Refill pouch: Sitting pretty

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

January 30, 2014

11 Min Read
Refill pouch: Sitting pretty
The graphics for Method’s new refill pouch make it intuitive for consumers to match the refill with its rigid counterpart.




Method beauty shot


"What would MacGyver do?" The answer to that drove many of the decisions Method's design and production teams made during the development of a new, more functional stand-up refill pouch for laundry detergents and dish soaps, and throughout setup of the packaging operation.

Referring to the ingenuity of resourceful secret agent MacGyver of 1980s TV fame, Brian Hudon, Method's "con man" (aka director of contract manufacturing), explains: "One of the things that sets Method apart from other companies is its core values. One of those values is ‘What would MacGyver do?'—the things you have to do outside of the norm to make projects happen, to make sure that the customer gets their products in time. This project was a perfect example of how we used that value to our advantage."

It was that can-do attitude that allowed the teams to design a new stand-up pouch structure, get it manufactured, have a new filling system built, do line trials and ramp up production for a spring 2011 launch—all triggered by the concept's "go" date in the summer of 2010.

"One of the special things about this project was the enormous time crunch that we were under—and that we were able to do it within that timing," Hudon recalls.

Get a grip
Method, an innovator of eco-conscious household and personal care products, has been equally creative with its packaging designs, both structural and graphic. Like its other packages, this new refill pouch delivers on the company's promise to make products that are "as easy on the eyes as they are on the nose."

Method altered the typical Doyen-style spouted stand-up pouch in two ways to make it easy to pour and to improve store merchandising:

1. A narrow vertical pocket along the right side holds a rigid spine that creates a handle for consumers to grab; 

2. A slight taper to the outer edges of the pouch's bottom, along with the spine, help it stand up better when it's filled and the bottom gusset opens.


Method pouch feeding

"The primary purpose of the handle on the side of the bag is to improve on the pourability experience and allow the consumer to do it with one hand," says Rudi Becker, "the resinator" (aka director of packaging) at Method. "Often times when people are using refills, it's difficult to do this with one hand. They have to use two hands—one to cup underneath the bag and the second one to help hold it to pour it into the rigid container they're refilling. So the advantage of having the handle there is that the consumer can pick this up with one hand and have total control of the pour into the rigid container. That frees up their other hand to grab the bottle they're filling and really makes that experience a lot more user friendly.

But this design also helps the pouch to sit pretty on store shelves. "If you've seen a lot of flexible packages on shelf, depending on how they've been stocked and put on shelf, they tend to fold over and not look particularly well presented on shelf," Becker says. "A secondary benefit that we're getting from the spine is that it helps the total package stand up properly on shelf. It doesn't allow the top to fold over. The consumer can get to read the full billboard of the front of the package."

The taper on the bottom is subtle but also helps the pouch keep its posture on shelf. "If you're not looking for it, you would probably never notice it," Becker says. "It's much easier to see on an empty bag." But it creates a flatter bottom straight across when product fills out the bottom gusset, and prevents the pouch from collapsing in on itself.


Method pouch separating

Another consideration in the pouch's design was its size. The pouch is the same physical size, about 10 inches tall and 5 inches wide, for both the laundry detergent and dish soap SKUs. 

The laundry detergent pouch holds 34 fl oz, enough to wash 85 loads. Becker explains they wanted to provide a meaningful load count for the consumer that delivers value above the 50 loads in the corresponding rigid container. Method sells two laundry detergent scents: Fresh Air, Free and Clear (a fragrance-free offering). 

This size also let Method hit the right price point: $19.99. "It was a combination of balancing the maximum load count we could get while still keeping in mind that we wanted to hit this $19.99 price point," Becker says. "And, obviously, we have certain margin hurdles that we have to meet on the project, too."

The dish soap pouch holds 36 fl oz, exactly enough to refill the corresponding rigid container twice. Method makes three dish soap scents: Cucumber, Clementine and Ginger Yuzu (as a "natural" offering).

How the pouch is made
Once they had the concept of a rigidized stand-up pouch, Method sought a worthy flexible packaging partner to help them bring it to fruition. Innovative Packaging Solutions (IPS), an international flexible packaging consultant and distributor with expertise in rotogravure printing and specialized film structures, won the contract.


Method pouch opening

"It was based on prior history of business we had done together, as well as their work in developing this with us," Becker says. "We brought the idea to them and, quite frankly, they had the energy and excitement to bring this to reality, whereas other folks we approached couldn't definitely say they could do it."

IPS coordinated all aspects of the pouch's manufacture and brought in a preferred vendor of its own, Hong Kong flexible packaging manufacturer Mayor Packaging, a Bemis Co. as of Aug. 1, 2011. 

The pouches are printed and made at Mayor's BRC-certified plant in Dongguan City, China. The laminated structure is (outer to inner layer) PET/ink/adhesive/nylon/adhesive/LLDPE. The outer PET layer is reverse rotogravure printed in nine colors (4-color process plus white and then four spot colors that change depending on the fragrance).

The nylon layer provides needed puncture resistance. "This is a fairly large refill and we don't want laundry soap all over the trunk of somebody's car," Becker says. "The nylon helped with puncture resistance and somewhat with the rigidity of the whole structure itself."

The pouch making operation is mostly standard, except for adding the extra vertical pocket, which requires a third heat seal. The left seal is 10mm, the seal between the spine and pouch is 7.5mm and the right seal is 5mm. The bottom seal is 7.5mm on both sides of the gusset, which measures 110mm. The tapered bottom was achieved using a custom die-cut tool. 

The spine and the spout are added in a secondary operation, leaving a portion of the top open for subsequent filling. The exact process of adding the spine is "top secret!" says IPS sales manager Carlos Cornejo Jr. But here is what we know: The 205mm hollow spine (to reduce the amount of material used) is PE based, sourced from a supplier overseas and elliptically shaped. According to Cornejo, Method preferred this shape instead of a round spine because it handled better. It also presented a flatter profile on the package's front panel than rounded spines, which bulged too much and messed with the aesthetics.


Method pouch filling

The spine is tapered slightly, vertically, and has an angle at the smaller end to make it easier to insert into the pouch's formed pocket.

Finished premade pouches are packed loosely in cases, fanned out to accommodate the spines and spouts, in counts of 500.

On the filling line
The packages arrive stateside at the Minneapolis facility of Method's co-packer/strategic supplier Apex Intl. In addition to giving the new spine-refill business to Apex, Method is also consolidating its hand-wash business into the same plant. Hudon says, "It was a great partnership that was established and hopefully one that will continue for a long time."

To win Method's spine-refill business, Apex invested in a horizontal pouch filler/sealer from Mespack, a packaging equipment maker in Spain that specializes in horizontal pouch machinery. Pouches are manually removed from cases and loaded into the machine's conveyor infeed. A series of belts and wheels index the pouches to separate them so that only one is picked up at a time. 

Reciprocating-motion suction cups transfer the pouches from horizontal to vertical position in the machine. Handling bars hold the pouches from the top as they index through the machine. Suction cups open the pouch and air is blown into it to expand filling section. Then a set of three filling nozzles each dispense about a third of the product in sequence to reduce product foaming.

The spout was positioned so product would flow easily through it for a good pouring experience for the consumer, as well as to evacuate as much of the product as possible. But it was also positioned so it would be out of the way during the pouch sealing operation.

Once pouches are filled, they sit on a conveyor but they are still handled at the top through the sealing station. Mechanical fingers come in to hold the pouch on both sides of the top sealing area to create as flat a profile as possible. Pouches are heat sealed, followed by cooling bars to make sure the plastic doesn't get misshapen. Prior to sealing, there's a reject station so if any pouches didn't get filled properly, they're rejected out of the machine. 


Method pouch sealing

There is no checkweigher online, but the machine controls the volume dispensed with each fill. Quality-assurance employees tare and weigh filled pouches offline at set times, using statistical process control to determine how many pouches to inspect each hour based on the lot size. 

Filled, sealed pouches travel in their stand-up position about 10 to 15 feet on a belt conveyor to case packing. Hudon says, "It's a very stable package and is able to move down the line with relative ease. There are some rails that help keep it vertical but, for the most part, it's a very stable package."

Along this section of conveyor, the pouches are manually inspected and a lot code is added via an inkjet printer. The code is in the same spot on all pouches so there's no repositioning during changeover. The code fits perfectly in white space that was designed in the bottom left corner on the back of the pouch.

Two people erect cases and manually pack six pouches, laid down, to a case in two columns with three rows. Hudon says, "When you lay the pouches on their side, they have a bit of a wedge look. We alternate how they are packed in the case so it cubes out the case nicely, as opposed to having it weighted to one side."

Labels preprinted on a Zebra unit and are manually added to cases on adjacent sides. Cases are then stacked on pallets by hand.

Hudon explains that the filling operation is contained in one room and the pack out is in an open warehouse. This helps keep things as sanitary and manageable as possible where there is open liquid. Two production lines are housed in the closed room: one to handle Method's everyday laundry rigid container and one for these refill pouches. The conveyor from filling to case packing passes through a wall to the pack-out section in the warehouse.

Still flexible
The spine-refill joins the company's regular stand-up pouch for its hand-wash. When asked if there are plans to switch that product into the spine-refill, Becker says they're thinking about it. 

"At this time, it's uncertain if the same format would be employed on our hand-soap refill. Our handle pouches do quite well. But, obviously, we'd be incurring a bit of an upcharge in terms of the cost of goods if we were to employ this type of design on that existing business. We just want to evaluate whether we'd get a return on that...would we get incremental sales?" Becker says. "We've gotten great feedback on the functionality of the new design. That might be enough to sway the decision."

Apex Intl., 952-227-3000.
Innovative Packaging Solutions Inc. (IPS), 951-693-5580.
Mespack sl, +34 902 180 520.
Mayor Packaging, +852 2342 5194.
Zebra Technologies, 866-230-9494.



About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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