Pouches are growing at a greater rate compared to other forms of flexible packaging like bags, shrink sleeves and wraparound labels.
“According to leading consulting companies, stand-up pouches are growing rapidly in use each year,” says Roy Oomen, HP Indigo flexible packaging category manager, North America. “We have seen the most recent growth and innovation for closures, seals, as well as material advancements to achieve recycle-ready pouches.”
HP defines a pouch as a vessel for carrying goods or products. Stand-up pouches are typically the home for a wide range of food applications such as baby foods, nuts, cake mixes and protein powders, among others. Oomen adds that pouches for cannabis products have become increasingly popular and growing fast in North America due to recent changes in legislation.
“Speaking from our own experience, the largest demand by far is for food applications,” explains Sam Smith, managing director at UK-based CS Labels. “To be honest, there is potential in nearly all markets. We’ve also seen a large increase in demand from some more niche yet high-growth markets such as e-cigarettes and e-liquids. We’ve seen so much demand that we’ve developed a specific web portal to cater to their packaging needs for e-liquid and e-cigarette digital bottle labels and stand-up pouches.
“Pouches are an extremely popular choice for packaging at the moment,” Smith adds. “They’re lightweight, food-safe capabilities offer some of our clients a smart alternative to digital labels.”
CS Labels uses Xeikon digital print technology for its pouch converting applications. According to Xeikon, there is pouch growth in promotional items, as well as sample packets for a variety of products. CS Labels utilizes dual- or tri-laminate films for their pouches. Common materials for food applications include a top surface gloss or matte polypropylene/PET with an EVOH (nylon) barrier; a top surface gloss or matte polypropylene/METPET (metallic polyester) barrier with PE; and a Kraft paper/PET with an EVOH (nylon) barrier. The substrates come in various degrees of thickness. CS Labels also provides a thinner material for continuous film, a substrate commonly used for sealing snack bars and other similar items.
According to label market research firm AWA Alexander Watson Associates, stand-up pouches are emerging. In conjunction with Schönwald Consulting, the two firms published the North American Labeling Stand-Up Pouch Market Study 2017. The study says that from 2016 to 2021, pouch usage is expected to grow by 28.8% with a CAGR of 5.2%. The US accounts for 80% of the North American pouch market, the study reports, and in 2016, North America consumed 28.4 billion pouches – that number is estimated to rise to 36.57 billion in 2021.
In the Flexible Packaging Association’s (FPA) 2018 State of the Industry report, the global flexible packaging market totaled $86 billion last year, which represents a 4.5% increase since 2015. In the US, 78% value-added flexible packaging made up these products, comprising a volume of $24.1 billion.
The FPA also recently held its Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards, where it showcased the latest developments in flexible packaging. Pouches factored prominently in the
results. The Association presented ProAmpac two Gold and two Silver annual achievement awards for its packages, including a Gold Achievement Award in Printing and Shelf Impact for the Sunrise Growers Organic Cherry Berry Fruit Blend pouch.
There are several qualities of a successful pouch. “A high percentage of the market is reverse printed on PET (48 gauge) or BOPP and respectively laminated to PE (polyethelene) and BOPP to achieve PET/PE or BOPP/BOPP with an adhesive in between,” says Oomen. “Several other structures, ranging from two to five layers – or even higher – are used for high performance packaging applications and carefully selected for achieving specific requirements for barrier properties or other functionality.”
An Opportunity for Label Converters
CS Labels, an award-winning digital label printer, recognized an opportunity to expand into the narrow web pouch market segment. The driving force came from a customer. Graze, a healthy snack brand in the United Kingdom, wanted to produce Doyen pouches with the same benefits as digitally-printed labels.
“They were already buying digital labels from us and were impressed with our lead times and flexibility,” says CS Labels’ Smith. “Since then, the demand has soared. Print runs are becoming longer and longer, and we have had some very large print run orders, along with growing demand for shorter runs and multiple sorts and market testing, which is where we first entered the space.”
CS Labels relies on Xeikon digital printing presses, and the company does note that there are hurdles to overcome along the way. “In 2015, we were at a point to properly launch with a portfolio of extremely effective pouches with great form and design,” says Smith. “Since then, we’ve continued to add new materials, sizes, options and even products, most recently with the launch of our digital continuous film, which has been championed by many clients like Nutree Life.”
Smith adds that the partnership with Nutree Life, a vegan protein bar and powder company with digital experience, was a “game changer.”
“I think label converters who don’t tap into digital are missing a trick,” adds Smith. “We’re seeing a few companies entering the UK market, however they do know the challenges, so this is perhaps why the penetration hasn’t been quite as extensive as people thought.”
For HP, the newly launched HP Indigo 6900 can effectively print smaller pouches, while many HP-made pouches are produced on the HP Indigo 20000 digital press. “The format size of the layflat, which is required for the pouch, is largely the driver for which digital press to use,” says HP’s Oomen. “The overall end-to-end manufacturing process is quite similar between digital and flexographically or gravure printed pouches. Materials are more often than not reverse-printed, and subsequently the material that is printed will be laminated to another layer via solvent free or water-based lamination.”
Pouches represent an opportunity for label converters, and Oomen believes many printers have already started to take advantage. “Label converters are, in many cases, participating in the change to flexible packaging and pouches,” he says. “Quite a few leading label companies have now entered digital and conventional flexible packaging. Pouches are very cost effective as compared to glass or PET bottles. They also offer opportunities to print on demand for each custom design. Pouches provide and ensure better shelf visibility.”
Many brand owners are looking at shelf life when it comes to quality pouches. There are a host of regulations these products must meet, especially as they pertain to food safety. CS Labels is BRC accredited, meaning the converter has the ability to produce pouches at the highest global standard. “This means quality, legality and the utmost hygiene at the highest level is required,” says CS Labels’ Smith. “We have a clean room, and everything is tested and traceable.”
In Europe, the information contained on the pouch involves FIC food regulations, which were developed in 2014. Chemical companies must adhere to CLP, and e-cigarette producers must comply with the TPD/CLP guidelines.
“We update our knowledge every week on all of these regulations, so clients can be confident when they order from us,” says Smith. “We also offer impartial advice on artwork or even separate issues like bottle materials.”
In North America, flexible packaging food applications must adhere to FDA guidelines, especially as they pertain to low- and no-migration products.
CS Labels does not anticipate a slowdown for this booming market, either. The demand for digitally-printed labels and pouches has spurred the converter to invest in additional machinery, R&D and manufacturing space.
“This market is destined to grow,” says CS Labels’ Smith. “FMCG brands and, in fact, companies of all sizes are already tiring of long lead times and plate/origination costs. This is not to mention waste, as they can’t order smaller quantities with conventional methods, so they have large MOQs on pouches, which ultimately creates a huge amount of waste for many companies. Also, traditional non-digital converters simply cannot produce varying quantities of the same design on the same print run.”
Additional market research from Technavio, as detailed in Global Stand-up Pouches Market 2016-2020, states that consumers prefer to purchase food products with high value and a longer shelf life. Vendors have responded with effective and convenient packaging solutions like spouts and fitments, zip seal closures, and pour spouts.
Toray Plastics (Americas) has cited demand for fresh, shelf-stable food in transparent packaging as the driving force behind Torayfan clear, high-barrier BOPP films. These PVDC-free, high-barrier films included in the Torayfan CB3 portfolio provide oxygen-barrier protection and an excellent moisture barrier, and they are available in sealable and non-sealable versions.
“As film options become more versatile, adoption of flexible packaging will continue to rise,” says HP’s Oomen. “Flexible packaging and pouches will often provide a graphically appealing option and sometimes may even reduce costs. For certain, rigid packaging will continue to shift to flexible packaging.”
In the future, Smith adds that a stumbling block could include concerns over plastic and the sustainability of these products. (See sidebar below)
“We’re eager to see the first material supplier that can provide a responsibly sourced offering,” he says. “Unlike digital labels, biodegradable products in this space at the moment are difficult to convert and they have at least a 10-year life before degrading. In essence, I feel that the future, eventually, will be digital.”
After disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles, pouches could be the next target in the waste reduction landscape, due to the difficulty of recycling these packs, says GlobalData, a data and analytics company.
Pouches have come into the spotlight recently as a result of confusion over the use of the Green Dot symbol on pouch packs. The Green Dot symbol on these packs is a mark to show that the supplier has made a financial contribution toward recycling them. However, many consumers believe it means that these packs can be recycled in household recycling systems. In fact, pouches disposed of in this way end up being sent for incineration or landfill.
Valerie Lincoln-Stubbs, research director at GlobalData, comments, “Growing awareness of this issue is likely to turn consumers off this packaging format. This could particularly be the case in the baby food sector, where pouches have transformed the market over the last 10 years. In 2016, they accounted for the largest segment of total baby meal sales in the UK at 43% and in the US at 32%.
“Parents of small children are generally more environmentally concerned than many other consumer groups and may reject packaging that has the potential to outlast their children.’’
However, pouches do have some environmental advantages. They use fewer natural resources than many other pack types – both in raw materials and in the production process – while their light weight means transportation produces lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Moreover, plastic pouches can, in fact, be recycled and systems to do this do exist. One such example is the Hain Celestial subsidiary, Ella’s Kitchen, which has joined forces with specialist recycler TerraCycle to establish the EllaCycle system. Pouches can be left with participating charities or individuals who can then send them to TerraCycle.
“This system does require a degree of effort and organization by consumers, which results in low recovery rates, and this in itself makes the recycling process more costly and less attractive to recyclers,” adds Lincoln-Stubbs. “It will require a concerted effort from food and beverage manufacturers, packaging suppliers, recycling companies and local governments to pool their resources to make the recycling of pouches easier so that it becomes routine, just as the recycling of glass jars has become. Without this action, the future of the pouch format could be a bleak one.”