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Aseptic packaging of juice and juice drinks.

Aseptic Packaging of Juice and Juice Drinks

In the early 1970s local Tetra Pak markets were issued with a document which effectively said, "We've completed some experiments relating to the packaging of juice and juice drinks. It looks OK, would be a good idea to see if there is any interest in your market." We now know the answer to that, both in the UK and in many other markets throughout the world.

At any given point it is difficult to say where things can develop, what possibly can be new in the market and where this will lead. This article will perhaps answer some of the questions from the perspective of those early days and will take a look at what is happening now.

To anyone walking through a supermarket today it must be obvious that one significant feature of the fruit juice and cartoned drinks market is that of diversification.

Once upon a time the staple products in the UK were orange and grapefruit juice, with a some pineapple. Today, however, not only is there a wide variety of single juices but also a significant number of juice blends, juice drinks, blended juice drinks and drinks. Historically, juices were an expensive luxury, available in cans or glass bottles with frozen concentrate being considered a luxury available only to a few! Limited travel, limited availability, high cost, limited exposure, inadequate and expensive technology, plus the memories of the NHS orange juice for children, with its rich cooked flavour, all contributed to severely limit sales of such products.

We were, after all, squash consumers, dilute-to-taste merchants. Give it to the kids! It's good value and keeps them quiet! I over-simplify but I think it's generally true to say that, for a wide variety of reasons, we were not exposed to the real thing or, generally, to a high quality 'next best'.

Aseptic packaging and the foresight of a few customers changed all that. Why? What happened? The advantages of continuous sterilisation, in terms of minimal flavour change whilst attaining commercial sterility, coupled with sterile packaging of cooled product, resulted in very good products - extremely good, when compared with the hot-filled products already on the market in glass or cans.

In addition, the Dairy Industry seemed to take to the product - a natural wholesome product, which could be delivered to the doorstep and which complemented the healthy image of milk. Some dairies were used to the aseptic processing and packaging of milk so it seemed reasonable for them to package juice as well. Of course, whilst the principles are the same, the processing requirements are different. Never-the-less the know-how was in the industry and it was put to good use.

Mainstream juice and drinks manufacturers quickly became interested in this new application for aseptic technology. With the growth of consumer awareness and product availability has come the desire for wholesome, natural additive-free products - especially for the children. Latterly, this has applied to all of us.

Aseptic processing and packaging provides a product which is shelf-stable at ambient temperature, and which is free from all those components that are currently considered "bad for you."

All this development and growth has really been attributable to one packaging system supplier. Others have followed but the Tetra Brik Aseptic carton broke new ground and the company built on the demands of local and multi national companies packaging juice and juice drinks throughout the world.

In the writer's opinion, two significant developments contributed to the market growth. Both seem relatively simple and yet both encouraged the penetration of juice products in the market.

The first was the introduction of a straw attached to the package. It seems so obvious now and is, indeed, commonplace. The convenience of having a means to consume the product without the need for a conventional opening, in addition to the provision within the package structure of an area easily penetrated by the straw, made the small volume Tetra Brik aseptic carton an ideal portion pack to take anywhere, consume anywhere.

The second development was the introduction of rotogravure printing. At that time, basic commodities like milk really did not require sophisticated images and colours on the package - the flexographic printing process was found to be adequate. However, with the advent of juice came the need for strong brand imagery, quality half-tone colour reproduction and the ability to clearly differentiate such brands. Rotogravure answered all these needs and has since been joined by offset litho to complete Tetra Pak's printing options.

The ability to give the large brand manufacturers what they needed allowed them to take advantage of the benefits of aseptically packed products in creating a new market. This then set the scene - a modular rectangular package, convenient, able to protect the product and sufficiently different to have a strong brand appeal.

There was a synergy between the technology, manufacturer opportunities and consumer desires. The market would not have developed had it not been for the availability of aseptic technology.

Times change, demands are ever present from consumers and producers who are continually looking for something new, something to give their product an edge over the competition, and extend the brand life cycle. Aseptic packaging has been able to help in all these areas. Current developments relate both to the machinery for packaging and to the packages themselves. What can a systems manufacturer do to help his customers?

With increased demand comes the need for highly efficient, high capacity filling machines. The current generation of machines from Tetra Pak fills cartons at the rate of 6000 cartons per hour; the original concept was rated at 3600 per hour.

Multi-packing, straw application, tray packing and shrinkwrapping are types of downstream operation that have been developed as part of the complete systems approach by the company. Machines can now be fitted with systems for applying a pull-tab opening device on to cartons. This is especially convenient for the larger packages and overcomes some of the, perhaps, perceived difficulties in opening this kind of package. We must not forget that for several years the perforated opening option has been used by many producers and this, itself, has proved very successful.

Whilst the simple straight straw is still common, there are now four styles available to suit every customer's needs. The straw is attached to the package across its diagonal. The length of the diagonal is not much greater than the distance from the top of the package to the bottom. Add to this the length needed to hold the straw in the mouth and it can be seen that for some it might be difficult to suck out every last drop of product. The answer is to have a longer straw! This is achieved by having a U, 7 or telescopic straw. Customized straws, in terms of colour co-ordination with the pack design, is another development which enhances the overall appearance of the package on the shelf.

Whilst there are a lot of juice products in litre size cartons there is also a lot of interest in other sizes. We've seen the phenomenal growth of the portion pack sector but here again there is interest in other sizes. There are needs to differentiate products on the shelf, to fill less or more product, depending on the anticipated method of consumption, to satisfy an on-shelf price point or to keep to a unit price when there are significant changes in raw material costs.

'Slim' packages provide a modern healthy image, and their size impression allows them enhanced 'perceived value for money.' They also may have more appeal to the consumer, be easier to hold, fit more easily into lunch boxes or even coat pockets! In order to satisfy the various demands in this general area Tetra Pak offers an extensive range of pack sizes.

There are now increasing quality, or perceived quality, demands on products being packed. Their aseptic system operates by filling a tube of laminate with product and sealing through the product in the tube, thus producing completely filled packages. The design of the original machine system meant that if there were any inclusions in the product (such as fruit sacs or cellular material) then there was always a chance that these could be trapped in the seal area resulting in packages which were not liquidtight.

It is generally felt that fruit juices, especially citrus juices, should resemble the product obtained when the juice is extracted from the fruit at home. This implies that there will be a significant amount of cellular material in the juice. Developments of the older machines and the new generation machines from Tetra Pak can readily cope with sealing through and, indeed, cutting through cellular material. The constraint on products is no longer related to the filling system but relates as much to the ability to process 'high cell' juices, the ability to evenly distribute the cells in the stream of product and the quality of the cellular inclusions.

Several products with fruit cells in them are on the market, and have been for several years. One recent introduction is Taj, in a 200ml slim Tetra Brik Aseptic carton. This product, packed in the United Arab Emirates, is a juice drink which contains a very high level of cellular material. In this case the cells are processed separately and blended with the main liquid stream near the product valve of the filling machine.

Headspace in the package is something which was not originally available with the Tetra Brik Aseptic system. Since the packages are formed by sealing through the product, no space is left in the package. The laminate literally encloses a fixed volume of liquid. There are certain advantages to having a completely filled carton - no additional oxygen to interfere with product quality, no problems of gas flushing, good rigidity of the block of liquid for distribution and no wasted space.

However, there are some areas where it is desirable to have some free space in the package:

1. Products which are designed to be shaken - like milk shakes.

2. Products which benefit from being agitated - juice with cellular inclusions.

3. Products which have been traditionally sold in other packages and where a known weight has become the 'standard' in the market.

Tetra Pak machines can now be fitted with equipment which provides the packages with a headspace. The technique employed guarantees that whichever gas is used in the headspace will be the only gas in contact with the product, unlike competitive systems. This is especially important with oxygen-sensitive products, where it is essential that only, say, nitrogen is present. Of course, the same machine can also be used for packages with no head-space.

In the past viscous products were difficult to fill using the company's aseptic system. Tetra Pak has always been a company which offered systems capable of packing potable liquids. Now it is a company supplying systems for pumpable liquids. Again with some modifications their machines can handle a wide range of product consistencies from sweetened condensed milk to tomato puree, apple sauce to juices, wine and water.

From the distribution point of view, it is now not enough to offer simple collating and outer packaging. It would seem that consumers are looking for more than a single pack purchase. Multi-packs of, for example, 4 x 1 litre cartons, 3, 6 or 9 portion packs and multi-packs of more than one flavour are all in demand.

Outer packaging, which not only protects the product but which also helps to sell the product, especially through cash and carry or supermarket outlets, is in increasing demand. Better protection for the packages, such as dividers in trays or lids on trays, can and do minimise handling losses.

More recently, environmental considerations have become important. It is, therefore, interesting to note that Tetra Pak cartons are designed around the concept of 'source reduction', the minimisation, from the outset, of the resources required to manufacture a product. This is often cited by environmental authorities as the best means of minimising waste and economising on energy. Tetra Pak is, and will remain, guided by the tenet of its founder, Dr Ruben Rausing, who maintained that "A package should save more than it costs".

Their packages use a minimum of primarily renewable raw material (wood) and are manufactured in efficient factories under clean conditions. The packages are compact, easy to handle and store. They are light-weight-a one litre package weighs no more than 32g.

Products in aseptic cartons, which account for more than 70 percent of all their packages worldwide, can be transported and stored without refrigeration whilst maintaining product quality. This results in considerable savings on energy.

Tetra Pak packages can be safely burned in municipal incinerators as part of ordinary household waste; thus recovering energy inherent in the package. In communities where landfill is the primary method of solid waste disposal, these packages, unlike many other packages, require a minimum of space as they are easily compacted. - Tetra Pak is now investigating a number of ways in which to meet the requirements of the fourth option, recycling.

PHOTO : Products temperature history - cold filling into a carton (left) as against hot filling in a glass bottle then cooling

PHOTO : An example of high quality rotogravure printing - in this case for Safeway

PHOTO : Tetra Pak Aseptic cartons

PHOTO : A schematic drawing of the filling system: 1) Roll of packaging material; 2) Chemical sterilization with heated hydrogen peroxide; 3) Rollers remove residual hydrogen peroxide; 4) A fine jet of hot air dries the material; 5) Filling pipe; 6) Carton forming.

PHOTO : The Taj product in a slim aseptic carton
COPYRIGHT 1990 Food Trade Press Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Fisher, David P.
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Previous Article:Development of the Milk Can.
Next Article:EEC Dairy Facts and Figures, 1989, 18th edition.

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