The market for prepackaged on-the-go meals and snack products has become one of the fastest-growing & trending markets in recent years as more customers demand convenience and healthfulness from their prepackaged food selections. This has also sparked a great deal of competition for brand loyalty in this space, increasing the need for packaging solutions that enhance brand differentiation through improved aesthetics & appearance, all while delivering on key specifications for performance and product protection.
As a result, there has been much expansion of product offerings and innovation to meet consumer demands, leading to more complex offerings that require customized barrier protection to preserve product integrity and freshness. This increase in product innovation, along with rising social pressures, has sparked material replacement initiatives for the development of low-to-medium barrier packaging solutions that deliver on key performance requirements including recyclability & sustainability, health & safety, increased product protection and enhanced brand recognition & consumer appeal.
ICPG’s advanced extrusion technology coupled with our portfolio of high-performance enhanced barrier material solutions make achievement of these performance benchmarks a reality, presenting converters and brand owners with the opportunity to explore the possibilities for product line expansion to meet the industries’ evolving performance barrier requirements.
Continue reading to learn more about ICPG’s performance solutions for low-to-medium barrier on-the-go meals and snack food applications:
What classifies as a “low-to-medium barrier” coextrusion or lamination application?
Specifications for barrier performance to achieve a target shelf-life require a great deal of customization considering a number of factors including the food product, filling and processing method, storage and retail conditions, and much more. So, what exactly do we mean when we say “low-to-medium” barrier protection?
First, it is helpful to understand that traditional rigid barrier applications such as hot-fill applesauce and retorted pet food are typically customized to offer extended shelf-life protection from six to fourteen months depending on product characteristics, manufacturing processes and other application requirements. This is achieved through the incorporation of sophisticated barrier materials such as EVOH.
As consumer preference has steadily been shifted toward “On-the-Go” and “fresh food alternatives,” with shorter shelf-life requirements, the barrier specifications required to meet target shelf-life expectations have decreased. Examples include prepackaged products such as cheese and crackers, chips and dips, and humus with pretzels. Generally speaking, these shorter shelf-life products require lower barrier protection since the products can be refrigerated or expected to turn faster than traditional shelf-stable foods.
ICPG’s ultra-thin low-to-medium barrier solutions for refrigerated and shelf-stable applications present four distinct opportunities for optimization and improvement:
- Product Line Extension: Adding a Barrier to Refrigerated and Short Shelf-Life Products:
With ICPG’s ultra-thin low-to-medium barrier coextrusion and lamination technology, we can produce thinner barrier solutions for refrigerated and short shelf-life food products customized to application requirements. Our capabilities present the opportunity to extend the shelf-life of refrigerated and short shelf-life products by incorporating our ultra-thin barrier technologies into existing packaging solutions, allowing for product line expansion with minimal to no change to equipment or process.
For example, convertors now have the opportunity to utilize their thermoforming platforms to supply the same containers for multiple applications simply by leveraging material solutions from traditional monolayer non-barrier to multi-layer barrier structures. Additionally, this provides food processors with the opportunity to develop product line extensions with customized barrier solutions to extend shelf-life for both refrigerated and shelf-stable products.
- Product Line Extension: Reducing Barrier Thickness on Shelf-Stable Products:
ICPG’s advanced monitoring technology and precision extrusion capabilities can also provide a controlled, incremental performance improvement when used to reduce the thickness of the barrier layer in traditional extended shelf-life products. For instance, as we continue to develop capabilities to reduce barrier thickness, we can re-define barrier requirements for extended shelf-life on applications such as dressings, sauces, spreads, dips, salsas, and jams & jellies. By providing thinner, customized barriers that are more aligned with the actual shelf-requirements of the products, customers can reduce their packaging costs and continue to improve the sustainability of their packaging.
- Sustainability: Precision Barrier Performance
ICPG’s ultra-thin barrier capabilities for both coextruded and laminated structures provides precision layering control to enhance the sustainability of multi-layer rollstock structures in two important ways.
First, given the layering variation experienced with today’s multi-layer barrier coextruded structures, ICPG’s advanced monitoring technology allows us to achieve precise layering control, presenting the potential for customers to reduce the amount of EVOH currently used to meet extended shelf-life requirements, and eliminating the need to over-engineer structures to mitigate the risk of variations in the extrusion process. As a result, structures are simplified, resulting in reduced material usage and a more recycle-friendly structure.
On the “flip-side”, we will also have the capability to offer ultra-thin barrier coextruded and lamination structures to extend the shelf-life of products currently packaged in non-barrier structures. Thus, tackling the issue of food spoilage and the resulting waste, key factors in the global effort to reduce waste.
- Material Replacement: Solution Coated Barrier HIPS
Commercial packaging solutions designed to satisfy these barrier applications previously accomplished this through extrusion coatings, laminations and complex non-recyclable coextruded structures. For instance, traditional solution coated HIPS/PVDC structures have evolved to overly complex coextruded barrier structures utilizing PS, HDPE and EVOH. With the development of solution coated HIPS/PVDC replacement structures, multi-layer multi-material replacement structures were often complex, over packaged and continued to utilize PS as the primary base.
Although this was certainly a move in the right direction, these solutions did not adequately address sustainability, recyclability or Proposition 65 concerns. A more advanced “recycle ready” olefin solution has now been developed, utilizing more environmentally accepted materials without compromise to current barrier requirements. Today, through advancements in both process, materials and technology, ICPG has developed fully recyclable barrier XPP FFS structure solutions designed to provide a sustainable replacement over traditional PS based barrier structures.
Additionally, the expected performance and economics of our ultra-thin barrier structures provide a viable and sustainable replacement for PVDC coated HIPS products for applications such as dips & sauces, jams & jellies, peanut butter, honey and a host of other products.
For more information on ICPG's XPP enhanced barrier technology check out the infographic: