Capri Sun’s runaway success in North America for Kraft Foods is alerting other beverage brands to the potential stand-up pouches offer, while machine line speeds are increasing all the time.
That’s according to Dennis Calamusa, president and founder of Allied Flex Technologies, a North American supplier of stand-up pouch machinery, who spoke to us about current machinery trends.
Calamusa told BeverageDaily.com that Capri Sun’s success had led other firms to recognize single-serve or multi-serve pouches as an “untapped opportunity”, not just in juice-based drinks but also in isotonic sports and energy drinks and enhanced waters.
Discussing another North American pouch success story, Diageo’s frozen alcoholic drink Parrot Bay, Calamusa said such RTD products were actually first launched by Brown-Forman in March 1995.
Brown-Forman’s early pouch exploits
But Tropical Freezes did not take off properly, with the pouch-based frozen cocktails packed into cardboard multipacks for retail sale, but the flexible format itself not really marketed.
“There are convenience advantages for pouches, notably for line extensions – where you can put a beverage in a pouch and create a new market is phenomenally attractive to many companies,” Calamusa said.
“Today we’ve probably got five to six brands in pouches – for single-serve, alcoholic, slushy, refreshing drinks – with great graphics, marketing on TV. Brands see that it’s not just a seasonal product. This shows what’s possible,” he added.
Machine advances and trends
When it comes to pouch filling machines, brands have a choice between fill and seal machines (using pre-made consumables) and form-fill-seal (FFS) machines, with the pouch formed by the machine.
For smaller niche players, using pre-made stock is a good strategy, Calamusa explained, “since they don’t have volumes that can typically justify the more expensive form-fill-seal (FFS) machinery”.
“When we start talking about the major multinationals, who can come out with a new product for millions of units relatively quickly, it’s hard for them to afford what is then the extra expense of a pre-made approach, so they definitely lean towards a form-fill-seal strategy.”
In terms of technology, FFS machines now require fewer staff to operate – since consumables no longer have to be fed in by personnel, Calamusa said, while ‘automatic splicing’ of flow wrap cuts waste and means staff don’t have to stop machines to change rolls.
“We also have the ability to do line cutting and shaping online – for instance, there’s a program underway with Gatorade in the US for a single-use energy drink without a spout,” he added.
“That a shaped pouch that’s die-cut online and run in a ‘multi-up’ format, on Mespack equipment out of Barcelona in Spain.”
Novel shapes…to a point
For big brands the appeal of novelty pouch shapes only went so far, Calamusa said, but they still desire pouch shapes that are easier to hold in the hand, and have more attractive profiled shapes –imitating those of bottles, for instance.
Other machine trends include a move towards larger multi-serve pouches, produced by FFS machines that provided automatic spout insertion, he added.
“Another breakthrough is been the ability of machinery to operate in a ‘multi up’ intermittent motion format, so depending on the pouch size you can run, say, ‘four-up’, with four pouches produced on every index of the machine,” Calamusa said.
“So running 60 cycles/minute four times gives you 240 pouches/minute – that’s a major trend. Then we’re also seeing some noise in the marketplace around continuous motion formats. So the operational boundaries are being pushed.”
No need for real speed…without a market
Calamusa says some beverage manufacturers insist they need a pouch line that runs as fast as their bottling lines. “I always challenge them on that because they don’t have the same market that they have for their bottling lines,” he said.
“Most people aren’t going to install a 500/minute system if they haven’t even introduced a pouch to the marketplace, but clever companies are following a transitional strategy,” Calamusa added.
“Instead of waiting for a 600-700/minute machine that could be here in 10 years, they’re starting today with a 200/minute machine, establishing themselves in the market.”
Stand-up pouch machinery buyers are able to use whatever consumables they choose on most machines, Calamusa said, although the likes of Fres-Co and Guala Group did tie machines to their own consumables, in a similar fashion to Tetra Pak in the paperboard carton space.
Another pouch specialist , Charles Murray, CEO of Florida-based PPI Technologies, which sells flexible packaging machinery and consumables, told us that the beverage industry had traditionally been dominated by Capri Sun and the ‘rectangle and straw’ pouch.
Line speed and lower waste
But more pouches are being introduced with spout fitments and shapes, he explains, and PPI will launch its trademarked KoolPaQ cylindrical pouch and spout – with no side seals – at PackExpo in Las Vegas this month.
PPI Technologies saw more customers choosing fill-seal machines for use with pre-made pouches, Murray explained.
“Speed, ease of changeover and lower waste and efficiencies compared to FFS machines are the drivers. Machines can be made to run both fill seal and FFS technologies,” he adds.
In terms of line speed, Murray said PPI Technologies offered 500/minute machines with spout insertion on a FFFS (form, fill, fitment, seal machine made by German supplier SN), one of which is used to fill apple juice in Benelux.
In future it would be possible to fill 600-1000 pouches/minute with spouts, Murray added, noting that PPI’s machines run are compatible with any third-party films.
Murray said PPI Technologies saw potential for pouches in the waters, RTD cocktail and wine segments, and noted that his firm has also doubled sales of its patented CarboPouch for draught beer over the last 12 months.