Approximately 50,000 attendees toured more than 2,500 exhibits at Pack Expo, which was held Nov. 6 to 9 in Chicago. This record-breaking show participation correlates to the industry’s projected growth.

According to the “2016 State of the Industry U.S. Packaging Machinery Report,” published by P.M.M.I., The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, Reston, Va., the value of domestic shipments of packaging machinery is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 2.4%, reaching $8.5 billion in 2020. More than half of this growth is expected to come from the food and beverage sector.

“Growth in packaging is fueled not just by plant expansions, but also by the need to update operations, creating smarter, faster, safer, flexible and more sustainable lines,” said Jim Pittas, senior vice-president, P.M.M.I.
 
Tools to assist with traceability, from farm to table, are a major driver of growth. According to the report, the labeling, decorating and coding and case handling machinery groups are forecast to increase the fastest of all machinery types through 2020, with C.A.G.R.s of 3.9% and 2.5%, respectively. Much of this growth is the result of new legislation demanding increased labeling and coding, continuing developments in printing technologies and the proliferation of finished products in the market, including limited-edition and seasonal offerings.

“The forecast for the packaging machinery market is strong,” said Jorge Izquierdo, vice-president of market development, P.M.M.I. “We continue to anticipate growth in major market segments such as pharmaceutical as well as beverage. Factors such as changing consumer habits, new regulations as well as general economic development are fueling this development.”

Convenience packaging dominated the exposition floor, with suppliers showcasing their latest innovations in single-serve containers. This includes packages for beverages, desserts and meals.

According to data from Chicago-based Mintel, the refrigerated heat-and-eat meal category is exploding, as it appeals to consumers who are open to prepared meals that are less processed. New processing and packaging technologies allow for the development of fully cooked meals that retain inherent nutrients during distribution and reheating.

For example, Bemis, Neenah, Wis., developed the Micvac single, continuous safe pasteurization process. This technology requires little to no pre-cooking. Raw ingredients are prepped and microwave pasteurized in the package, reducing cross contamination and enhancing product safety. The technology delivers preservative-free safe, quality meals that say fresh for up to 60 days in the refrigerator.

Klockner Pentaplast, Gordonsville, Va., debuted the snapsil single-serve pack for dispensing individual portions of fluids, powders or viscous slurries. This includes everything from beverage mixes to infant formula and ketchup to salsa. The single-hand, easy-open pack releases its content in one snap, which is particularly useful for products designed for older consumers who often have limited motor abilities. The individual portions prevent waste and allow for on-the-go convenience. The pack may be colored or transparent, with the larger designs having dual functionality to be a dipping container or a squeeze pack.

The 2016 Trends Report from the Foodservice Packaging Institute, Falls Church, Va., explained that millennials are driving many of the changes in the packaging industry. This includes their desire for foods that are convenient and adaptable to on-the-go lifestyles. Millennials are propelling meal delivery programs, too, which require new and innovative packaging that can withstand the rigors of shipping and still deliver on freshness and shelf life.

“Each year our trends report searches for common threads found throughout the entire food service packaging value chain,” said Lynn Dyer, president of the F.P.I. “This year more than ever, it’s hard to deny the influence of the millennial generation on the food service packaging industry. As such a large, influential piece of the population, the opinions and ideals of millennials are a defining factor, leaving an impression on the industry.”

Changes in preparation and distribution of meals are driving other trends, such as an increased interest in tamper-evident packaging and food safety. This year’s report also highlights the fact that environmentally friendly, sustainable, recyclable and compostable packaging are moving beyond trendy to now being a regular part of doing business. This is driving growth of flexible packaging.

Flexible packaging for beverages and condiments continues to become more sophisticated. According to research from the Flexible Packaging Association, Annapolis, Md., the flexible packaging sector has grown from $400 million in the early 1950s to $27 billion today. Flexible packaging is produced from paper, plastic, film, aluminum foil or any combination of those materials, and includes bags, pouches, labels, liners, wraps, rollstock and other flexible products.

Flexible packaging creates visual differentiation on retailers’ shelves as the material provides a large canvas for graphics and marketing messages. Flexible packaging also reduces costs throughout the supply chain, as compared to rigid containers. This is because film weighs less and takes up less room during transportation. It reduces materials taking up space in landfills by as much as 97%, as compared to plastic bottles.

Leading the flexible packaging movement is standup pouches. According to Mintel data, standup flexible packaging is starting to dominate new product releases, growing by 30% from 2012 to 2015. All types of foods are making their way into this package format, most notably baby food, fruit puree and yogurt. Popular non-food items that are converting to this package include body creams, shampoos and detergents.

Packages may be opaque, translucent or clear, providing marketers flexibility with showcasing what’s inside or using the package as a marketing canvas. They may be designed as single-serve or multi-serve packs, both with some type of recloseable dispenser.

Multi-serve flexible packages have been catching on the past few years in Europe for products such as creams and cooking sauces. At Salon de l’Alimentation, or simply S.I.A.L., which was held Oct. 16 to 20 in Paris, Sodiaal International S.A., Paris, was a S.I.A.L. Innovation Awards finalist for its Yeo Fontaine a Yaourt. This is a 1.5-liter flexible stand-up pouch with spout that allows the consumer to keep drinkable yogurt on tap in the refrigerator.

DuPont Performance Materials, Wilmington, Del., hosted a special exhibit at Pack Expo where the company showcased winners of its 2016 Awards for Packaging Innovation, which recognizes companies that have responded to worldwide demand for improvements in customer product experiences and sustainability, and incorporated simpler messaging and cost-efficient production technologies.

Daisy Brand Products, Dallas, was a diamond award finalist for the flexible squeeze pouch used on its new Daisy Squeeze sour cream. Aptar Food + Beverage, a part of AptarGroup, Crystal Lake, Ill., partnered with Daisy to create this unique pouch that features an inverted, wedge-shaped design with an innovative flip-top dispensing closure. The self-sealing valve-in technology coupled with the ring pull fitment seal, custom flip top closure and robust film structure work effectively together as a total packaging solution. The Daisy Squeeze package helps eliminate risks of contamination from dirty utensils, minimizes wasted product and provides an easy-to-control and drip-free dispensing system, all while fitting easily into refrigerator doors for easy access.

The TeaBrewer/CoffeeBrewer premium whole leaf tea and coffee brewing system from Coffeebrewer Nordic A/S, Denmark, was another diamond award finalist. The company’s design team developed a form-fill-seal horizontal packaging machine for a stand-up pouch that operates with six different materials and turns paper laminate into the vessel for the products. The coffee brewing system combines the richness from a French press and the finer filter taste profile from a pour-over and the teabrewer design allows natural whole leaf infusion teas to be steeped, resulting in almost exactly like that known from a good old teapot. The choice to omit any use of metals in the packaging materials, the shift to wind power generated energy and the pouch’s reusability represent a highly advanced sustainable profile. The small scale, pour spot, stand-up pouch and effectively designed front labels with on-pack messaging come together to create a positive user experience.