Many Good Reasons for Liquid Dairy to Switch to PET Packaging
By Sidel Group
Acting in a competitive marketplace, typically impacted by low margins, liquid dairy manufacturers relentlessly seek innovations to achieve product differentiation and a sustainable business. To answer those challenges, Sidel can support the companies to switch their liquid dairy production to PET bottles and benefit from increased marketing opportunities, while leveraging a cost-effective and flexible production. Guillaume Rolland, Vice President of Sensitive Products at Sidel, shares his expert insights into this topic.
How do you judge the potential of PET in the liquid dairy industry?
As the market leader in aseptic PET, Sidel can leverage a list of business successes – from notable liquid dairy companies – to explain why many industry players active in this segment worldwide have been moving their production to PET. Perfectly defined liquid recipes and processing methods, combined with the right PET bottle and aseptic packaging solutions, can ensure maximum product integrity along the supply chain, while optimising uptime and costs. It is important to understand why PET really is an attractive packaging material for the dairy industry, able to offer great potential in terms of product safety, marketing opportunities, as well as flexible and cost-effective production.
Do you see an increasing PET adoption trend in the liquid dairy products (LDP) market?
Globally, the use of PET as a packaging material is expected to continuously grow within the liquid dairy sector. Traditionally packaged in carton or HDPE containers, liquid dairy products bottled in PET are forecasted to grow by 4.4 per cent in the period from 2018 to 2020. With 13.7 billion package units today, PET-packaged products are estimated to reach 14.9 billion units worldwide in 2020. The adoption of PET started in Europe nearly 20 years ago and has been deployed worldwide now, for chilled and ambient distribution drinks, for UHT milk, flavoured milk, or soy milk. The trend is even bigger around on-the-go formats than around family formats. In fact, the bottle sizes up to 500 ml represent more than two thirds of those PET packages, meaning 8.3 billion units in 2018, projected to reach 9.6 billion units in 2020.
What are the main reasons for PET winning across this segment?
When packaging liquid dairy products like white milk, flavoured milk, enriched milk, plant milk, soy milk, or drinking yogurt, multiple variables can influence their quality, including microorganisms, light, oxygen, and temperature. The PET growth can be credited especially to this packaging material’s 100 per cent recyclability, its excellent barrier properties and its neck and cap tightness that ensures food safety. Moreover, from transparent to opaque solutions, PET packaging alternatives can ensure top product protection and quality, while delivering the expected shelf life without need for aluminium foil for a more sustainable business.
Are there key business successes with LDP players that you can share?
It is more than two decades that dairy producers worldwide have been trusting PET bottles to refresh their brands, working with both refrigerated and shelf-stable products. Many of them have been working with Sidel trusting our 40-year aseptic packaging expertise and 35+ years of experience in PET production. For instance, LSDH France launched its UHT white milk in PET bottle without aluminium foil in 2007. In Brasil, Jussara switched its UHT white and flavoured milk production from carton to PET, for family and on-the-go bottle formats. Later on, this Brazilian company also launched a range of on-the-go, lactose-free products. In China, the world’s number one liquid dairy producer, Yili has released its six-month-shelf-life premium drinking yogurt in PET bottles.
With light and oxygen affecting milk- and plant-based drinks, how can PET ensure a safe product?
It is important to highlight that PET barrier solutions ensure product safety across the supply chain, with good oxygen barrier properties, 15 to 30 times higher compared to monolayer and three-layer HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). Regarding light protection, this is achieved through different preform manufacturing technologies and their light blocking capabilities. One of them is the injection of monolayer preform, using a standard injection tool system, mixing PET material with master batch from various suppliers. The other one is the multi-layer preform, which can be produced using either over-moulding or co-injection technologies. Those barrier solutions are adjustable in terms of additives and weight according to product recipe, bottle size, and the desired extended shelf life to be achieved.
Across the globe, we see a trend towards functional and health-oriented drinks in different packaging with varying sizes. How can PET address these challenges and help meet the changing customer needs?
For any product type or package format released on the market, PET packaging gives the opportunity to attract consumers with great brand differentiation, due to the bottle design freedom offered by the Injection Stretch Blow-Moulding (ISBM) technology and by the inherent and geometric properties of the PET raw material itself. Round or square, asymmetric or with specific handling, its high marketing potential opens up virtually unlimited possibilities to design whatever premium or affordable package. While providing a unique communication platform for brands – that are increasingly using labels or the container itself to engage with their consumers – PET bottles are also allowing users to see the content inside, thanks to their transparency. Easy to open and handle, it is a functional and convenient type of package leading to a great consumer experience.
As market demands are quickly changing, shifting from standard bottle size towards smaller packages, PET offers sheer endless possibilities to enhance production flexibility with simple and easy changeovers on the production line, while refreshing the brand of a complete bottle family from large to on-the-go formats to answer every need. Sidel can help in designing a unique and ergonomic bottle in line with dairy brands’ requirements. We can evaluate PET bottle strength and performance across the supply chain: through laboratory tests under real production and supply-chain conditions, we determine the most suitable packaging designs, PET barrier solutions, sizes, shapes, caps, and filling volumes.
To manage the booming product diversification and SKU’s proliferation, how can the dairy players benefit from a flexible and cost-effective PET bottling production?
In this industry, production flexibility is particularly key in terms of product recipes, bottle formats and shapes, cap and label applications: all of that without compromising on high line efficiency over time. Low- and high-acid products can be bottled on the same Sidel Aseptic PET packaging line, from 0.2-litre to two-litre formats. Bottles can be sealed with standard flat caps or sport caps from 28 mm to 38 mm, including the possibility to add specific over-caps, to further differentiate the bottles. To ensure a reliable and efficient production, the line is designed to offer maximum flexibility with reduced downtime for product changeovers, and a simple three-hour cleaning and sterilization period between bottle-to-bottle productions.
Working as a versatile marketing tool, the PET bottles offer many possibilities when it comes to decoration. On top of roll-fed labels or sleeve labels, a complete sleeve covering the cap can also be used, as such increasing the communication-facing surface. The same bottle shape can be customized with different cap colours and label decorations, in order to easily multiply the SKUs with minor changes in the production process. Adaptable to niche markets or mass production, the Sidel Aseptic PET complete lines are optimized from low- to high-speed outputs, with a range spanning from 10,000 to 60,000 bottles per hour, according to the forecasted production volumes.
Where do you see potential for cost-effective and eco-friendly production?
Starting from a raw material perspective, PET is the most affordable plastic available on the market, with prices that remained quite stable over the past ten years. In the PET market, the offer exceeds the demand and preform suppliers are available worldwide, both aspects contributing to a competitive supply chain.
It is also notable that the right-weighting potential in PET bottles is huge, as the water industry largely demonstrated. Sidel has been partnering with its customers to define the container’s weight requirements to strengthen the product stability through the supply chain, while ensuring the best consumer experience. For instance, aseptically packaging liquid dairy products in PET via the Sidel Aseptic Combi Predis™ – the patented blow-fill-cap solution with dry preform sterilization technology – ensures packaging right-weighting since the bottle does not suffer any thermal impact due to the sterilization. For example, the average weight of a one-litre PET bottle for UHT milk is 24 g, whereas a HDPE bottle for the same application weighs between 28 and 32 g, with no possibility for lightweighting. With the good neck and cap tightness, the sealing does not require aluminium foil; consequently dairy manufacturers have less raw material and less equipment to acquire. Using no water and almost no chemicals, the Sidel Aseptic Combi Predis globally contributed to save seven billion litres of water and 57,000 tons of PET, while producing a staggering 46 billion bottles.
Do you offer integrated process solutions for LDP players?
Sidel’s fully integrated and technically advanced solutions employ the processing equipment and capabilities of Tetra Pak Processing Systems (TPPS). Over the years, Sidel and TPPS have been combining competencies and expertise to define and execute more than 100 complete line projects. As such, the company is perfectly established to support the liquid dairy sector in new product launches or in a switch to PET.
Are there any notable solutions in your portfolio when aseptic matters?
A clear proof point of Sidel’s leadership in aseptic applications is the company’s Aseptic Combi Predis. The solution merges dry preform sterilization with aseptic blowing, filling, and sealing functions within a single production enclosure and respects the fundamental concept which underpins state-of-the-art aseptic packaging rules: producing a commercially sterile product, filled in a sterile zone, in a previously sterilized package. It differs from traditional aseptic technology because the package sterilization takes place during the preform rather than during the bottle phase. It offers many benefits, including safety and simplicity, cost-effectiveness, no water, and the use of very few chemicals. More than 100 Aseptic Combi Predis installations worldwide are a clear endorsement of this technology. As a further indicator of the reliability of the system, Sidel received Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approval for its Aseptic Combi Predis blow-fill seal filler, making the solution the world’s first – and only – aseptic PET filling equipment with dry preform sterilization validated for low acid manufacturing and commercial distribution in the United States market.
Image courtesy of Sidel Group