- November 01, 2006, David J. Bentley Jr., Contributing Editor
Flexible packaging began in earnest almost 70 years ago with the requirements of the military in World War II and the development of polymeric materials. The flexible packaging industry has seen many changes from those humble beginnings of packages for military supplies and food using films made from cellulose to coextruded composites of ten or more layers for packaging exotic products that require protection from environmental conditions.
One would be justified in wondering why the flex-pack industry continues to grow year after year. If you think about its advantages, however, this growth is easy to understand.
Convenience in handling is a significant asset compared with cans, bottles, and jars. Convenience in use is also an important feature. Consider the almost explosive growth of ready-to-use salad items that now comprise a large part of the produce section in every supermarket. Though the recent problems with packaged spinach caused warnings to consumers to avoid that product, the efficacy of flexible packaging materials to preserve food was never in question. Such packaging does indeed ensure freshness of the contents.
Marketing departments love flexible packages because of the opportunities they offer for innovative designs and graphics. One candy manufacturer recently put its product in a wrapper that uses ink to produce a glow-in-the-dark feature for Halloween.
The imagination of designers is the only limitation to the myriad possibilities to enhance the shelf appeal of flexible packages. Such shelf appeal greatly improves the ability to merchandise at the point of sale.
Suppliers to the flexible packaging markets are working diligently on enhancements in films, resins, adhesives, coatings, and inks. Examples include the improved clarity, barrier properties, and strength of currently available films compared with those from recent years. Use of stand-up pouches for an increasing number of items also is contributing to the growth of flexible packaging.
The aging baby boomer population is contributing to a surge in medical and pharmaceutical products, and today’s large working population seems to appreciate the convenience of flexible packaging, including portion packaging that goes to the workplace (or children’s schools) easily.
Pet food appears often in flexible packaging now, and various non-food items such as plant food and garden supplies, to name but two applications, are making their appearance in flexible packages. Off-shore markets continue to grow as populations in other countries learn about and want to experience the opportunities and conveniences offered by flexible packaging.
Innovations such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and smart packaging currently are in their infancy. As these exciting marketing concepts continue to grow, they will spur an accompanying growth in flexible packaging.
Many companies are promoting flexible packages that are easy to open and offer closure features such as resealability. Safety, convenience, strength, affordability, and attractiveness generally are the features of flexible packages that attract customers. As all the companies in the chain of suppliers—from raw materials to those that place something in a flexible package—continue their work on product improvement and product development, growth in this type of package should continue unabated for many years to come.
David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.