Bringing Products to Market

By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments

People of a certain age will recall that when they were growing up there was less money around; their parents like most people in the post war period and even well into the late 1960s were paid at the end of the week or end of the month and generally in cash. Consumers had less choice and often many of the goods that were available involved families saving up for them over many months.

Over time things changed and generally for the better with higher pay, better employment prospects and easier access to credit. With more money in circulation, many consumers began to spend more on entertainment and on luxury good, in the 1960s and 70s for the first time many ordinary people were able to take overseas packaged holidays which more than anything, except perhaps television opened up a new world of possibilities, of exotic food and drink, of fashion, luxury goods and new ideas.
People returning from holidays abroad often wanted the food they’d enjoyed for the first time while on holiday. The realisation that things could be different and that there was much more to enjoy created new marketing opportunities for astute manufacturers and brand owners that could see that the world was changing.
As life styles changed manufacturers and consumers adapted accordingly. While consumers wanted to try out different foods and were receptive to novelty, it wasn’t a case of food and drink manufacturers simply flooding the market with new products, seeing what took, and what didn’t was simply dropped. For many manufacturers a cautious approach was needed, for one thing if consumers were to purchase food other than staple products, many of which had a short shelf life, where were they going to store them?

The refrigerator; first viewed as a luxury item in the late 50s and early 1960s became more affordable and was soon regarded as indispensible, extending shelf life for dairy produce, milk, meats and cheeses. However, it was the family freezer that was the game changer. With its widespread adoption in the 1970s shoppers could bulk buy, buying larger packs meant cost savings and people could buy products that they could leave in a freezer for many months before using. Brand owners and food producers responded with innovative products and so too did the packaging developers with new packaging materials, the flexible bags, the sacks, the pillow pouches, which in time lead to products such as stand up pouches and the  ‘ready meal’ concept: the thermoform tray, filmic peel back and decorative carton sleeve.   

Fast forward to today and we find that the range of products available is vast, brand owners often compete globally with many product sectors becoming highly fragmented, maturing, over saturated and commoditised.

With so many products on offer, many of which are similar in price and performance its more necessary than ever that a brand’s identity stands out and that the positive core values associated with the product such as quality, unique selling point, value, product pedigree, etc., come across and are readily accepted by the consumer.

Packaging is the interface between customer and product; it must attract, engage, inform and help to influence purchasing decisions. The challenge for the printer and converter is pretty much the same as it has always been, to produce a high quality product at the lowest unit cost. Colour communication, colour matching and proofing often continues to give cause for concern, this has led to the introduction of technology that highlights and helps resolve issues surrounding the use of inks, substrates and colour/graphical representation. An example is the K Printing Proofer now available from RK Print Coat Instruments. The use of interchangeable print heads enables this bench top unit to proof using flexo, gravure and gravure-offset inks. Moreover wet and dry laminating samples can also be undertaken making the K Printing Proofer an all round test and monitoring device for multi-print process plants.

Of course colour and print are only one of the requirements necessary for a successful pack; packaging technologists and others, though interested in how a pack looks are as equally concerned with matters related to packaging performance.

Packaging professionals must look closely at substrate selection and functionality. Will the pack protect against damage and preserve the product contained within? Will it keep the product, if a food item in peak condition for as long as possible free from product spoiling bacteria and other microorganisms?

An important consideration, especially with many frozen products is how well will the adhesive seal perform?  If the product is a carton that will be used for a fast food product such as pizza, will the coating used repel moisture and grease sufficiently so that the carton and graphics are not compromised?

A package and its component parts, i.e., adhesives, inks, coatings, etc., must be manufactured to meet a variety of often demanding performance requirements. This must be done cost effectively, often on-demand using substrates and consumables that are new or at least are relatively new. Furthermore this often has to be carried out to ISO, Six Sigma, Food Standard Agency and other recognised standards of accreditation.

Packaging for food, beverage and indeed for most product categories is less straightforward than it used to be. Take for example a product sector such as fast food. Valued at $US 6 billion in the U.S., in 1970, the market value in 2013 was valued at a whopping $US 170 billion. Growth rates are equally impressive across Europe and Asia. To serve this highly competitive market, fast food and ready meal companies constantly re-evaluate their products and the way they bring their products to market, this includes packaging.

Packaging as mentioned earlier is far from being straightforward.  Many converters, ink and substrate producers are regularly required to run unfamiliar products or are involved in some aspect of product development. Development generally involves a substantive period of familiarisation and a period of correcting inconsistencies, compensating for known variables and finding workarounds when unexpected problems arise.

As an example, lets consider the development of water based flexible packaging laminating adhesives – a product development process that closely mirrors solvent adhesive and many other product/processes carried out over the years by converting practitioners, research labs, chemical companies and others.

Laminating adhesives were initially cellulose related products that were dissolved in solvents. Formulated thermoplastic rubbers then came on the scene, to be followed for demanding applications such as boil-in-the-bag products by 2-component polyurethane systems and isocyanate cured polyester materials. The need to reduce or eliminate the use of solvents for environmental reasons spurred on the development of water based systems, the first being the relatively simple pressure sensitive acrylic polymers and in time the more complex polyurethane dispersion systems cured with isocyanate.

The development of water based laminating adhesives presented many problems. To begin with unlike aromatic hydrocarbons, esters and other substances, which readily dissolve polymers and resins – water dissolves few of the ingredients.  To make matters worse, additives added to the dispersion or emulsion interfered with adhesion.  In time, laboratory trials using product development and quality control systems and shop floor trial resulted in products that the user trusts and which have become accepted.

Bringing us up to date, its fair to say that in a quality focussed and an environmentally aware environment quality control and product development tools are a necessity. For many when it comes to product development the conundrum of whether to do it yourself or let someone do it for you remains. In decades past it was not uncommon when developing products, undertaking material/consumable evaluation; tests not carried out on a regular basis to rely on the services of outside sources with pilot/lab lines and test rigs. 

However, for reasons, which often include a desire to maintain commercial security, many converters and product producers tend to prefer to keep everything in house.  This has led to a demand for quality bespoke systems that enables users to trial new formulations, materials and processes under precisely controlled conditions. Pilot coating/print/laminating systems such as the built to order VCM speed product development and are configured to meet the most demanding requirements. An alternative system, one that provides a high degree of flexibility and which is more geared towards the user charged with frequent product changes is the Rotary Koater.

Systems such as the Rotary Koater offer a choice of web paths, drying technologies such as hot air, infrared and UV curing as well as 15 different print and coat systems, wet and dry laminating have made this a popular choice for many including adhesive producers and others engaged in bringing products to market.

RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd
Litlington, Royston, Hertfordshire SG8 0QZ

Source: RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd