With regard to packaging technology, what are the trends at the moment?
One of the main pack format developments in recent years has been the move to smaller sized packs—reflecting both changing demographics with many more single person or smaller households, and the increasing popularity of snacking and eating on the move.
Smaller pack sizes mean producers need to increase capacity and speed on their lines in order to get the same amount of product out of the factory. This is creating a demand for further automation and machines that are faster and more flexible, with ease of set up, fast product changeovers, and the ability to cope with multiple ingredients.
Increased automation and higher speeds inevitably mean less human intervention is required on the line. This has further increased the need for reliable inspection systems.
Contaminants that previously would have been spotted by the human eye now need to be detected automatically, leading to the growth in popularity of X-ray inspection systems that can spot a wider variety of foreign bodies than metal detectors, as well as inform of other quality control issues such as missing or deformed products and underfilled packs.
Higher speeds for bagging, tray sealing and labelling also lead to a need for effective seal testing, leak detection and vision systems for label placement. Overall, faster throughput is also creating demand for automated pick and place systems at the end of the line.
In your opinion, what are some upcoming trends?
As well as the growth in smaller pack sizes, with food and beverage markets in general remaining highly competitive, manufacturers are constantly looking at new and different products and pack formats to give their brands an edge and create differentiation on shelf.
We are seeing even more diversity in product types and pack formats—with new, more exotic recipes and many different types of bags, pots and trays. The need to maximise shelf-life has led to a move from over-wrapped to modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) top sealed trays and skin packs.
Packing equipment needs to be able to respond to these needs, and we are seeing demand for machines such as high head (20 or more) multi-head weighers, flexible tray sealers, and high performance inspection and quality Packaging control equipment, including X-ray systems, seal testers, leak detectors for MAP packs, and vision systems.
Much of this is driven by the changing demographics and the growth in smaller pack sizes. Consumer behaviour changes has also played a key role, with continuing demand for convenience foods and ready meals, and eating on-the-go, combined with increasingly sophisticated consumer tastes which have fuelled the demand for consistent new product development.
Wider factors include an increasing awareness of the need to reduce food waste, where the effective portion control of smaller pack sizes and the ability to extend shelf life make an important contribution.
What advice can you give brand manufacturers on what they should consider most important for this year?
A brand’s image and reputation are intrinsically linked with its packaging, so it is vital that each pack demonstrates consistency in terms of its contents, taste and weight, with a high quality appearance and free from any unwanted contaminants. A well packed and presented product can do much to ensure brand consistency and maintain customer satisfaction.
It is vital to maintain a close eye on markets and be able to anticipate and respond quickly to new trends and developments. Always keep your customers and target audiences in mind and be prepared to adapt production and pack formats in line with latest consumer requirements.
There are plenty of opportunities for delivering added value in product ranges—for example, as well as fresh chicken, a company could offer cooked and breaded varieties and ready-to-cook dishes. An element of future-proofing and flexibility in your packaging equipment and lines is therefore important. And, having the right equipment will help to deliver product and brand consistency that in turn will provide reassurance and certainty to your customers.