New flexible pouch cuts packaging and carbon footprint

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

The newly-launched flexible pouch is significantly less than half the weight of a can of the same size
The newly-launched flexible pouch is significantly less than half the weight of a can of the same size

Related tags: The pack, Carbon footprint

As UK food and drink manufacturers search for ways to reduce packaging and carbon footprints, a new drinks launch in Thailand could point the way ahead.

The newly-launched flexible pouch is significantly less than half the weight of a can of the same size.

After five years of preparation, the pouch for beverages from materials supplier Huhtamaki has hit the streets for the first time, bringing soft drinks to the Thai market.

This week saw the launch of Thai company Maxx Drink’s range of fruit-flavoured products in 200ml Cyclero pouches – or DrinkBags, as Huhtamaki likes to call them. This is the first time that the all-flexible version of the pouch has gone into full commercial production.

“This is similar to the packs for products such as Capri Sun, but it is not a stand-up pouch​,” said Huhtamaki’s European marketing director for flexibles, Gerhard Hartmann. “There is a peel-off lid, and you can drink directly from the aperture, as with a can. There’s no need for a straw or spout.”

The world's only

Huhtamaki, which also characterises the format as “the world’s only round flow pack​”, said the combination of an 8-micron aluminium foil layer in the laminate and a 90°C pasteurisation process gives these products a year’s shelf-life. Laminates and barrier can be customised to meet the needs of any non-carbonated beverage.

The form-fill-seal (FFS) machine installed in Thailand was produced by Bulgarian company Mechatronica. The firm’s md Miroslav Hinkov said:  “Current speeds are up to 170ppm, and we intend to target 200ppm in our next model.” ​ According to Hartmann, these speeds are achieved on a four-station machine.

The fact that pack forming and filling are handled in a single machine block must make the design more challenging technically. But Hartmann said: “The machine concept is FFS as the empty pack weighs less than 4g. Such a low-weight pack cannot physically be handled as a pre-made unit.”

Such minimal use of materials would seem to chime with current European preferences for lightweight packaging and low carbon footprint. But Huhtamaki appeared  to see this more as a pack for developing markets. “In Europe, whatever looks plastic isn’t seen as being environmentally friendly,” ​said Hartmann.

Rather cheap

Hinkov was more blunt: “We have our doubts whether this pack is appropriate for Europe. It may look rather cheap.”

The Thai business has one advantage that few European brandowners could match. Since the parent company sells ice cream, it has its own direct route to market in the form of a fleet of tuk-tuk motorised rickshaws.

Various designs of Cyclero won awards back in 2007 and 2008, some of them produced on machines from German company Optima. Huhtamaki began working with another German equipment builder, Laudenberg, jointly developing a prototype machine capable of producing up to 40ppm. At the time, German company Foodvertising used Cyclero for short-run, promotional packaging.

But in 2009, Huhtamaki decided to look elsewhere for its second-generation equipment partner.

Hinkov said: “The Laudenberg machine used an inappropriate sealing technology – ultrasonic sealing – and the pack was unstable.”

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