Spotlight on supplements: Packaging designers balance eco-sustainability and product safety as market proliferates
25 Jul 2022 --- Dietary supplements are on the rise globally in line with growing availability and consumer awareness. Protein powders, immunity boosters, and beauty and sleep aids are increasingly common as companies develop ever-more effective dietary additions to help consumers with various aspects of everyday life.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred industry and consumers toward supplements to protect the public against virus symptoms. However, packaging these products now presents a challenge, as many items require particular safety features.
In this special report, PackagingInsights speaks with experts from ProAmpac, Innovia Films and Swiss Pack about the latest developments in the supplement packaging market. We take a look at how common pack designs are being transferred to supplement products, the challenges companies face in making this transition, and the latest R&D in this space.
Innova Market Insights recently reported that supplement launches increased globally by 16% year-over-year when comparing 2020 and 2021.
Eco versus safety
Ben Davis, product manager for ProAmpac, explains that there are fundamental similarities between supplement packaging and other product spaces but that producers must be more careful when choosing designs.
“Sustainable packaging concerns in the supplement space are not drastically different from other markets. However, supplement brands need to consider product safety requirements first and foremost. For example, protein powder supplements need a material that provides excellent moisture and oxygen barrier coupled with high-performing sealant technology to seal through any powder residue to prevent the product inside from congealing,” he says.
“After product barrier requirements are identified, brands can advance to environmental sustainability considerations. Packaging reduction typically has one of the highest impacts on a product’s carbon footprint because of weight and space savings.”
For example, ProAmpac offers recyclable films and papers through its ProActive Recyclable line that can be incorporated into its existing Pro-Pouch and Pro-Sachet lines.
As a producer of poly-coated paper single-use stick packs and stand-up pouches for powdered food, its incorporation of ProActive Recyclable into its supplement packaging portfolio has been critical to supporting its customer relationships, says Davis.
Shamir Shah, director of UK-based packaging group Swiss Pack, says one of the main cosmetic considerations producers are looking for is designs that make their products look like pharmaceutical items.
This appearance enhances consumer trust and gives the impression that supplements provide a medical benefit. However, it also usually entails using needless materials that add to the environmental footprint.
“Like most markets, end customers are very mindful of their environmental impact. Supplements are no different in this respect, and expectations have risen to ensure packaging in consideration of the environment. Traditionally, supplements have tended to follow pharma products and in this respect have used materials such as aluminum that really are not a necessity,” he explains.
“This [feature] is more for aesthetic purposes and the perception of being almost medical grade. The reality is that most supplement products can utilize monolayer materials that are 100% recyclable. Compostable packaging is an alternative. However, we would urge caution as this may not be suitable for all supplement products or indeed end markets.”
Innova Market Insights further found that in 2021, the bottle was the leading packaging format among global supplement launches tracked. In 2021, plastic – not specified was the leading packaging material among global supplement launches tracked.
The top sustainability-related claims among global supplement launches tracked in 2021 are Recyclable (11%) and Green Dot Certified (2%).
Pairing sustainability with aesthetics
To avoid the unnecessary use of harmful materials, Swiss Pack employs a number of alternative measures to ensure its designs meet hygiene specifications while also appealing to consumers, Shah says.
“We offer various finishing features to enhance the pouch experience, including laser scoring to provide added convenience to customers so that they can access the product without damage to the function of the pouch and also without the need for scissors.”
“We also use euro holes, which allows flexibility in merchandising, especially where space saving is required by retailers.”
With e-commerce being such an important component of direct-to-customer product sales, a lot of customers are moving toward flexible packaging, Shah continues. This shift is partly to save on distribution costs, but in the process, it also brings about resource efficiencies.
“An average of 60-70% less material is used in flexible packaging compared to rigid packaging, and the overall carbon footprint right from manufacturing to distribution is reduced substantially. The only complication is that the waste handling and recycling facilities are not geared to handle and recycle lightweight, flexible packaging. But the industry is gradually gearing up to this challenge,” he explains.
Flexible materials, legislative compliance
British flexible film manufacturer Innovia Films focuses on helping supplement companies reduce their carbon footprint while also ensuring hygiene standards. Stephen Langstaff, business development manager for packaging at the company, explains that flexible plastics are perfect for catering to both of these requirements.
“The focus of many supplement companies is how to minimize packaging while maintaining product protection and pack integrity. Functionality and environmental credentials need to be combined with regulatory compliance, including food safety at the product packaging design stage,” he says.
“Low-density flexible materials such as biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) are the most resource-efficient packaging option because of their lightweight. They use less energy to manufacture and transport. High-barrier film grades provide a barrier to oxygen and moisture to protect the product, and the right choice of flexible films can ensure that the final pack is a monomaterial and fully recyclable.”
“Consumers prefer the convenience of flexible packaging – they’re lighter than their rigid counterparts and easier to handle, carry, and store. Plus, many are easy to open and stand up for scooping out products. Many of these containers are equipped with convenient reclose options to make the packaging resealable for convenience and extend product freshness.”
Langstaff also notes that the idea that flexible plastics cannot be recycled is a dangerous misconception, often holding companies back from choosing more environmentally sustainable material choices. “Fortunately, things are changing. There are regular announcements in the press regarding flexible packaging recycling investments and private initiatives to collect flexible packaging,” he says.
“As governments start to mandate curbside collections of flexible packaging, this will accelerate the industry further.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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