Soft drinks packaging: Fiber-based tech continues market disruption despite regulatory challenges
29 Mar 2023 --- Soft drinks packagers continue to make efforts at driving down emissions and waste associated with their products. Despite consumer perception steadily shifting against plastics, it remains the most prevalent material for soft drinks globally.
We speak to experts from PulPac, Mondi and Innova Market Insights about the latest trends in soft drink packaging innovation and how the legislative landscape is driving innovation further toward fiber-based solutions.
According to Innova Market Insights’ latest data, PET bottles remain the most common packaging formula for soft drinks globally, but bio-based materials show the fastest growth rate.
The market researcher recently pegged “Renewable rebellion” as a top trend for 2023, noting that consumer attitudes toward fossil-fuel-based products, climate change fears, and geopolitical uncertainties around the availability of oil and gas – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – are driving the movement to renewable packaging made from paper and bioplastics.
PulPac’s chief commercial officer Sanna Fager tells PackagingInsights that renewable, fiber-based alternatives in the soft drinks sector face several key challenges. “As margins are narrow on these types of products, the cost needs to be competitive – even when the product is sustainable,” she says.
“The consumer experience is also very important here, and we’ve seen less successful examples where user experience has been sacrificed in favor of sustainability. And looking at the technologies that are available, we can do both.”
Dry Molded Fiber
PulPac’s Dry Molded Fiber is a manufacturing technology designed to help circularize the F&B packaging economy by using renewable pulp and cellulose resources to produce low-cost, high-performance, fiber-based packaging and single-use products.
“We have a range of standardized and validated products to help packaging producers swiftly transition to Dry Molded Fiber and meet the market’s and the planet’s need for responsibly produced packaging but also gain leverage from spearheading the industry,” says Fager.
“One of those products is a fiber-based lid for soft drinks that is both competitive and sustainable. I expect it to reach the market through some of our license holders soon.”
Dry Molded Fiber bottles, launched in collaboration with PA Consulting, were recently announced as part of the Fiber Bottle Collective, which invites brands to join forces in developing affordable and responsibly produced Dry Molded Fiber bottles.
“With dry molding, we have unlocked the potential of fiber and what fiber can be used for. Over the next few years, I expect to see a boom in fiber-based alternatives replacing plastics. And as fiber is booming, I also expect technical breakthroughs related to sustainable barriers, leveraging fiber applications even further, continues Fager.
“Brands and packaging producers need to lead the way and accelerate the transition toward sustainable and circular solutions. And PulPac and our network of leaders across the value chain are here to support anyone who wants to explore the endless possibilities of Dry Molded Fiber.”
Facing down challenges
Fager says a major challenge in bringing fiber-based products to the soft drinks market is a general need for more clarity in regulations around recycling. She says that difficulty interpreting legislative proposals can become an obstacle to innovation rather than pushing it forward.
“However, by collaborating and joining forces around sustainability, we can create thriving businesses leading the circular transition.”
Recent political drives against greenwashing on national and international levels have mounted pressure on packaging players to protect against misleading marketing.
Innova Market Insights listed this as “Green but clean” in its 2023 top trends, noting that consumer demand has pushed up legal frameworks that could pose a “lawsuit tidal wave” against packaging companies.
“The growing demand for sustainability and environmental responsibility is clear,” says Fager. “I expect that brands that engage in greenwashing or don’t clearly shift toward sustainable and circular solutions will be held accountable. Transparency and honesty will be rewarded. Consumers are getting increasingly knowledgeable, and legislation is catching up.
Today, the combination of efficiency and sustainability is very much a possibility.”
“It’s up to the brands and the industry to turn ambition into action.”
Mondi is expanding its scope on soft drinks packaging by releasing multipack formulas composed of renewable fiber to replace plastic shrink wrapping. Tarik Aniba, sales and marketing director of corrugated solutions at Mondi, says this is an important industry development area.
“The evolution of secondary transport packaging is just what the global drinks industry needs as it looks to the future. A sustainable, functional and fully automated alternative to plastic shrink wrap means that brand owners can safely switch to a recyclable paper-based packaging solution without any risk to their product or logistics,” he says.
Mondi’s Hug&Hold comprises two elements that provide secure transportation and stacking of bundles of bottled drinks. The first element is a patent-pending sleeve made of 100% kraft paper that wraps around the bottles to hold them securely. Made from Advantage SpringPack Plus, it offers high tensile strength and can withstand enough weight to strap and stabilize the bottles during transportation, claims the company.
The second element is a corrugated clip that holds the bottles around the neck. An integrated handle means a bundle of bottles can be carried and transported more easily.
With Hug&Hold, Mondi says it is the first company to manufacture and market a complete concept, providing a strong and stable solution that is made from renewable and fully recyclable materials suitable for existing paper waste streams throughout Europe.
Silvia Hanzelova, sales director of specialty kraft paper at Mondi, says: “Leveraging Mondi’s team of kraft paper and corrugated specialists, we were able to develop a fully paper-based solution with minimal material usage. After thorough testing with Krones and a global beverage brand, Hug&Hold has been confirmed regarding runnability and viability.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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