DARREN DODD, Marketing and Service Director at Selig, explains the impact food safety has had on milk packaging…
The glass bottle was the UK consumer’s preferred milk container until well into the 1970s, giving way firstly to lightweight, safer and easier-to-manufacture LDPE coated cardboard cartons and, later, to the now ubiquitous screw-capped HDPE container. And for the best part of a quarter of a century, these containers have enjoyed the additional security and leak-free performance benefits of an induction sealed liner.
But while the UK has led the way in using reliable, leak-free and secure packaging for milk containers, progress towards these goals has been somewhat slower in other developed economies. In the United States, for example, glass may have been phased out more rapidly than in the UK in favour of coated cardboard cartons and square HDPE gallon capacity milk jugs, but US dairy suppliers and retailers – unlike their UK counterparts – were tardy in adopting leak-free, tamper-evident seals, particularly for HDPE milk jugs.
Indeed, as US customers were becoming accustomed to receiving their milk in plastic jugs, the drawbacks of the jugs having no secondary seal and only relying on an interference fit bore seal between the container lip and the screw cap soon became apparent. Leaking containers – ‘leakers’ in the trade jargon – were accepted as par for the course and retailers had the constant task of keeping shelves clean and accepting the complaints of consumers who, on returning home, had discovered that product had leaked in transit. The only recourse for retailers was to use costly and inconvenient ‘spill mats’ to soak up leakages from shelf surfaces.
Australian retailers were having similar experiences, but growing consumer concern for better product safety, hygiene and the elimination of product leakage saw much wider adoption of induction heat sealing in that country. Selig, a global supplier of such packaging technology, who had studied the Australian market closely, reports that in 2007 the introduction of its Lift ‘n’ Peel™ induction liner by the Australian dairy industry had directly resulted in a significant sales growth for those brands that adopted the Lift ‘n’ Peel seal.
Meanwhile, in the US, the promotion of induction sealed milk containers was gathering pace. In 2016 Selig conducted extensive focus group surveys among US consumers of dairy and other packaged foodstuffs in order to gain insights into customer preferences as well as awareness of, and interaction with, more effective sealing technologies such as Selig’s Lift ‘n’ Peel. The results mirrored those of Selig’s market research in Australia, and revealed that the vast majority (74%) of survey respondents would switch brands to one that made use of Selig’s half-moon lift-tab seal.
MADE FOR MILK
Canadian experience is also seeing a trend towards induction heat sealing of milk containers. In June 2017, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called to investigate milk recalls in British Columbia when a “potential presence of harmful extraneous material” was reported in unsealed milk jugs from a particular supplier.
Health Canada said there had been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products, but did conduct a food safety investigation. The dairy in question acted very promptly to improve the security of its milk packaging and in a concerted effort to ensure best practice has now taken the precaution of applying Selig’s tamper-evident induction sealed liners to all of its milk jugs, in addition to voluntarily recalling the packages from the marketplace that were in question.
Selig has been particularly successful in addressing the needs of the UK dairy industry. Its award-winning Lift ‘n’ Peel easy-open induction heat seal liner provides immediate evidence of tampering, while its integral easy open, half-moon pull tab has been designed to be ergonomically easy to grip, while remaining flexible and extremely strong.
The process of applying the Lift ‘n’ Peel liner is, however, critical to its success. And while no other processing or equipment, other than an induction heating machine, is required to bond the liner, there are several key process conditions that must be met and maintained throughout the filling operation to guarantee successful container sealing on a fast-moving filling line. Once these process parameters have been established for a given line speed, consistent and accurate results are assured.
Induction heat sealing is not just for the big producers and packers; start-ups and smaller scale enterprises, too, can take advantage of new semi-automatic, even hand-held, induction machines, to apply state-of-the-art liners that inspire consumer confidence and loyalty. This technology therefore provides an interesting entry-level opportunity for those producers currently using milk bags or other forms of packaging, enabling them to test the market and consumer reaction, to differentiate their offering and, ultimately, boost their profitability and environmental credentials.