Despite higher costs, high-barrier packaging has established itself in the food and beverage sector, as it can prevent oxygenation and thus degradation of contents. Consumer trends around the world will continue to propel such packaging forward, but recycling of multilayer structures remains problematic. The need for packaging materials that give even greater protection to packaged contents, particularly in the food and beverage sector, has seen a marked increase, reducing susceptibility of packaged product to a wide range of deterioration processes. Therefore, barrier packs have begun to replace more traditional pack types.
Global high barrier packaging film consumption, at approximately 1.76 mln tons in 2014, valued at US$15.9 bln; is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 5% between 2014 and 2019 according to a report by Smithers Pira. In this report, high barrier packaging films are defined as flexible films that are smaller than 250µ in gauge with an oxygen gas transmission rate in the range less than 5cm³/m²/day (25µ films). Market data in the report includes base webs, plus high barrier film/coating and tie or sealing layers.
There is a growing demand for packaging materials that give even greater protection to their contents. This is especially noticeable in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. As plastics have become more and more common, concerns have arisen about their ability to allow the exchange of gases and vapours that can compromise the quality and safety of packaged products. Therefore, a variety of barrier technologies have been commercialised that preserve, protect and promote; optimise shelf life, reduce the need for preservatives, provide transparency and gloss, and serve as a printing substrate. Without this barrier packaging, perishable goods such as food, beverages and pharmaceuticals would be susceptible to a wide range of deterioration processes. However, barrier packaging is restricted by factors such as susceptibility to degradation, recycling problems and cost. Mechanical recycling also becomes a problem with multilayer structures containing more than one type of plastic, as they cannot easily be recycled. Environmental pressure groups have also raised concerns about increases in the amount of food packaging, with many companies responding by reducing their packaging.
High barrier films are found in six main flexible packaging products: bags and pouches, stand-up pouches, (retort and non-retort), tray lidding film, forming webs, wrapping film and blister pack base webs. According to the report, bags and pouches are by far the leading pack type accounting for over 50% of global high barrier packaging film consumption in 2014. Forming webs and lidding film are the next largest pack types. Stand-up pouches are forecast to grow at the fastest rate during the 5-year period to 2019. Stand-up pouches offer brand owners product differentiation and strengthen brand loyalty, while providing customers with convenience, and the ability to retort and microwave. Lidding film and forming webs are also set to grow at higher than the market average rate. The trend toward case-ready fresh meat packaged in trays under low-oxygen MAP will drive growth in barrier film lid stock and forming webs. Wrapping film, on the other hand, is forecast to grow at a relatively low rate, mainly as a result of slow growth in key end-use sectors such as baked goods and snack foods.
As per thomasnet.com, challenges for the high-barrier packaging films industry, as per SmithersPira report include
Replacement of Rigid Pack Formats
Consumer and technology trends have contributed to a gradual decline of rigid pack formats, in the face of flexible packaging and barrier films,over the last decade or so. Busier consumer lifestyles and the consequent demand for convenience products, together with the popularity of microwave cooking, have contributed to the growth of microwaveable retort ready meals packed in trays and stand-up pouches. The market for stand-up pouches (SUPs) has grown, due not just to their replacement of plastic and glass bottles and cans but also to SUPs ability to reduce packaging costs while providing greater convenience for consumers. Stand-up pouches are lighter and have lower material use compared with rigid containers. Heat-resistant retort stand-up pouches are ;made of laminated plastic films or foil if microwaving is not required. They can be filled, heat-sealed, and sterilized by pressure cooking in a retort (autoclave). As a result, retort pouches contain heat-treated, cooked food that is safe from microorganisms and has an ambient shelf life similar to tinned food. In addition, due to the thinner dimensions of the pack, food takes less time to cook in a flexible pouch than in rigid packaging such as cans and jars. Foods currently using retort stand-up pouches include ready meals, soups, rice, vegetables, and sauces.
However, despite their inherent benefits, there have been some obstacles on the way to widespread adoption of the packaging technology. Responsible for keeping packaged contents fresh, barrier packagiing itself is susceptible to degradation, and it is restricted by recycling problems and cost. Ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) copolymer, for example, is water sensitive because absorption of atmospheric moisture reduces its barrier properties against oxygen and carbon dioxide. Packaging-to-packaging recycling also becomes a problem with multilayer structures containing more than one type of plastic. While multilayer structures are difficult, or even impossible, to recycle mechanically, they can be recycled to energy or fuels by incineration, anaerobic pyrolysis, or plasma pyrolysis.
There is mounting public pressure on brands and retailers to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. Food and beverage manufacturers are also responding to consumers' environmental concerns by reducing the amount of polymer to lower the pack weight - but not pack performance. Light weighting continues, too as part of the drive to reduce production costs. Some companies are taking the need for sustainability one step further by creating biodegradable and renewable cellulose-based barrier films. Barrier film producers often state that their products will play a vital role in more sustainable packaging. Many argue that barrier films are more environment-friendly because they help packagers use lighter plastics to replace much heavier materials such as glass, metal, and rigid plastics, thereby requiring less energy to transport products.
High-barrier packaging film demand is benefitting from the growing market share of the large retail chains. These chains have expanded the market for packaged food, with their focus on cost reduction and shelf-life extension. Retail chains have dominated retail food and drink markets in advanced countries for many years, but supermarkets/hypermarkets are spreading in many major cities in developing countries and taking a growing share of food and drink consumption. International retail chains are also expanding their presence in developing markets, which will further expand barrier packaging demand into countries as they bring more consumers into contact with Western shopping patterns. Supermarkets/hypermarkets are becoming especially favored due to their wide product ranges and diverse choice of premium brands, usually unavailable in other types of outlets. There also has been growth in the number of discount stores and private-label products, which enable those on smaller incomes to purchase packaged food and drink at more affordable prices.