This innovative new book documents the historical development of flexible packaging from its early beginnings to the present day and beyond. It outlines evidence to show how flexible packaging has become the most important packaging method in use today. Flexible packaging has become the most important packaging method in use today. It has acquired this position by offering a huge number of options which enable manufacturers to reduce costs and bring their products to consumers in convenient and attractive formats. Requirements for improved convenience, reduced contamination and extended shelf life are consistently adding to its growth. Flexible packaging materials are the fastest growing segment in the packaging industry. This is due to their favorable cost, consumer convenience and improved life cycle compared to other packaging materials.

This book uses evidence from primary packaging industry sources and from secondary sources such as packaging industry journals, to build up a clear picture of the evolution of flexible packaging. Although flexible packaging had its beginning in the 1800s, it was not until the creation of new materials in the early 1950s that it really began to gain impetus. This occurred, and has continued to occur at different times in different countries, as setting trends and the evolution of flexible packaging has been greatly affected by undeveloped and now sometimes categorized as third world countries. Flexible packaging has undergone a series of development phases. New methods have been created and then modified as breakthroughs in material technology and consumer demand have occurred. This book documents the key points in the evolutionary journey and explains how the packaging industry arrived at its current position and what the possible future holds.

Early Beginnings of Flexible Packaging

The technological ages that bridged the late 1800s and drew into the early 1900s are often thought as the industrial revolution in North America. It was during this time that a good variety of paper forming and sealable materials were being developed that set the ground for a lot of flexible packaging’s egress coming about promptly after World War 2.
Colgate was the first company to attempt to market toothpaste in a collapsible tube in the late 1800s. The concept was a good one, however, the lead-based paint and varnish that was used to coat the tins which were to become the greatest obstacle flexible packaging had to overcome.

One of the first flexible packages by modern day standards was discovered by accident while someone was attempting to make a rain hat. This happened at a DuPont company experiment that took place in the mid-1800s. The experiment involved coating one side of a piece of fabric with a liquid type of rubber and then allowing the fabric to dry at room temperature. This resulted in some of the rubber substance drying and partially evaporating and thereby leaving a thin yet cohesive film over the fabric.
The early development of packaging is believed to predate recorded history. Among the earliest forms of packaging were reed baskets, wooden and clay containers. Over the years, a series of developments and discoveries laid the foundation for packaging we know today. The evolution of flexible packaging has been taking place for the past hundred years, during which inedible and edible products have been encased in material of paper, glass, and plastic, to the benefit of producers and consumers alike.

Technological Advancements and Innovations

One of the greatest technological developments in the packaging industry has been that of digital printing. This is expected to revolutionize the way in which packaging is produced and has a wide range of avenues that could potentially be developed. Currently, packaging is typically printed using large-scale print runs using a flexographic method. This requires the use of printing plates and a large minimum volume of packaging to make the process economical.

Flexible packs have a unique capability to capture and retain a market with cutting-edge innovation. Due to their relative infancy compared to other forms of packaging, there still exists a large potential for future development. This has led to a drive from retailers and brand owners to develop packaging that has improved sustainability, improved product protection, and an extended shelf life while minimizing cost. This drive towards new and better products has resulted in an ongoing cycle of innovation where new technologies are always being developed and implemented in order to give that competitive advantage.

The technology and products of flexible packs owe their existence to the development of new materials from which these packs could be made. Initially, the packaging materials were developed around the natural cellulose fibers which are very hydrophilic and cannot be heat sealed. In the 1960s, polymer materials such as polyethylene and oriented polypropylene were developed. These materials were non-porous and chemically resistant, so they could protect perishable foods from spoilage and they were heat sealable. This made the method of ‘form fill and seal’ very popular. Recent advances in material science and polymer engineering have revolutionized the potential performance of flexible packaging materials. These advances include high barrier materials, materials that allow controlled release of gases, antimicrobial materials, and materials with increased strength and toughness.

Impact of Flexible Packaging on Industries

The packaging market in the past was dominated by rigid packaging in the form of metal, glass, and rigid plastics. In the course of about ten years (roughly the 1980s), flexible packaging emerged as a major force in the packaging industry. Flexible packaging has grown at an incredible rate to encompass about 19% of the $100 billion U.S. packaging market, and continues to make inroads into conventional markets. Flexible packaging has had a significant impact in numerous industries, ranging from food to pharmaceuticals. Its success has been due to its ability to provide innovative solutions and improvements over other forms of packaging.

In general, flexible packaging is vital to industries seeking to create brand distinction, and presenting products in an innovative and convenient fashion. For example, in the past decade the pet food industry has witnessed a revolution in packaging. Gone are the days of the standard ‘cereal box’ style package. Pet food now comes in various stand-up pouches and other re-closable packages that provide both convenience and prolonged preservation of the product. Flexible packaging is the catalyst behind these changes. In order to better illustrate how the pet food industry and numerous others have changed due to flexible packaging, the next phase is an analytical breakdown of the pet food industry and its transition to flexible packages.

Future Trends and Possibilities

Flexible packaging has a potential for growth in many segments due to its high versatility, cost effectiveness, and being environmentally friendly. There is a strong trend that many materials used today in rigid packaging formats will be reduced in thickness and will be made into a flexible format. An example is the conversion of a multi-wall paper cement bag to a pinch bottom polyethylene bag. The graphics industry recognizes the advantage of a reverse printed lamination roll good to be converted to a surface printed substrate. In the area of easy opening features on consumer packages, there is a growing interest in the use of peelable sealants and cohesive technologies. The development of the easy open reclosable feature on stand-up pouches has seen significant growth in the last ten years with large-scale conversions from rigid canisters to the flexible format. The substitution of other closures for the press-to-close zipper is also a strong trend. A good example of this is the use of a fitment closure on a flexible package for windshield washer fluid. The fitment replaces the handle of the rigid container for easier pouring and storing capability. This trend is particularly strong in the food market since there is ongoing pressure to develop packaging that improves consumer convenience.

There is a strong trend towards extending the shelf life of food products, and there will continue to be many developments in barrier technology that enables flexible packaging to extend into new markets traditionally held by rigid containers and metal cans. An active and intelligent packaging trend is developing with the incorporation of various indicators or devices that provide information on the quality of the packaged food during transportation and storage. An example of this could be a time-temperature indicator on a package of meat that indicates if the product is still fresh. This indicator technology would provide great benefit to consumers. High-pressure pasteurization and retort food processing are fast-growing technologies in the food and pharmaceutical packaging markets that require high-performance materials that can withstand and, in some cases, enable the process. This technology increases the safety and quality of the food products, and more efficient packaging systems are likely to result in conversion from rigid containers.