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Aseptic packaging scores high

Beyond seeking healthy foods, consumers appear to care about what they come in. Jeff Kellar explains

As obesity and other health concerns become increasingly prevalent, the demand for healthy beverage and food options continues to grow. Taste and health benefits are very important to consumers when it comes to fortified food choices. Forty-three per cent of shoppers rarely give up good taste for health benefits and as the natural segment goes mainstream, consumers will continue to seek purer products with fewer additives and no preservatives.

As consumers look toward healthier food and beverage options, they are also looking for packaging that meets their needs. Tetra Pak USA, a leader in the packaging industry, recently funded a market study. Conducted by Foodmix, a leading food-marketing firm headquartered in Illinois, the study involved a series of consumer focus groups and an Internet survey of 6,500 consumers responsible for food purchase. It was the largest-ever study to look at aseptic packaging trends in the US. The study identified taste, freshness and convenience as the most important consumer considerations when it comes to choosing food packaging.

Nine key issues emerged that impact a consumer's evaluation of packaging.

They are, ranked in order:

  • Protection from spoilage
  • Protection of taste
  • Ease of opening/closing
  • Ease of transportation/storage
  • Protection from light/elements
  • Protection of vitamins/minerals
  • Keeping food more natural
  • No need for preservatives
  • Safety

The survey found that 81.7 per cent of consumers feel protecting taste is a key packaging feature. For the question, "which package format best protects taste," twice as many consumers chose aseptic cartons over plastic bottles and eight times as many consumers chose aseptic cartons over cans.

It also found that 70.5 per cent felt it is important for packaging to protect vitamins and minerals, and when asked which packaging format they preferred for protecting vitamins and minerals, 68.1 per cent of women chose aseptic cartons over cans and plastic bottles.

The importance of packaging
Such results demonstrate that consumers are looking for very specific things. As the number of choices expands in packaging, traditional glass and metal containers are being challenged by plastic and aseptic containers. The Institute of Food Technologists, a non-profit scientific society working in food science technology, has called aseptic packaging the most significant food science innovation of the last 50 years. The aseptic process sterilizes food outside the package using an ultra-high temperature process, which rapidly heats, then cools the product before filling.

Aseptic packaging puts the least amount of thermal stress on the product. As a result, aseptically packaged products retain more nutritional value and exhibit more natural texture, colour and taste than canned products. And since the lightweight, shatterproof aseptic cartons can be recycled into paper towels, tissues and other products, they make environmental sense. Additionally, the aseptic cartons are sealed tight, so products can be stored over long periods of time at room temperature.

Aseptic packaging also helps food retain flavour and nutrients.

Any flavour-screening processes must encompass a number of different stages
In 2004, an independent testing facility conducted a 12-month sensory and vitamin retention study of lacquer-lined cans and Tetra Prisma aseptic cartons. The products in the study were produced from the same highly fortified dairy beverage formulation and were stored in temperature-monitored chambers to mimic both refrigerated and ambient storage conditions. Blind taste-testing by trained panelists occurred six times over the 12-month period, while vitamin retention analysis, performed by the vitamin supplier, occurred at the same time.

At 10 weeks, the canned beverage:

  • Was significantly less balanced and full than the aseptic beverage
  • Had 35 per cent more metallic character and 21 per cent more 'vitamin' flavour
  • Had significantly less vitamins C and B12 and less vitamins A and D

At six months, the canned beverage:

  • Had 35 per cent more metallic character and 20 per cent more 'vitamin' flavour than the aseptic beverage

At 12 months, the canned beverage:

  • Had 30 per cent more metallic character and 23 per cent more 'vitamin' flavour than the aseptic beverage
  • Had less vitamin D
  • Did not meet label claims for vitamins A and C, while the aseptic beverage met label claims for both

The packaging industry continues
to adapt to changing consumer demands. For example, one of Tetra Pak's new technologies is the Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear, the world's first totally clear aseptic package. The package allows for shelf stability of the product without the use of preservatives. It delivers clarity, play value, novelty and fun appeal as well as functionality and convenience.

Emphasis on convenience
The fast-paced and on-the-go world in which we live also makes portability an important packaging issue. A recent study conducted by Kelton Research found that milk consumption is growing in quick-serve restaurants. In fact, the study showed the majority of milk drinkers are kids under the age of 12 and the majority of milk is purchased in drive-throughs and then consumed in cars. Portable aseptic packaging is especially suited to operators of quick-serve restaurants.

The above research indicates new opportunities for food manufacturers to be leaders in the functional foods category. Americans are increasingly looking for healthy foods and beverages, and in packaging that meets their needs. Packaging that is spill proof, kid friendly and safe right out of the fridge, provides manufacturers the opportunity to increase the visibility and utility of their products, and thus increase sales.

Jeff Kellar is Tetra Pak's vice president of strategic business development.

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