Thinking Outside the Can—Advances in Packaging Create Wins Across the Supply Chain

February 6, 2018

The classic red and white Campbell’s® soup can is arguably one of the most iconic brand images in modern memory. But is it really the can that makes the brand or product? We think not. And Campbell’s, along with many other leading consumer packaged goods manufacturers (CPGs) in the soup, beverage and dairy space seems to agree. In recent years, a growing number have expanded their use of alternative packaging types, particularly aseptic cartons.

“What’s an aseptic carton?” you ask. In basic terms, it’s a special type of paper-based carton that employs aseptic (sterile) processes to allow foods and beverages to stay shelf-stable for up to two years, without the need for preservatives or refrigeration. There are many terms used to describe this type of packaging, including carton, aseptic, Tetra Recart®, etc. The largest player manufacturing this type of packaging is Tetra-Pak, and similar to Kimberly-Clark and its famous Kleenex® tissue brand, “Tetra” has become all but synonymous with aseptic cartons, no matter the shape or features.

The benefits of moving to this type of packaging are multifold, says Nick Michel, Sourcing Manager for Daymon. “Most obvious is its logistical value across the entire supply chain. Aseptic cartons account for only about four percent of the total product weight—versus about 15 percent for steel cans and 37 percent for glass. Also, they take up to 40 percent less space than cans in the truck or pantry.” There’s also space savings to be had on the shelf by moving to cubical aseptic cartons versus typically cylindrical.

Other benefits include:

  • Efficient Production—aseptic packaging requires less heating time compared to traditional pasteurization methods, which uses less electricity.
  • More nutrition preserved—the food product contains more of its nutrients due to less heat processing.
  • More marketable—depending on the shape of the carton there will generally be greater space for branding versus a cylindrical bottle or can.

However, Michel points out that there are also some potential drawbacks to be aware of. “Aseptic cartons are a six-layer sandwich of different materials. Recycling centers need to have specialized equipment to separate the layers, and only about 60 percent of U.S. households have access to recycling centers with this type of process,” he explains. Currently there’s also a higher barrier to entry compared to canning, as production requires complex and expensive machinery to implement with specialized repair personnel and parts.

Some of these drawbacks, particularly recyclability, may be overcome as technologies improve and the packaging becomes more commonplace. Also, while material costs can vary depending on what’s in the package and how large the container is, aseptic packaging generally offers significant overall cost benefits versus other competing types of packaging, which may help offset the higher startup costs in the long-run.

So is the can on its way to being a retail relic? Perhaps not anytime in the near future. But the expansion of aseptic packaging across categories is a good reminder that retailers and brands should continually test and assess their current products and packaging for innovations. “Knowing strong alternatives that could benefit future production and revenue is always beneficial. We’ve seen high adoption rates in Europe. It’s only a matter of time before the same trends begin to capture significant market share in the U.S.,” concludes Michel.

To learn more about unique approaches to sourcing solutions with Daymon, contact Vipon Kumar, Chief Sourcing Officer, at vkumar@daymon.com.

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