Foil-free barrier films are available, filling speeds are rising, costings are acceptable, but the stand-up retort pouch for food is not taking off -- and suppliers are beginning to wonder if retailer reluctance is to blame.
The biggest growth for pouches which can be put through a retort process remains in petfood. According to research from Allied Development Corporation in the US, pet food accounted for half of all retort pouches in 2002. The projection was for volumes in all sectors to double by 2007, with human foods showing annual growth of 11.6%.
Some predicted a dramatic move away from metal cans into stand-up flexible formats. But to date, says group director for innovation, design and marketing at Amcor Flexibles Jonathan Fowle, these expectations have not been met.
Metal oxide coatings on films mean that an aluminium foil layer is no longer the only way of producing a barrier, say suppliers. These technologies may add a 20% premium to materials costs, but they also make the pack microwaveable. For consumers, says Fowle, there are "some quite compelling benefits"
But increasing pressure on retail shelfspace could be to blame for the relatively poor showing of the retort pouch in human food. Fowle explains: "Retailers are generally not too happy with the pouch, because it tapers and creates a lot of wasted space."
Even possible retailer concerns about leaks in pouches are being addressed by the latest technology, says filling machinery company Bossar. Once aluminium is taken out of the laminate, an online system is now available that gives 100% inspection, says president of Bossar in the US Roger Stainton.
Bossar, like others, has also worked to increase filling speeds, and so make the pouch more competitive with other forms of packaging such as food cans and glass.