A Hold On Liquid Dairy Packaging

Monday, September 18th, 2017

The demand for liquid dairy products has been growing, especially in developing markets. The conversion towards plastic bottles can create a more convenient consumer experience without compromising on product integrity. By Max Duclot, zone senior aseptic specialist & senior dairy officer, Sidel

Liquid dairy products (LDP) are showing steady growth as a percentage of worldwide beverage sales and with this growth, there has been an increasing focus on finding new and innovative ways of packaging the products.

The classic glass milk bottle is fast becoming obsolete in favour of alternative materials which can ensure the all-important product integrity while also helping to create a more convenient experience for consumers, as well as providing benefits throughout the supply chain.

Drivers Of Growth

White milk remains the most important product in the LDP sector representing approximately 70 percent of all consumption. Liquid dairy products already account for one fifth of worldwide beverage sales, a figure which is expected to grow by a further five percent by 2016.

Much of this growth is attributable to emerging markets, with countries such as Brazil, India, China and the Middle East contributing significantly. A consequence of increases in disposable income is a rapid—and still growing—transition from raw to processed milk products.

This further strengthens consumer demand for added value offerings, with the growth in this kind of dairy products being driven by categories such as flavoured milk drinks, soy beverages, health and wellness milk products and even long-life UHT milk.

The main developed markets are more mature, with existing high levels of milk consumption. Growth here is being driven through the introduction of new products.

Another factor in the growth of the LDP sector of the beverage industry is the influence of consumers’ seeking products which fit more readily with the trend towards healthier lifestyles. The natural and nutritious content that typifies LDP is exactly what the health-conscious consumer is looking for.

In the more mature markets, current consumer trends that relate to health, different tastes, convenience and value for money still present niche growth opportunities. A particularly notable trend which continues to gain momentum is the demand for enriched dairy products with healthy functionalities.

This includes products such as milk-based probiotics, products with added calcium to help promote healthy bones, and more natural products which are free from preservatives and other additives.

Packaging Response

In meeting this growth in demand for LDP, opportunities are constantly being explored in packaging, seeking to protect the integrity of the products while also helping to stimulate sales through eye-catching look and feel.

The packaging has to meet the stringent requirements of food safety standards, but it also offers excellent opportunities for brand differentiation of LDP, both in products stored at ambient temperatures and for those requiring refrigeration. The challenge is to create innovative, attractive and functional packaging that is still cost-efficient to produce.

Consumers want convenience from their beverages and LDP is no different. There is a move away from standard sizes to packaging formats such as single serve or portion-based options which are more suited to an on-the-go lifestyle.

At the same time, demand remains for multi-serve options, with bigger packaging sizes, particularly in milk, which can meet the needs of the family. At present, cartons and HDPE are the most widely used materials for packaging LDP, with glass, the more traditional option, falling away.

PET currently accounts for two percent of packaged liquid dairy beverages. However, it is one of the materials experiencing significant growth as LDP producers realise the creative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions that PET can offer.

Forecasts predict annual increases of five percent in PET’s share of the packed LDP market by 2016, outstripping the growth forecasts for both carton and HDPE.

Food Safety & Product Integrity

Food safety is vital in any application but in liquid dairy products, the challenges are especially acute since the product quality can be easily compromised by the effects of light, oxygen and temperature.

The packaging solution is defined according to a number of factors including the beverage or liquid dairy product type and its recipe (white milk, flavoured milk, yoghurt, soya), the process, the bottling equipment, the distribution temperature and the desired shelf life.

The reasons for the increased adoption of PET packaging for LDP are numerous, many of which are the same reasons for its growth in other beverage sectors.

It is user-friendly, shatterproof, re-sealable and, importantly in a world where sustainable production is an ever increasing focus, 100 percent recyclable. It also offers freedom in bottle design, with the material’s transparency providing the potential to truly showcase the product.

However, PET has other attributes which make it particularly suited to packaging LDP. Its excellent physical product and food barrier protection benefits ensure great taste, extended shelf life and safety throughout the supply chain, protecting the nutritional and sensorial properties which are so fundamental in LDP.