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Flexible Packaging

Partnership Overcomes Hurdle to Recycling Flexible Packaging

Siegwerk-Result of de-inking test-web.jpg

Two German companies have successfully tested a process to remove ink from twofold low-density polyethylene films used extensively in packaging applications.

 

Flexible packaging offers a host of sustainability benefits ranging from source reduction to more efficient transport, but there are a number of challenges associated with recycling these materials. A new partnership between two German companies — a maker of printing inks and a developer of recycling technologies — has overcome one barrier to closing the loop.

Siegwerk and APK AG have announced the successful test of a process to remove ink from twofold low-density polyethylene (LDPE) films. Using APK AG’s solvent-based Newcycling recycling technology, the company’s R&D unit was able to disperse and filter out red, black, and blue Siegwerk inks from the polymer matrix, resulting in “near-virgin” transparency of the recyclate material. On films printed with yellow ink, some marginal color remained after the treatment process.  

“We have mastered a much-discussed challenge for efficient recycling of flexible packaging,” Ralf Leineweber, head of global technology development at Siegwerk, said according to a press release.

The companies teamed up back in October 2019 and completed the de-inking test this spring. Their next step will be continuing tests with a more complex product, such as a printed monolayer film with several colors or a multi-layer solution, Hagen Hanel, head of the Plastics Recycling Innovation Center at APK AG, tells Packaging Digest.

The Newcycling process takes 75 minutes or less and involves dissolving the polymer, followed by a solvent-based purification step, whereby additives such as ink are removed. It differs from chemical recycling in that the polymer’s molecular structure remains intact.

“In line with the principles of the EU [European Union] Green Deal and the new Circular Economy Action Plan, our Newcycling technology aims at closing cycles for flexible packaging solutions that are deemed ‘unrecyclable’ up to now,” Hanel said in the press release. The Circular Economy Action plan is a set of legislative and non-legislative measures intended to ensure that resources used in the manufacture of products are kept in the EU economy as long as possible. It’s part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s plan to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. “We aspire to combine environmental benefits of recycling with high-quality performance of the recyclate,” Hanel’s statement continued.

APK AG’s Newcycling technology is currently available at a plant in Merseburg, Germany, producing 8,000 tonnes. Plans for a 20,000-metric-ton plant are in the works. The company says Newcycling can ultimately be scaled to 50,000 tonnes or more.

Jamie Hartford is content director for Packaging Digest’s parent company, Informa Markets, a business unit of Informa LLC.

Flexible Packaging

Pouch Makes Gourmet ‘Real Chocolate on Tap’ Possible

Pouch Makes Gourmet ‘Real Chocolate on Tap’ Possible
Pouch makes possible SoChatti chocolate's unique formulation, delivery, and convenience.

From precise performance characteristics to an Amazon storage exemption and the creation of a proprietary appliance, the SoChatti pouch is more than a novel gourmet chocolate experience.

Gourmet foods and pouches are an uncommon pairing. After years of research and development dedicated to product and packaging testing and packaging development of a unique gourmet chocolate, startup SoChatti went big by introducing the namesake product in squeezable pouches on Amazon in May 2018. The 8oz, 10-serving pouch retails for $17.95.

For the brand, it’s the only packaging that makes the product commercially possible and viable.

But development wasn’t all straightforward, in fact it may have been more complicated than anyone would have imagined — for example, there were 50 packaging variations. But thanks to the know-how and resilience of pouch supplier Glenroy and the brand, the result is a fascinating and complex success story.

Packaging Digest unpacks the company’s packaging journey with Matt Rubin, SoChatti founder and CEO, who also discloses the company’s exciting new portable format.

What distinguishes your product?  

Rubin: SoChatti is an entirely new chocolate product made and packaged to preserve the rich, delicate flavors of chocolate that aren’t available in most chocolate products on the market today. SoChatti’s unique and innovative packaging is integral in enabling our company to create a new product category, which we’re calling Chocolate on Tap: Pure chocolate that contains only three pure ingredients and is made to be eaten melted. 

Talk about the brand’s experience with flexible packaging.

Rubin: Our flexible packaging solution was an integral part in creating and launching our brand.

The SoChatti nozzled pouch package was our first custom-designed, flexible packaging product. It took more than two and a half years to develop from beginning to end. In the initial testing and development stages, we used existing flexible packaging options. As we developed our own flexible packaging for this product, we needed something that would preserve the delicate flavors and aromas of chocolate like nothing else on the market, yet also allowed our chocolate to melt and harden an unlimited number of times without affecting the quality and taste of the product.

The true magic of SoChatti’s flexible packaging is that it is both a pouch and dispenser that uniquely fit together while preserving and melting the chocolate. The pouch incorporates a channel into the seal area that interlocks with the SoChatti chocolate dispenser.

To melt the chocolate, the pouch is submersed in warm water or placed within the SoChatti Warmer, a countertop appliance we launched in early 2020 to keep the chocolate warm and ready for use. With minimal power and designed to take up limited countertop space, users can enjoy SoChatti chocolate whenever the craving strikes. The Warmer retails for $124.95.

With the convenient piping tip provided by the Aptar VersaSpout fitment, the melted chocolate can be dispensed directly from the pouch for use in baking, drizzled onto a favorite snack, or eaten on its own. The valve enables the chocolate to flow at the optimum pressure level to conveniently dispense the chocolate into a shot glass or onto a spoon to get their “fix”.   

How unique is the pouch?

Rubin: SoChatti is the first real chocolate to use a flexible package. We aren’t a chocolate syrup, powder, or sauce. We’re pure chocolate made with only three ingredients: Cacao beans, cacao butter, and cane sugar. Within our packaging, our product is able to transform from a solid to melted chocolate, which initially posed a big challenge, However, we were successful and able to creat a new category we call “Tap Chocolate.”   

What were your R&D challenges?

Rubin: We faced many challenges throughout the process of creating SoChatti. In fact, throughout its development, we tested more than 50 different packaging iterations! Since our product is made to be eaten melted, we had to identify the ideal pressure and temperature for chocolate to be dispensed through a nozzle. It turns out there is only about a 10-degree window, so we had to be precise. We also had to identify the proper level of vapor barrier to truly preserve the freshness of our chocolate. The structure of the packaging film we use provides a superior oxygen barrier and prevents oxygen from destroying the flavors characteristic of cacao beans originating from origins like Trinidad, Peru, Honduras, and other locations.

Prior to filling the pouch, SoChatti chocolate is outgassed using a proprietary process to remove any microscopic dissolved air bubbles and to adjust the aromatic profile of the product. The chocolate is then directly filled through the AptarGroup nozzle under high pressure, automatically sealing in the complex flavors behind Aptar’s self-sealing valve. Unlike conventional chocolate bars, the SoChatti pouch is filled with untempered chocolate, thereby removing many of the typical processing steps. 

What’s the shelf life?

Rubin: SoChatti is completely shelf-stable for up to two years without using any preservatives or emulsifiers. It can be stored and transported at temperatures up to 120°F and can be subjected to repeated thermal cycling without degradation. This allows us to use conventional warehouse and fulfilment services, and eliminates the cold-chain distribution requirements of conventional chocolate products.

Chocolate products are typically considered hazardous to fulfilment centers during summer months. However, our packaging received a special exemption from Amazon to enable year-round fulfillment without temperature regulation or waste.

Is this a single-product line or is there more than one SKU?

Rubin: SoChatti has developed two unique packages to preserve the flavor of dark chocolate. Our 8oz dispenser pouch is made of a 5-layer, solid vapor barrier to enable it to be squeezed and piped for repeated use without any degradation of the chocolate. The pouch is waterproof with a silicon cross-cut valve in the nozzle to prevent oxygen from entering the pouch.

SoChatti to Go (shown above) is a brand-new SKU that we soft launched in early 2020 as a test with a few trusted retail partners. This on-the-go, 23-gram net weight packet conveniently fits in a pocket and is an especially great treat during the summer months: Whereas conventional chocolate can cause a mess when it melts, SoChatti is formulated to be eaten melted. It is now available for pre-order via the SoChatti website and retails for $17.95 for a box of 10 or for $1.79 apiece. 

SoChatti to Go packaging uses a similar vapor barrier as the pouch, but it’s a non-reinforced package that allows you to tear into it in order to eat the chocolate as a solid chocolate bar, or, melt it by placing it in warm water or just letting it melt in warm conditions.

The packet is designed with horizontal tear notch on the top end for full dispensing and has a vertical tear notch on the bottom for controlled dispensing.

Please comment on production and the impact of COVID-19.

Rubin: SoChatti chocolate is packaged entirely in-house. In May we moved into a nearly 13,000 square foot facility in Indianapolis, IN, to expand production and double down on R&D. We've moved five locations worth of materials, chocolate production equipment, etc., into one integrated facility. It’s now operational and houses our SoChatti Warmer production line.

We're operationally committed to employee safety first and so, like many companies, we took the necessary COVID-19 precautions to ensure our team's safety before they returned for onsite operations. We've even managed to expand our team with new hires during this time.  

What’s been sales results and feedback?

Rubin: One of the unique features about the SoChatti packaging is that it transcends foodservice and consumer retail. It’s a product that appeals to restaurants and coffee shops, as well as consumers serving it to friends and family or on their own. It’s a product that’s been sold at Williams Sonoma as part of its Artisan’s Market program. It’s also on the menu at a number of partner restaurants in the form of a chocolate-tasting dessert options, and it’s also sold direct-to-consumer both online and through a few local grocery partners. Though still in the early stages, our SoChatti to Go product has exceeded expectations in re-orders from initial grocery and cafe partners. 

What are overall expectations?

Rubin: Through the pandemic 2020 sales have been consistent with 2019. However, we launched a new ecommerce website earlier this month, SoChatti Collections, which is a huge milestone for the brand.

As we continue to grow, our additional portable packaging, SoChatti to Go, will allow us to reach and serve even more consumers in our effort to introduce the world to the real flavor of chocolate.

How to Get Obsolete Parts for Your Packaging Machine

How to Get Obsolete Parts for Your Packaging Machine
Photo credit: hedgehog94 – adobe.stock.com

What do you do when your packaging machine parts are no longer available? Packaging machinery maven John Henry offers answers for three different scenarios.

I’ve been in more than a thousand packaging plants through the years. I see lots of new machinery. I also see older machinery, some going back to the ’40s and ’30s, in daily use. A lot of these are built of cast iron and the basic machine will still be going when our grandchildren have retired.

If they are maintained properly.

The original iron lasts forever but many of the machine parts don’t. They wear and break. When replacement parts are not available, what’s a maintenance chief to do?

Different types of parts offer different supply channel challenges. We can classify parts broadly as machine parts, changeparts, and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.

Let’s look at each type.

Machine parts.

Machine parts are made specifically for a machine by or for the machine builder. Examples include cams, pusher lugs, and grippers, as well as larger components and subcomponents. Many of these are not what we commonly think of as wear parts requiring periodic replacement. Many won’t last forever, though. The original builder may be out of business or otherwise unable or unwilling to provide them. When they can supply them, they may need to be fabricated.

Some companies purchase old machines to cannibalize them for parts. One source is brokers like EquipNet. EquipNet buys used machinery for resale. Some they sell for production use. Others, at the end of their service life, they sell for parts. Elba Boria, EquipNet’s director of Latin American sales, tells me the company accepts requests from customers looking for machines for parts. In other instances, EquipNet buys spare parts that may be sitting in stockrooms to offer to its customers.

Frain Industries also buys used machinery that it refurbishes to its customer’s specifications. It has an enormous parts inventory for refurbishing and after-sale support. However, Frain’s president Rich Frain tells me, “We don’t sell parts. Too often parts from seemingly identical machines, even with sequential serial numbers are not interchangeable. Modification and fitting may be needed to make them work if they can be made to work at all.”

When all else fails, replacement parts must be fabricated from scratch. Modern, technology makes this much easier than it used to be. Compact 3D scanners can capture even complex part geometries with high precision. This generates a g-code file that can be quickly printed in any 3D printer. The printed part may not be always be functional but serves to verify dimensions and fit. Once verified, the file can be sent to a CNC machine to fabricate the final, functional part.

Changeparts.

Changeparts are machine components that are routinely changed to adapt a machine to a specific package. Cap chucks, timing screws, starwheels, vertical form-fill-seal (VFFS) drop tubes, and case packer grids are a few common types of changeparts. As marketing introduces new package designs, new changeparts will be required to build them.

Fortunately, there are a number of companies that specialize in making changeparts. Many times they supply the original machine builder. Because they build so many changeparts for so many different machines, chances are they already have drawings for whatever parts you need. When they don’t, detailed measurements need to be taken.

OEM Parts.

OEM parts are standard, commercially available components available from many sources. These include switches, sensors, gears and bearings, motors, air cylinders, and more. Many of these are standardized so there may be multiple suppliers for, say, a 1-inch diameter x 6-inch stroke pneumatic actuator. Wherever possible, try to get OEM part numbers from the machine builder in addition to the builder’s part numbers. This will allow you to purchase the components directly if needed.

One special area is controls. Machines more than about 25 years old may have electromechanical controls or custom-built electronic controls. These were often difficult to service when new. The rapid obsolescence of electronics may make it impossible now. “We don’t even try,” Frain says. “We just pull everything out and replace it with a $500 PLC. It just makes life easier for everyone.”

New is nice but many older machines still have decades of life left in them if they can be properly maintained. Finding the needed parts can be a challenge but that is what makes the maintenance chief’s job interesting.

What is Nestlé’s Novel Sustainability Secret?

What is Nestlé’s Novel Sustainability Secret?
For its recent new creamer, Nestlé USA developed a highly engineered bottle and innovative sleeve label that allows recycling the package.

It’s only in the last couple decades that packaging has been getting appropriate attention from corporate executives at major consumer packaged goods companies. Yet, brand marketers still mostly focus on product development first, and bring in the packaging folks later. But at least one consumer packaged goods (CPG) leader is rethinking that strategy from a sustainability point of view.

An upcoming Packaging Digest webinar will put sustainable packaging innovations and successes at Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, in the spotlight. The free webinar, “Nestlé’s Sustainability Secret: Prioritize Packaging Design with a Consumer-Obsessed Mindset,” will be held on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. EDT.

Sponsored by Lake Forest, IL-based Colbert Packaging,the webinar will feature Nicole Camilleri, senior packaging sustainability specialist for Nestlé’s Confections and Global Foods division.

Nestlé is committed to making the changes necessary for a more sustainable future. Of particular note, the company recently reversed the traditional product-development lifecycle by putting packaging design before the product. Camilleri will discuss how Nestlé is embracing this unorthodox method as it works toward its goal of 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025.

Webinar attendees will discover:

• Why it’s important to evaluate packaging design at the beginning of the production cycle, with emphasis on how this affects the environment and, ultimately, the consumer experience.

• How this approach has proven effective, including examples such as new Häagen-Dazs packaging created in partnership with Loop and a DiGiorno pizza-packaging update that saves some 49K trees annually.

• What goes into designing sustainable packaging from an R&D perspective.

• What steps Nestlé is taking to meet its 100%-recyclable or -reusable packaging goal.

Register here to participate in the one-hour webinar.

Smart Packaging Experts Talk Tech and Options

Smart Packaging Experts Talk Tech and Options
It’s not a level playing field in packaging—connectivity in Levels 3-5 turns a box or carton into an Internet of Things device. Image courtesy Jones Healthcare Group.

Managers from vendor Jones Healthcare Group and consultancies Ahead of the Curve Group and TUKU provide a close-up look at IoT-connected packaging.

It turned out be a smart move on my part to attend several of the weekly webinars on packaging topics managed by PAC, Packaging Consortium. One of those hour-long sessions was on smart packaging, where webcast attendees gained up-to-date information, insights, and advice from those in the know. PAC Next consultant Andrew Mcdonald moderated the session that featured presenters…

  • James Lee, director innovative solutions group, Jones Healthcare Group, a 100-year-old provider of advanced packaging and medication dispensing solutions based in London, Ontario;
  • Christina Cvetan, cofounder,  Ahead Of The Curve Group, a consultancy that specializes in smart-phone enabled packaging for engagement and brand protection; and
  • Mark Baldwin, president and CEO, TUKU, Inc., which offers brands a platform to power connected packaging and interactive retail experiences.

Smart Packaging Levels 3, 4, and 5 are the most exciting.

Leadoff presenter Lee set the stage by defined smart packaging as going beyond traditional packaging that promotes and preserves with added features and capabilities. Lee shared the company’s internal scale of five levels of packaging (main image) going from non-bar-coded dumb boxes at Level 1 to Level 2 with a scannable bar code. Levels 3-5 include technologies such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips or tags or near-field communications (NFC) tech.

Levels 3 and 4 refer to smartphone-enabled units and the smartest, Level 5, Jones described as standalone packages that connect to the internet or mobile network without the need for a smartphone.

“Adding connectivity to a package makes it an Internet of Things device,” he pointed out.

According to study data Lee referenced, smartphones are growing virally; in 2015 less than 15% of smartphones offered NFC readability, today that number is close to 90%.

Because Jones operates in the healthcare space, regulatory requirements mandate that it provide 100% inspection of enabled packaging including read and verify quality checks of the smart tag.

Interestingly, the company is proficient at using conductive inks to print circuits directly onto paperboard and plastic substrates.

Current best practices keep the NFC tag hidden and protected inside the packaging. “That also saves valuable on-pack real estate,” he added.

Image courtesy Jones Healthcare Group.

The company’s in-market “CpaX” brand connected packaging is used in one application for monitoring consumers’ medicine compliance. For example, when a patient opens a blister pack to access a medication, a notification is sent to a caregiver.

NFC, dual-level QR codes, and blockchain.

“We’re a small company with big aspirations,” said Ahead of the Curve Group’s Cvetan, who has 20 years’ experience in packaging development working with brands and retailers.

The company’s smart applications are in three areas: Consumer experience, Product integrity, and Inventory and Lifecycle.

“Product integrity is increasingly important for consumer brands,” she noted.

Image courtesy Danone.

Cvetan singled out several exemplary applications in the market that included a dual-Quick Response (QR) code for traceability and authenticity for multiserve containers of Danone baby formula distributed in China. An exterior outer QR code provides consumer-engaging information and an inner one is used to establish blockchain-level security in a market fraught with counterfeit products.

Cvetan also pointed to another application for CBD cannabis products with similar goals that uses an NFC tag to create a unique, verifiable identification number for the package.

And she referenced one of the largest smart packaging programs to date, which was done by a major brand working with a major retailer. Packaging Digest reported on this case study of Kraft slice cheese at Walmart (image below) in True Shelf Life in Real Time: There’s an App for That, published March 2020.

Image courtesy TPG Rewards

Cvetan's company offers the proprietary TapScan platform. She informs Packaging Digest that it “provides brand owners the ability to control their message when and where it matters most, at the right time at the right place.” It is available for global executions.

The influence of COVID-19 and brand advice.

Mark Baldwin of contactless engagement specialist TUKU kicked off his presentation by noting that the effect of the coronavirus pandemic has been to “effect a decade of change in a few months.”

What should brands do? His advice: In the light of smart packaging they should adapt to survive and prosper by embracing brand control, digital, and data.

“Brands best avenue to do that is through connected packaging,” he said. And he said that brands…

  • Are in the information business whether they know it or not.
  • Need to own and control those relationships rather than allow retailers to do that.
  • Will be rewarded for understanding the data and information…the power is what you do with it.
  • Should respond in real time to engagements that are made in real time.
  • Should tailor the user’s content, user experiences, and offers to specific markets.

Options and considerations in smart packaging, markets, and engagement. Image courtesy TUKU.

Q&A: Sustainability, privacy, and more.

The questions and responses at the end of the webinar were illuminating. Several attendees asked about packaging sustainability for some engagement technologies that may require devices or printed circuits.

“Carbon graphite [inks] are acceptable,” responded Jones’ Lee, “though we don’t know about nanomaterials. However, EAS packaging devices have been collected and recycled for years [without problems] so we don’t expect any risks associated with recovering these materials for recycling."

Brands can also leverage the technology itself via a targeted response to an inquiry about the package's recyclability. “Brands can communicate by location of engagement the local recycling guidelines,” offered Cvetan.

Also, the question of data collection and privacy came up. “Brands must adhere to all privacy requirements—they’re not tracking personal information…in that respect, it’s similar to a standard website interaction,” said Baldwin.

The need for collaboration was a common recommendation. “Open your company up to using partners, especially good ones,” said Cvetan.

What technology to use?

“The engagement method depends on the market, for example QR use is high in Asia, but not so much in North America,” said Lee.

Rather than pick one tech, best practice is to use both NFC tags and QR codes.

We close this report with this advice from Lee: “Don’t use the tech just to use it, use it to solve a business challenge.”