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Clearing up the packaging confusion; the numerous packaging developments for specialty coffees now offer roasters challenges and choices.

Packaging technologies for specialty coffees have evolved greatly to provide a range of choices for roasters in consumer appeal, product integrity, and production efficiencies. Innovations have now reached the point where designs may be constructed using new and improved techniques and combinations of materials, offering more detailed options--and more decisions to weigh. Evaluating may be easier with a basic understanding of the types of packaging available for the specialty coffee industry, when to use them, and the recent improvements which have be made.

The Specialty Bag

These pre-fabricated bags are usually supplied at point of purchase for customers who self-fill with whole beans for home grinding, or who fresh-grind beans at the store. They close with what are called "tin ties," although most of these twist closures are now made from plastic or metals other than tin.

Traditional specialty bag construction is a paper substrate with an interior liner for oil barrier properties. Graphics--which are proving key to attracting the more upscale, sophisticated gourmet coffee consumer--are surface printed.

A new technology has entered coffee packaging, however, from the food packaging industry and involves a second, exterior lamination of oriented polypropylene (OPP) to provide not only scuff-resistant protection for the graphics, but a flavor barrier as well. This outer layer, combined with an OPP interior laminate, prevents flavor loss through the package, and also prevents absorption of outside flavor influences, which an interior liner alone may not do. This is valuable to gourmet coffee consumers, who tend to refrigerate coffee to extend shelf life, which unfortunately puts it where other foods can jeopardize aroma and taste quality.

The exterior lamination also gives the bag a rigid but smooth impression and resists punctures and cracking.

Stand-up Pouches

This packaging has also entered the coffee market from the food packaging industry, and consists of two flat pieces of film with a bottom gusset, sealed at the sides and zipper-sealed at the top for a triangular shape. The result provides stability and easy recloseability. Valving is also required since these are used with whole beans, which cause out-gassing problems normally not present with ground coffee.

Stand-up pouches are becoming increasingly popular because they offer excellent "facing" on the shelf, allowing coffee marketers to differentiate their products in what is becoming a highly competitive environment. Another advantage is stability; traditional valve bags with a thin bottom seal depend upon the weight of the coffee itself to stand-up right, and tend to tip over as the volume decreases. The larger bottom area created by the standup pouch gusset reduces this.

Traditional stand-up valve bags consist of a high barrier film lamination with a one-way anti-gassing valve, and are usually in 8-oz. and 12-oz. (possibly 16-oz.) configurations. Foil is normally used, although a few roasters are starting to use non-foil barrier materials.

But improvements have been made in the roll stock for stand-up pouches. These include combining the techniques of dry bond lamination to the exterior layer to provide strong, interlaminar bonds, with the technique of exterior lamination, to provide a "soft hand"--a thicker, richer feel to the package. Co-extruding provides stronger bonds with a soft, pliable inner layer for a cushioning effect, and is an improvement over tandem adhesion or tandem extruding--which provides cushioning but has lower bond strength--and single adhesion, which results in good bonding but poor cushioning. Techniques have also improved to where stock suppliers can run thinner gauges for source reduction without sacrificing packaging quality. Roasters or their contract packagers should also look for a roll stock supplier whose products' slip levels have been designed to provide maximum ease in processing. Stock can also be made available with a pre-drilled hole in the seal area for easy pegging by the retailer.

Whole Bean Value Bags

Another long-time favorite which has to be just as strong as all the other forms of gourmet coffee packaging in eye-catching shelf appeal is the traditional valve bag. This strong look can now happen, thanks to improvements made in roll stock printed in strong rotogravure graphics.

Roasters can no longer afford to be inconsistent--putting more intense graphics on specialty bags or stand-up pouches and doing less on valve bags. They therefore benefit from working with suppliers who can provide and print everything from pre-fabricated bags to roll stock, to cartons, to ensure marketing strength throughout the entire product line.

Fractional Packs

Fractional packs, the pouch with a single unit of ground coffee, used to be found primarily in the office service market, often with a commodity price-only approach to graphics and the packaging itself. But the fractional pack market has recently expanded to include premium coffees vying for high-end positioning in upscale hotels, restaurants, and Fortune 500-type executive offices.

As a result, the traditional surface-printed metallized polypropylene bag with a heat seal layer is not visually competitive enough. Roasters are finding stronger results using buried (reverse) printing and post-print metallized film laminated to the sealant film, for improved graphics and package protection.

There is also a processing benefit with this technique. Because the

printing is buried and the external surface is polyester film, no lacquer applications are needed and so no lacquer buildup occurs on sealing jaws.

Vacuum Brick Packs

An increase in vacuum brick packs has evolved due to the growing use of 2-oz. bricks as one-product samplers, expanding the technology of this form of packaging from its traditional 12- and 16-oz. sizes. It is however, never used for whole bean, as the volume of outgassing results in disintegration of the brick vacuum.

Like specialty bags and stand-up pouches, the brick pack needs strong graphics, which its flat, rectangular face is especially well suited for.

Ready-to-Drink Coffees

Another specialty coffee product which has emerged is RTD coffee beverages. Roasters seek trendy consumers with this product, those who respond to a lifestyle statement--much as they would to a leading soft drink. Product impact at point of purchase has to come from a highly graphic carrier package and labels.

One effective application of this currently on the market involves a reverse printed metallized film, laminated to paperboard for the bottle carrier, plus bottle labels rotogravure printed on metallized paper. This provides strong graphics as well as abrasion resistance to protect the product's signature look.

On an environmental note, recycled paper can be used as the carrier substrate, and using metallized film results in an excellent appearance without foil.

Selecting a Coffee Packaging Supplier

The trend in all industries is to consolidate suppliers and look for preferred suppliers who can meet specific criteria. One of these criteria is having multiple capabilities under one roof. Suppliers who have the capability to address packaging in all of the above forms will also be able to provide an important marketing element--consistency.

Technical capabilities to look for would include:

* tandem adhesive/coextrusion laminating, which reduces the use of solvents often required to produce high performance/high barrier laminations;

* foil-less barrier laminations for environmentally friendly packaging of sensitive products (a benefit of tandem adhesive/coextrusion laminating);

* rotogravure as well as flexographic printing, for more choices in graphics detail and depth of color;

* both wide and narrow web presses, for economical printing of smaller volumes for high-niche items.

Roasters using these suppliers will be able to cost-effectively enjoy a vivid, high-quality graphic look that will provide a visual link throughout their entire product line--from stand-up pouches to brick packs to fractionals and more.

Donald James is product manager at Graphic Packaging Corp., which specializes in flexible packaging and cartons for the consumer beverage and food, personal care, photographic, soap and detergent and chemical industries. GPC has also developed a new line of specialty coffee packaging ranging from prefabricated bags to rollstock. Graphic Packaging Corp. is located at: 955 Chesterbrook Blvd., Wayne PA 19087-5594, (215)695-9200.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:James, Donald E.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:1290
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