Flexible Packaging For Manufacturers: What You Need to Know
Flexible film is essential for any company that needs to package consumer and institutional products, especially for industrial applications. Exceptional flexibility is key to protect, market, and distribute a vast array of products without damage.
From ensuring food safety and extending shelf life, to providing even heating, barrier protection, ease of use, resealability, and superb printability, the packaging industry continues to advance with flexible packaging offerings at an unprecedented rate.
The benefits of flexible packaging cannot be overstated. Lightweight and easy to open, carry, store, and re-seal, flexible packaging extends the shelf life of many products, especially food, and has a positive sustainability profile.
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As an added bonus, flexible packaging is surprisingly not the worst type of packaging for the environment. It requires less energy to manufacture and transport and generates smaller quantities of greenhouse gases on its way to the market.
On the back end, flexible packaging ultimately results in less consumer waste being sent to landfills.
Did that sound almost blasphemous?
In order to understand what was just read, you have to think long-term here to see the bigger picture. Alternative packaging options currently do not offer the shelf-life that flexible packages do.
A shorter shelf-life means more product waste and more packaged goods that need to be created to fulfill consumer needs. This means not only more of an environmental impact from product AND packaging creation but an increased environmental impact from more frequent freight shipments.
If your product lasts longer on the shelf, you're reducing the amount of waste.
This is why we’ve compiled some great information on the current state of the flexible packaging industry so that you not only know WHY you should be packaging your products with flexible packaging but you also know which type to use and how to get started.
So first off, let’s start out with what consumers think:
What Consumers Think of Flexible Packaging
Flexible Packaging Is In
Not to beat a dead horse, but even consumers are on the flexible packaging train.
Being that the consumer is your target market for your products, you want to be sure you appeal to their needs. With flexible packaging, you open the opportunity to speak not only to these consumer needs but also to your business needs for sustainability, waste reduction, and transportation efficiency.
According to a study done by Mintel, a leading market intelligence agency, 32% of consumers believe that flexible packaging is modern. Stand-up pouches have not only offered food and beverage manufacturers new ways to significantly reduce shipping costs and increase retail shelf space but also expand their design capabilities so that their consumers are attracted to the product.
Packaging for the consumer
In a study done in September 2015, the FPA (Flexible Packaging Association), in collaboration with Harris Poll, completed a consumer survey on retail packaging with 2,120 respondents aged 18 and over. The results offer an incredible insight into the minds of today's consumers, their needs, and their desires when shopping for food and non-food categories.
Consumers that responded associated the top three most important factors in desirable product packaging as being:
- Easy To Store (66%)
- Resealable (65%)
- Easy To Open (60%)
Two other factors rounded out the top five important items to consumers in the study, 'Ability To Extend Product Life' (55%) and 'Easy To Carry' (47%).
New Packaging Design Positively Impacts Purchases
81% of the respondents to this survey stated that they not only noticed when a product appeared in different packaging but also that they buy products they didn't plan to purchase. Included in this, 39% stated they buy products because of new or different packaging. When it came to these impulse purchases, the top three most important factors influencing the purchases were:
- Extending Product Life
- Ability To See The Product
Flexible packaging answers to each of the consumers' wants and needs outlined in the responses to the survey. It gives your brand an opportunity to appeal to your target market in several ways and gives a multitude of opportunities for a more sustainable future for your brand.
So Which Type of Flexible Packaging is Right for My Product?
Now that you know some of the benefits of flexible packaging, it’s time to put it to use. Here’s what you need to know when looking at flexible packaging solutions.
What to Take Into Consideration
It's important to know some specifics about your product to be packaged before diving into the details of the films available to you. Without question, a packaging supplier is a key to selecting the appropriate film for your needs. They've been in the industry, they will understand your needs first and will have a better understanding of what films will and will not work for your product.
Some things you will want to consider will be:
- What type of product you are packaging
- Product weight, shape, and dimensions
- Consider color and labeling, can the film be printed to meet your needs?
- How it will be packaged into the flexible film?
- Will you be using a machine or packaging manually? If by machine, what type?
- The product journey from creation to shipment to the shelf and beyond
- Will it be handled often? Will it be subjected to rough handling? What kind of climates/ environments will it be subjected to? Does it need specific film additives to keep it fresh such as an oxygen or moisture barrier? What about tampering and security of the finished good??
Now that that's been discussed, it’s time to find out which type of flexible packaging is right for your product needs.
This material is durable, versatile, and FDA-approved food-safe. The hallmark of this material is its strength. Polyolefin (POF) shrink film is very thin yet incredibly strong. It has a high level of puncture resistance and seal-strength, which allows for a variety of irregular-shaped items to move through the supply chain life cycle without issue.
100% recyclable, POF shrink film offers great clarity, so your product shines through. The versatility of polyolefin films is expanded when it is perforated, meaning tiny holes are added to the film to provide exceptional flexibility. Available pre-perforated, this material is truly versatile.
Common uses for POF include toys, games, candies, books, foods, most retail items, and any consumer product where appearance is critical.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyethylene high-density (PEHD) is a polyethylene thermoplastic made from petroleum.
With a high strength-to-density ratio, HDPE is used in the production of plastic bottles, corrosion-resistant piping, geomembranes, and plastic lumber. HDPE is commonly recycled and has the number “2” as its resin identification code.
HDPE is the most widely used of plastics due to its exceptional versatility. Used in everything from hard hats to milk jugs, it is also widely recycled in both its rigid form (e.g. containers) and flexible form (e.g. bags).
Common uses for HDPE include beverage bottles, personal care products such as shampoo, and household products. Bread and the thin plastic produce bags in the grocery store are made from HDPE, as are cereal box liners.
It's also used in more heavy-duty stretch-wrapping situations, such as for farmers bundling produce. It usually comes on a roll similar to other films but is more of a net that offers breathability to the products it wraps to a pallet.
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
While similar to high-density polyethylene, LDPE has a lower density, as the name suggests. This means that it has less mass as compared to its volume.
LDPE is highly resistant to impact, moisture, and chemicals. It’s great when it comes to recycling, too, because rigid LDPE products, such as bottles, containers, lids, caps, etc., are typically collected in curbside recycling programs.
Common uses of LDPE include applications where heat sealing is necessary, as well as in the manufacture of some flexible lids and bottles and in wire and cable applications.
Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)
This is one of the most commonly used films in the packaging industry! Of all of the polyethylene films, this is the most flexible. A blended form of LDPE, LLDPE offers more strength and conformability, making it perfect for stretching.
LLDPE doesn't shrink as well as other films and is great for stretch wrapping pallets and protecting heavy loads in transit. This film is most often confused for shrink films like a plain polyolefin mentioned above because they are visually similar on the roll but perform very differently for packaging protection.
This and LDPE films are commonly used for pallet-wrapping as well as snacks, frozen foods, and carrier bags.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE)
PET is clear, tough, and has good gas and moisture barrier properties. As a raw material, PET is globally recognized as a strong, lightweight, flexible material that is 100% recyclable.
When recycled, this material takes on a new life entirely. Cleaned, recycled PET flakes and pellets are in great demand for spinning fiber for carpet yarns and producing fiberfill and geo-textiles.
Common uses for PET include plastic beverage bottles for soft drinks, water, juice, sports drinks, and the like. Many injection-molded consumer product containers, such as food jars for peanut butter, jam, and pickles, are made from PET as well. Oven-safe film and microwavable food trays are other places where PET is safe to use.
Polypropylene (PP) is a thermoplastic “addition polymer” made from a combination of propylene monomers. This material has a high melting point that makes it good for hot-fill liquids. That also makes it great for certain applications that require good chemical resistance.
PP is primarily used by the packaging industry directly, followed by the electrical and equipment manufacturing industries, at 30% and 13% of use, respectively. Household appliances and automotive industries consume 10% each, and construction materials round out the market with 5% of use.
Common uses for PP include a variety of applications, including packaging for consumer products, plastic parts for various industries such as the automotive industry, and special devices like hinges and textiles. PP is also often used as an outer layer in multi-layer packaging, such as pouches along with polyethylene.
Food containers are another common use for PP, such as yogurt containers, those ubiquitous take-out food containers we all know and love, deli foods, and even medicine bottles.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl)
Because it is dependable and lightweight, flexible PVC helps packaging do its job to maintain the integrity of the products inside, including medicines. It is more brittle than many of the other films for packaging, but it is still a commonly used packaging option. It had its heyday during the time of DVDs and CDs.
Common uses of PVC include a variety of applications in the building and construction industries, as well as health care, electronics, automobile, and other sectors, in products ranging from piping and siding, blood bags and tubing, to wire and cable insulation, windshield system components, blister packs, clamshells and more.
So Many Options
With so many types of flexible packaging film available, you are sure to find the right packaging for your product. Should you need a high melting point, if durability is key, or if recycling is high on your list, there is a product available to suit your needs.
With all of the opportunities for a custom finish to any product, it’s always important to do your research and consider your specific needs to determine the best options. Check out our free eGuide To Protective Packaging will help you weigh these options to figure out your best approach.
How to Reduce Costs with Flexible Packaging
Reducing costs through smart and thoughtful packaging design can provide many benefits to not only your brand image but also to the consumer and, most importantly, our environment.
There's also an opportunity to also reduce your in-store footprint and improve your relationship with your retailers by taking advantage of highly-coveted and very limited shelf space with the use of flexible packaging.
At a 10,000' level, here are some of the options you have for reducing your costs:
If you are looking to reduce costs for your packaging production and are using a protective shrink film, have you looked into the type of film you are using?
A change in the type of material, for example, switching from a PVC to polyolefin film, can help reduce the amount of packaging material your product requires to be protected. This is because polyolefin shrink films are more durable, and cross-linked polyolefin films offer a larger yield per roll, resulting in a reduction of your overall packaging costs.
A simple reduction in the film gauge you use (thanks to the newer, stronger, and thinner formulations available) can reduce material usage and reduce costs while still providing the product security required for your product. Newer films as thin as 35 gauge can protect and replace a 60-70 gauge film with little to no change in durability and protection!
Similar benefits can be obtained by addressing other materials such as corrugated, stretch film, blister packaging, and more.
How about reducing the width of your films? We often see consumer goods brands using a film width that is an inch or larger than necessary for their products.
If you have a lot of film waste on your packaging lines, try using our shrink film width calculator to identify the ideal width for your products. Most packaging suppliers charge per inch of width, so a simple reduction can save you a bundle.
Reducing the width of your film will reduce your overall waste and your cost per roll!
Shelf Space - Footprint Reduction
Sometimes people use over-packaging for theft prevention. Sometimes over-packaging is used to get the customers' attention or to present the sales message accurately. This is clearly not the way to save on costs.
Are you using more packaging than necessary for your product?
In most cases, simply reducing the size of the package can reduce your product footprint on the shelf without reducing your visibility. Reducing your packaging size can create a more desirable, place-able item for your retailers' limited shelf space and also reduce the price you pay for product placement in-store.
Less material also gives the consumer a more environmentally and space-friendly package to bring home and store on their own shelves. Another option is to look into tamper-proof or tamper-evident packaging as an alternative to additional materials.
Be innovative with how you design your packaging. In the coming years, as trends ebb and flow, reducing packaging material will be more than a trend and, in some cases, a requirement of retailers.
Speaking of the retailer, have you thought of your packaging in terms of the staff at their distribution centers? A shelf-ready package design that reduces footprint may be something you want to incorporate into your design.
The less secondary packaging that the staff will have to handle to get your product from pallet to shelf, the less time they will have to spend unloading your goods. This is a win-win for both your brand and the retailer!
Making your retailers happy can help your brand earn better placement in the stores your product will do best.
Reduce Labeling With Newer Technologies
A QR code might provide the additional marketing space you need to get your brand's message across without using additional labeling, such as pull-out tabs with additional information on your package.
A change from additional sticky labeling to a printed film that can hold all of your required labeling and marketing information right on the film is another excellent way to provide more to the consumer.
Radical Packaging Overhauls
While many of the changes mentioned so far are not truly radical, they can prove to be truly significant. An example of significant materials savings can be seen when corrugated is replaced by a plain or printed shrink film.
Thanks to the durability of polyethylene films, they can handle a load of heavy products without the need for a corrugated tray.
One of our large consumer goods manufacturing customers was looking to reduce its own packaging material for increased efficiency, lower costs, and visible corporate responsibility. We were able to find drastic savings for them by looking into their use of corrugated and the capability of stronger polyethylene film to take its place.
By removing the corrugated tray from their packaging and simply using a strong printed shrink film, they significantly reduced their packaging costs. With a huge reduction in their spending on corrugated, they were able to eliminate additional labeling, machinery, and labor costs!
If you are using corrugated trays, ask yourself if you really need the additional support for your products, or better yet, work with a packaging professional to identify opportunities like the one mentioned above
Reduce Weight and Product Footprint
One customer of Industrial Packaging holds a great example of a positive packaging redesign that drastically reduced costs and their environmental impact. A pickling company had been packaging their pickled vegetables using bulky glass jars. Due to the weight of the jar alone and the footprint of each packaged product, the freight costs for shipping to their retail distribution centers were seriously impacting their revenue.
Our Packaging Professionals worked with this customer to re-imagine a packaging design that would reduce the package footprint and product weight while also improving the consumers' experience. We designed an appealing stand-up, resealable pouch that not only saved the customer over 40% in shipping costs but also allowed them more shelf space and an innovative, fun package that retailers loved!
Not to mention the visual and consumer-friendly packaging appeal that gained them additional retail visibility.
Find the balance between cost reduction, package integrity, and consumer appeal when you are looking to reduce packaging material. If you want to work with an innovator in flexible packaging that can improve your brand's image while reducing costs, get in touch with our team!
About David Roberge
I am grateful for my 9 years as part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I was able to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier that I was able to share that knowledge with you. I love learning, hiking, and growing people and teams both personally and professionally, and helping companies grow better.