- February 01, 2001, David J. Bentley Jr., RBS Technologies
Do you ever wonder why so many different constructions can exist for a flexible packaging laminate? Do you think life would be much simpler if all items packaged in a flexible laminate product used the same laminate? Unfortunately, this will never be possible. There are many different reasons for the variety of flexible packaging laminates.
The most important reason is the requirement for product protection. Some food products must have protection from oxygen, moisture, or other contaminants. Other food products must have a packaging material that allows them to breathe. Certain industrial items must use a laminate material that will handle heavy, large, or oddly shaped contents. Each item, therefore, requires a special combination of substrates using the necessary adhesives or bonding techniques to combine them.
A less important reason from a technical standpoint, but equally influential on the choice of a laminate, is the preference of a consumer for a particular package. These preferences often have no technical basis as the following three examples will demonstrate.
When packaging crispy snack foods such as potato chips, consumer product companies usually will use a package that is itself stiff and has very little softness. A laminate for such a package will contain paper or perhaps a cellophane film to make the package seem very inflexible. The reason for this is that consumers associate the freshness or crispness of the contents of the package with the way the package itself feels. Thus, a stiff laminate makes a package that consumers like, because they equate its stiffness with crisp contents.
The second example involves regional differences. Consumers in some areas will purchase snack foods only if the package has a window so they can see the contents. In other areas, the opposite is true. People will purchase a package only if the contents are completely hidden from view by printing or use of an opaque substrate as a component of the lamination. Making the window for the first option in this example is easy. One simply uses completely clear films as the components of the laminate that will form the package and then does not use 100% ink coverage.
The final example involves the use of aluminum foil or a metallized substrate as part of a laminate for a flexible package. Although foil or a metallized substrate often has a good reason for being there, such as providing barrier properties, foil is sometimes in a laminate only to provide cosmetic appeal. The metallic look lends an upscale or expensive look to the laminate and can convey the message that the consumer is purchasing a premier product.
Similar to the stiff package, the foil package is attempting to convince the potential purchaser about something related to the package contents that may not be the case technically.
Speaking of regional differences, the variations in packaging in different parts of the world can be interesting. Again, local preferences may influence the package. Two examples of this involve packages that are actually rigid but contain some flexible components. A plastic yogurt container with a flexible, peelable lid is one example. In some Asiatic countries, this product is exactly the same as found in the US, except it has a clear plastic snap-on lid over the peelable lid. An integral component of this lid is a hinged spoon made of the same plastic on the underside of the lid. After removing the outer plastic lid, the consumer breaks the spoon away from the lid, unhinges it, and then has a ready-to-use utensil for consuming the yogurt.
The other example is a rigid package used in Europe for airline meals. The package is essentially two rigid bowls with peelable lids to expose the contents. One bowl for breakfast consumption contains a component for cereal and another for milk. After mixing these and consuming them, the user opens another part of the package to expose the hot component: scrambled eggs, a meat, and perhaps a bread item.