As featured in Dairy Reporter, Alastair Bearman, Sales and Marketing Director  at Chadwicks looks at the challenges and opportunities for Dairy Packaging.

COVID-19 has created widespread economic uncertainty resulting in many sectors critically reviewing their business models. The dairy packaging sector is no exception and across the supply chain companies have had to innovate and respond quickly to changes in demand.

One area that has seen demand for products increase is in the retail dairy sector accentuating the need for dynamic supply chains that are able to flex capacity to cover peaks in volumes.  Chadwicks saw demand for products into the dairy sector increase by almost 35 percent during the height of the pandemic. This meant moving to a seven day working week to maintain the company’s three week standard lead time, followed by significant investment in an additional printing press to increase annual production capacity for its pre-cut lids into the dairy market by over 500 million additional units.

New technologies challenging the norm

Alastair Bearman explains; “It’s been a challenging period and although there are still uncertainties there are packaging trends and key priorities that seem set to continue. Food-safety and sustainability are two of those trends and innovation is key to addressing them.  New technologies are emerging every year and often this means challenging conventional packaging solutions. For example, at Chadwicks we now offer a paper-based lid, suitable for dairy products, which a few years ago would not have been considered a viable option. However, the high mechanical strength and superior stiffness afforded by paper based lids means they offer great resilience to puncture and tearing ensuring the integrity of the product throughout the supply chain. All of the raw material paper used in the lids comes from sustainable sources. They are fully recyclable (where facilities exist) and have a low carbon footprint.”

“Conversely, in some instances we are seeing a return to ‘older style’ packaging alternatives, such as aluminium and glass as people look to reduce plastic consumption which means that suppliers across the packaging supply chain have to adapt and innovate. Recently, for example at Chadwicks we refined an aluminium lidding material that seals to glass at the specific request of a dairy customer, although historically sealing pre-cut lids to glass presented many technical difficulties. Through a combination of material expertise and on-site technical support, these problems were overcome.  This material use is becoming more widespread as more fully recyclable glass jars are being introduced into the food market.

Demand for recyling and downguaging continues

“Where plastic is still used the developmental emphasis is on recycled plastic and downgauging. Increasingly customers are testing RPET containers. Whereas previously there has been less incentive for brands to use RPET materials, this is now changing due to initiatives such as the tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30 percent recycled content, expected to come into force in April 2022.

“Changes like this bring challenges to every aspect of the supply chain and strong partnerships between equipment suppliers, raw material suppliers and brand owners are essential.  At Chadwicks the move to RPET has meant developing a new heat seal system specifically aimed at providing a comparable seal for lids to RPET pots to ensure the integrity of the product inside, essential for food safety and limiting wastage. Customers do not need to invest in new machinery or even change machinery settings.

“Looking forward to 2022, there is also growing interest in adding recycled content into packaging which still affords the same functionality and optical properties as standard materials. For Chadwicks this has resulted in the development of recycled content white (30%) and clear (50%) PET lidding.

“Plastic reduction remains a key driver for the dairy industry. 50 micron PET is the standard industry plastic lidding gauge, but increasingly there is demand for thinner materials. At Chadwicks we now have a 36 micron product in white, clear and RPET gauges which is ready for market.

“Whilst many companies are making the switch to more eco-friendly alternatives, Covid-19 has caused increased concern over the health and safety of products. It seems likely that going forward the focus for the dairy packaging sector will continue to be around developing innovative, sustainable alternatives that do not compromise on food safety.”