There's a great old adage that packaging protects what is sells and sells what it protects. The first thing food and beverage manufacturers need to think of when they come up with a new product is how they are going to package it. It is crucial to protect the product from physical damage and preserve the product itself during transit.
These factors will determine the choice of either rigid packaging or flexible packaging.
Many flexible packaging options are cheaper and more convenient for the manufacturer, transporter, and customer than their rigid counterparts. Yet how much do you really know about flexible packaging? Are you taking advantage of the latest advances flexible packaging has to offer?
This article will bring you up to speed by diving into the detail on different types of flexible packaging and films and their applications.
What Is Flexible Packaging?
Flexible packaging is malleable by nature. It is packaging made from plastic polymers or a blend of materials such as (coated) paperboard, foil, and paper. Shrink and stretch films, wraps, and flexible laminates all fall into this category.
The packaging has earned the name flexible because of its elastic properties and/or bendability. Good examples of flexible packages are the vacuum pouch, and bags such as dustbin liners.
Generally, flexible packages take the form of their contents. To a certain extent, the design of the pouch determines its shape. All types of flexible packaging are made of "films" - what the trade calls the sheets or layers of material used.
Flexible Packaging Film Types
Each type of film has different properties. Its use depends on the nature of the product that needs packaging. The packaging industry loves its abbreviations because they are so much easier than trying to get your tongue around the long name.
We have listed them below more or less in order of popularity.
LLDPE, or linear low-density polyethylene, is the most flexible of plastic sheeting films. Other prized properties of this sheeting are its durability and its extra strength. It is a blended form of LDPE and has the ability to absorb impacts without puncturing or tearing.
About 80% of LLDPE production worldwide is used in food and non-food packaging, and to make shrink and stretch film. The upward trend of its application as a food packaging film is due to the high-performance structures that make it less permeable. In practical terms, this means enhanced flavour of the contents of the packaging and increased shelf life.
LLDPE is also used in extrusion coating applications as an added layer of protection in paper and paperboard packaging for liquid containers.
Non-food packaging applications include pond liners and backing for carpets.
Low-density polythene (LDPE) was first introduced as a packaging film in 1933. It is the most common type of plastic sheeting but lacks the tensile strength and density of LLDPE. It is useful, though, in a range of applications where those properties are not a top priority.
LDPE is often used in food packaging to make lids for coffee and other cans. Bread bags, six-pack beer can rings, and fruit and vegetable bags of the kind used in grocery stores are often made of LDPE too.
LDPE has been a boon to the food processing industry since it ensures compliance with food safety standards. It has standards approval for contact with food and is recyclable.
Bi-axially-oriented polyethylene is one of the polymer films that LabelProfi uses most often in the production of flexible packaging.
Products requiring a high degree of stiffness and tensile strength favour BOPE films. Not only do they exhibit good puncture resistance and heat-seal strength, but they also provide a good moisture barrier. They also have the advantage of high gloss and transparency.
Production of these films is relatively low cost. BOPE is often used for items such as shopping bags, perishable fruit and vegetables. They are also used for pharmaceuticals packaging, as well as for liquids and spices. Pesticides and industrial goods and laundry detergents and some cosmetics also make use of BOPE packaging.
Food manufacturers prize biaxially- oriented polyethylene terephthalate (BOPET) for its stiffness properties as well as chemical inertness, high tensile strength, and heat-resistance. It also serves well as an oxygen barrier and protects products like coffee and convenience foods against loss of aroma and oxidation. BOPET is also widely used as a surface film in laminations.
BOPET is used most often to make lids for yoghurt containers and ready meals of the fresh or frozen variety. BOPET is usually either white or transparent.
This extruded bi-axially orientated polypropylene polymer is a great retail packaging solution with excellent strength and clarity. It is an effective moisture barrier. Often BOPP is given a foil coating to improve its performance when, for example, hot filling vacuum pouches.
Clear wraps and a range of snack food packages use BOPP films. Gusseted and non-gusseted bags and food pouches make frequent use of BOPP in dairy product and confectionery packaging. BOPP is also used for pesticide products and personal care and hygiene products.
BOPA, or biaxially-oriented polyamide, is exceptionally tough and puncture-resistant, and value for its high degree of transparency. It is a good barrier against oxygen, certain chemical substances, and aromas. It is most often used in the packaging of perishable food, distilled goods, and food prone to oxidation. BOPE is also suitable for agricultural and some medical products.
Plastic Polymers Are Not the Only Type of Flexible Packaging
Polymer films are not the only types of flexible packaging. Kraft is a type of tear-resistant paper manufacturers for its high tensile strength and elasticity. Kraft in the form of single multiwall paper bags and sacks for products such as cement, chemicals, food, flour and sugar. It is also used as wrapping in the food industry and for grocery bags.
Aluminium foil and other metalized substrates are an excellent barrier against gases, light, and moisture. Aluminium reflects radiant heat well.
Many flexible packaging solutions consist of a multi-layer structure, with one of the polymer films or paper supporting the aluminium or metalized films.
Such laminates provide an excellent odour or aroma barrier. Flavoured beverages, foodstuffs such as sauces, and preserved foods and powders are often found in such laminated packaging. The pharmaceutical industry also relies on laminated packaging.
8. Single and Multi-Layer Materials
Depending on the product being packaged, either single or multi-layer materials are used. Each layer has a protective function and offers a barrier that prevents contamination or extends freshness. The multi-layer structure also provides extra resistance against bursting, puncturing, or tearing.
Sealing capabilities, as well as tensile strength, are two factors to consider when deciding on the right flexible packaging for your product.
Biodegradable plastics are trending upwards in an effort to make the flexible packaging industry more sustainable, and to go beyond the recycling abilities of LDPE and polyethylene and polypropylene types of polymers.
Many of LabelProfi's flexible packaging products carry recyclable or biodegradable seals. We are certified to many of the world's major packaging standards, such as FDA, RoHS, REACH and compostable standards under EN13432. We are also certified to the Environmental Quality Management System under ISO 14001:2015 and the Quality Management system ISO 9001:2015.
We are proud of our focused commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices. All areas of our operations favour and focus on ecological and sustainable solutions.
This commitment to environmental responsibility extends to the digital printing technologies employed in the production of full-colour flexible packaging to our customers' specifications. We even provide free samples upon request to show that we can fulfil your precise requirements.
LabelProfi provides a host of label and flexible packaging solutions for smaller and medium runs. We have been in the business for 25 years. Our success lies in our always striving to use the latest technologies.
Our continuous technological advancement enables us to come up with innovative packaging. Manufacturers love the versatility of the custom-made label and flexible packaging films that we offer.
You will be surprised at the wide range of different flexible packaging solutions that we can provide! Everything from pre-printed vacuum pouches and sachets to blister packs for the pharma industry. We specialize in rolls of printed or plain plastic bags and labels.
Our laminated and multi-layer products most often fall into the tailor-made category. For this and all supply orders, we offer detailed technical consultation before production. We pride ourselves on our precise collaboration with our customers.
Feel free to download our label and flexible packaging guide at no charge. We are more than happy to give you expert technical assistance and advice. Phone or e-mail us to discuss your requirements with one of our experts.