Have you ever heard the saying “we eat with our eyes?” Well, we also drink with them! In mature and saturated industries, such as the beverage industry, opportunities to enhance packaging through brand differentiation and brand awareness are key. Brands operating in the beverage space are constantly developing new innovations coupled with eye-catching packaging graphics to stand out from the competition on grocery store shelves - and packaging for shelf-stable beverage cups, should be no exception.
When you think of beverage packaging, you probably think of bottles, right? But there is a whole sub-market of the beverage industry dedicated to the packaging of shelf-stable juices, broths, and other beverages that come in sealed thermoformed cups.
Distribution of these products to institutional facilities such as healthcare facilities (including hospitals, nursing homes, and blood centers), schools, and airlines, depend on the use of barrier packaging for thermoformed and form-fill-seal cup applications to promote enhanced safety and extended shelf-life of the beverage product. Considerations regarding design, materials, and processing are all critical to maintaining optimal barrier properties for extended shelf-life performance. Additionally, as a single-use disposable product, shelf-stable beverage cup applications are not immune to industry pressures calling for more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging solutions. That's where we come in!
Whether refrigerated or shelf-stable, designing a rigid plastics packaging material structure that keeps the product safe and maintains taste and quality throughout the shelf-life is essential. And if we can make it look cool too, then that’s an added bonus! Continue reading to learn more about some key considerations when developing rigid plastics packaging materials for shelf-stable beverage cups and how ICPG can help:
What are the barrier requirements?
Identifying and determining the shelf-life and organoleptic requirements of the product for shelf-stable beverage applications are essential components of the package development process taking into consideration beverage product, UV degradation, supply chain, consumer appeal and intended use. Different barrier materials and material structures provide a variety of potential considerations ranging from critical food contact, sealability, taste and odor, shelf-life, top-load, sterilization, filling process and ultimately product food safety. Understanding these elements are key considerations when determining the level and type of barrier required to achieve the optimal shelf-life performance.
One of the primary elements to achieving target shelf life is understanding the required OTR (Oxygen Transmission Rate) and MVTR (Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate) specifications, then developing a material structure with the appropriate barrier characteristics to protect the product throughout its desired shelf-life performance. Development of high performance structures can be achieved through a multi-layer coextrusion process leveraging materials such as EVOH to achieve the required OTR requirements. Optimizing the material structure through the use of innovative materials, can present opportunities for down-gauging and design innovations that maximize usage & cup capacity, providing optimal barrier performance without over-engineering and excessive material usage. In addition, it is critical to ensure optimal material distribution is achieved to meet the minimum barrier thickness given depth of draw and avoiding sharp angles such as bottom corners during the container design phase.
What is the processing method?
Whether using pre-formed containers or roll stock for form fill and seal packaging, understanding the processing methods utilized for shelf-stable beverages directly correlates to material choice and target package performance in order to maximize efficiencies, product safety and ultimately provide a higher level of economic value. Common thermoformed and form fill seal (FFS) packaging for shelf-stable beverages can be used with processing and sterilization techniques such as retort, hot-fill, HPP and aseptic processing. The packaging and processing method, along with the barrier requirements will play a significant part in determining the best material structure to maintain the safety and integrity of the product.
What is the best material choice?
Today there are more choices than ever when considering the best material for shelf-stable beverage applications. With increasing industry pressures on sustainability and concerns with Proposition65, ICPG provides material solutions using traditional substrates such as polypropylene, polystyrene and polyethylene with enhanced performance and protection capabilities for direct food contact and extended shelf-life requirements.
Previously, processing method typically dictated material choice for this market, with pre-formed cup applications using a PP/EVOH/PP structure, while FFS processes used a PS/EVOH/PE structure to take advantage of the ease-of-processing that PS structures offered. However, material innovations, such as ICPG's XPP enhanced barrier PP rollstock, now allow for development of barrier polypropylene structures for form fill seal packaging applications with enhanced functional properties that offer compatibility with FFS processes. Structures produced with polypropylene help with key industry concerns for material replacement of PS under Proposition 65 guidelines and styrene monomer migration for critical food contact applications. Additionally, structures produced with polypropylene offer enhanced sustainability and recyclability for beverage cups as a single-use disposable product in comparison to traditional structures.
What are my options?
Is the beverage product refrigerated or shelf stable? In either case, ICPG has a unique product portfolio from which we can recommend the most suitable material structure for your application ranging in performance from monolayer, laminations to multi-layer barrier coextrusions. Shelf-stable beverage cup applications typically require an 18+ month shelf-life, so using the correct combination of material structure and packaging/processing method is key. Working with a materials supplier with a vast range of capabilities, such as multi-layer coextrusion and extrusion lamination, can offer flexibility for maximum optimization, innovation, and structure optimization to revive stagnant product lines and avoid over-engineering and excess material usage for thermoformed and form fill seal beverage applications.
Feeling inspired to develop customized thermoformed beverage packaging with ICPG? Click on the link below to download our beverage packaging solutions info sheet to learn more about the innovative materials, structures and capabilities available for your custom project: