Pet Food Packaging Is Big Business Worldwide

Recently Ahlstrom, the huge Finnish-based “high-performance fiber” company, sponsored a two-day seminar in Barcelona, Spain, on pet food packaging for dogs and cats.

In his welcoming remarks, conference organizer Rein J. Middelburg noted, “Pet food is a major global industry in which several of the world's biggest food producers have a stake.” Pet food is also a growth industry, with a yearly 6% increase in volume, against only 3% for “human food.”

In the US, the pet food market (dogs and cats only) is estimated to be about $11.5 billion for 2001. The top eight players are Mars Inc. (No. 1 globally), Nestlé SA, Ralston Purina, Hill's Pet Nutrition, H.J. Heinz, the Iams Co., Royal Canin SA, and Cargill Inc. The total worldwide pet food packaging (flexible and rigid) market is estimated to be $500 million (US).

Basic flexible packaging concepts used in pet food packaging are bags, sacks, stand-up pouches, retort pouches, thermoformed PP/EVOH/PP trays with peelable lids, and a few “chubb” packs.

Reviewing packaging types, Greg Wood (PIRA Intl.-U.K.), reported stand-up pouches are “the biggest growing area in recent years and are set to continue to grow strongly.”

Wood noted vacuum-packed pouches of dried food recently have appeared on retail shelves. While pouches afford the opportunity for novel shapes to be incorporated into their design, and some examples have emerged, this has yet to be fully exploited.

Wood says two- and three-ply papers (for dry food only) are very important, typically SOS (self-opening satchel) bags for smaller sizes and flat for larger sizes.

One subject of major importance in pet food bags is the battle of pre-made bags versus vertical form/fill/seal (VFFS). Bert Jan Hardenbol (Bosch Packaging) said, “In the pet food industry, pre-made bags are still a widespread phenomenon because of the large sizes used as well as special features like carrying handles and reclosability, and because there were no alternatives to pre-made bags in combination with fill and seal machines. VFFS machines that can produce from rollstock are now available. These machines offer most features and combination of features.”

But there is more to the relationship between the pet food industry and VFFS machinery. In recent years more and more pet food manufacturers are trying to sell their products through the regular supermarkets. Under pressure from these supermarkets and because of consumer buying habits and high shelf price, a trend was set toward smaller bag sizes for pet food.

As in all industries, the smaller the quantity of product per unit sold, the higher the packaging costs for that unit will be. And with prices in supermarkets already under pressure, a need for efficiency and cost-savings in packaging was clear. Hardenbol stressed the economy inherent in using VFFS machinery to convert paper stock into bags and sacks.

At the seminar Severine Schott, Ahlstrom product development, introduced Gervalux 501, a barrier coated paper for VFFS pet food packaging.

She explained, “A cellulose fiber mat provides the strength properties of the paper and thus of the finished bag. This substrate is then coated on the front side to ensure a high level of printability. The paper is chemically treated to achieve grease resistance. Moreover, a layer of heat-sealable resin is deposited on the reverse side to provide heat-sealability. The paper is then printed. It can also be varnished.”

Stanley Sacharow has been in the flexible packaging industry for more than 35 years. His company, The Packaging Group, is an organizer of targeted conferences and a consultant to the international packaging/converting industry. Contact him at 732/636-0885; univpac@aol.com.


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