a package with a decontaminant? What would you need then?

Well, Exair Corp. just launched a new spray nozzle that may answer your needs. According to the company, its new 1/2 NPT No Drip External Mix Air Atomizing Spray Nozzle works the same way its standard atomizing nozzles do. With the new product, compressed air and liquid flows can be adjusted independently. So, because the nozzles positively stop liquid flow when the compressed air is shut off, they also conserve liquid by eliminating drips, which saves money.

Because of concerns that COVID-19 could possibly be transmitted through packaging, when I saw the news about this No Drip Spray Nozzle, I wondered about the possibly of using the new nozzle for coronavirus consideration: to sanitize packages, or even packaging machines handling said packages. Exair’s director of sales and marketing, Kirk Edwards, answers, “These products can spray just about anything that needs to be sprayed and can certainly spray liquids used to disinfect, clean, sanitize.”

As far as how much liquid is conserved with Exair’s new 1/2 NPT No Drip Spray Nozzle, Edwards says he can’t place a quantity on the amount. “It would be compared to a nozzle that would drip after shutoff, which will vary greatly,” he says. “The volumetric flow rate of that liquid through the nozzle and the pressure will also come into play to determine the liquid saved — all application specific.”

Gerber Delivers First Single-Material Baby-Food Pouch

Gerber Delivers First Single-Material Baby-Food Pouch
Gerber’s breakthrough sustainable pouch makes a bold statement on the front panel.

Recyclable polypropylene pouch available in May that replaces an unrecyclable multilayer structure is a move toward a more circular economy.

Gerber will make available something that has not been seen before: The world’s oldest and largest baby food company will introduce in May the first single-material baby food pouch.

"Designing with a single material creates greater value for the recycling industry, promoting the development of better recycling infrastructure," says Gerber Associate Director of Packaging, Tony Dzikowicz. "After more than two years of experimenting and innovating, we were able to help create a first-of-its-kind solution for baby food that meets the safety and freshness requirements for our little ones."

With parent company Nestlé as a founding member of Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a research collaborative committed to creating recycling solutions, Gerber is helping to expand curbside recycling for the pouch. MRFF's pilot program in Pottstown, PA, is the first curbside recycling program in the U.S. to accept flexible plastics such as these.

"We believe the baby food industry should help create a world where babies thrive, and initiatives like this one help us go beyond nutrition to protect the planet," said Gerber President and CEO Bill Partyka.

Dzikowicz, Gerber’s Sina Hilbert, brand manager & sustainability lead, and Justin Welke, Nestlé’s packaging project manager, respond collectively to Packaging Digest’s questions about the brand’s new recyclable flexible packaging.

Comment on Gerber’s previous pouch structure.

Gerber: Gerber launched its first baby food pouch in 2011 with a multi-material structure made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), foil, and polyethylene (PE). In 2017, we began the transition to a non-foil multi-laminate structure to provide transparent and window options in the pouches so consumers can see the product inside.

In 2017, Gerber began conducting trials with Gualapack, the world leader of premade spouted pouches, with the goal of bringing the industry’s first mono-material pouch to market. Coming to market in May 2020, this first-of-its-kind mono-material polypropylene (PP) pouch is a step towards Gerber’s goal to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

What’s the difference with the new recyclable pouch structure?

Gerber: The new mono-material pouch is made from polypropylene (PP), which is one of the most common and versatile forms of plastic. The current industry standard for pouches is a multi-material structure using two layers of plastic with an aluminum layer in between. This structure is not currently municipally recyclable in the U.S. due to outdated infrastructure that struggles to sort and process flexible plastics.

Moving to a mono-material structure increases the value of the recycled material for the recycling industry, promoting the development of better recycling infrastructure and encouraging a circular economy approach to plastics.

What’s the importance of curbside recyclability vs. #2 PE In-store Recycle Ready?

Gerber: We know that many parents rely on plastic — and pouches specifically — for convenience, durability and portability. However, municipal recycling infrastructure in the U.S. currently struggles to recycle most flexible packaging, including pouches.

Currently, the #2 Polyethylene (PE) in-store drop off stream is limited to plastics that are “clean and dry.” Because baby food is a wet product, it is challenging to clean and dry pouches to the level that is compatible with current store drop off programs without contaminating the waste stream.

Our new mono-material pouch is 100% recyclable through our national recycling program with TerraCycle.

The pouch is curbside recyclable for consumers in Pottstown, PA, thanks to MRFF’s pilot.

Please summarize the MRFF pilot.

Gerber: MRFF is dedicated to creating municipal recycling solutions for flexible plastic packaging such as baby food pouches, plastic shopping bags, and more. With Nestlé as a founding member, Gerber is helping to expand curbside recycling for the pouch — and all baby food pouches.

MRFF’s pilot program in Pottstown, PA, is now the first curbside recycling program in the U.S. to accept flexible plastics — including our mono-material pouch and all baby food pouches — alongside other recyclable materials. The pilot facility is aiming to recycle 6 million pounds of flexible plastic packaging annually beginning this year.

What were the packaging considerations?

Gerber: We designed the new mono-material pouch to stand out from our other products by applying a fresh design that features our key achievement, “First single-material pouch designed for the future of recycling.”

Next: Changes in Looks, Shelf Life, Size and More

 

New monolayer polypropylene pouch makes a bold statement in structure and with the front-panel claim.

What graphic elements are changed?

Gerber: Our number one goal was to ensure consumers understand the significance of the pouch they’re buying. Whereas the traditional pouch design featured the main ingredients (in this case mangos and bananas), the new pouch prominently features our key achievement: “The 1st single-material pouch designed for the future of recycling.”

What’s on the back panel? Are there more details about recyclability?

Gerber: Given the limited space available beyond the Nutrition Panel and other ingredient information, we chose to include the key information on the front of the pouch; however, we do include the TerraCycle logo on the back to inform consumers that these pouches are 100% recyclable through our national recycling program.

Did Gualapack supply the previous pouch?

Gerber: Gualapack has been a valued partner and one of Gerber’s main pouch suppliers since we launched our baby food pouches in 2011. 

What is the pouch size or net weight, and was that changed?

Gerber: Our new mono-material pouch is the same size as our standard Organic pouch, however the fill level was slightly reduced from 99 grams/3.5 ounces to 90 grams/3.17 ounces to preserve the integrity of the mono-polypropylene structure. 

Will the price stay same?

Gerber: Yes, the suggested pricing for the mono-material pouch is $1.59, which is in line with all other Gerber Organic pouches listed on TheGerberStore.com.

Is it the same shelf life?

Gerber: The shelf life of the mono-material pouch is nine months, which is a slight reduction from the 12-month shelf life of our standard Organic pouch. We’re continuing to explore ways to increase the shelf life of our mono-material pouch, while maintaining a focus on recyclability.

How did the first pouch experience help with this development?

Gerber: Since we introduced our first baby food pouch nearly 10 years ago, we’ve built substantial expertise in package development and filling operations by working with different material, designs, and equipment, as well as different partners. That expertise gave us a much stronger understanding of the performance requirements and validation needs for this first-of-its-kind pouch.      

Why did the development take two years and what took the longest portion of that time?

Gerber: In developing the mono-material pouch – an industry first – we were attempting to achieve the same level of performance that is typically achieved with multiple materials. The development was an iterative process with Gualapack to address each challenge and create a market-ready product.

The initial challenges included shelf life and fragility. To solve this, we had to identify new filling parameters and barrier solutions, and work through manufacturing nuances to improve the overall quality and performance. 

An additional and industry-wide challenge is creating a value stream for pouches and other flexible plastics. We have already seen early success from MRFF, and believe designing with a single material will continue to promote the development of better recycling infrastructure in the U.S.

What are the plans beyond TheGerberStore and a single SKU?

Gerber: We plan to expand our product offerings in the mono-material pouch by the end of 2020. This initial launch will give us an opportunity to gain experience in the market before expanding more broadly. 

What production changes are needed?

Gerber: The mono-material pouch runs on our existing equipment, thanks to changes we made in the filling process and the pouch design itself, which was modified to improve the filling line performance.     

Any advice for our readers?  

Gerber: It’s imperative for all parts of an organization to work together to accomplish the goal of sustainable packaging. As the industry moves to mono-material and other designs “with the end in mind,” compromises may be required, such as shelf life, filling performance, cost of materials and more, so support from all business functions is key.