America has set a record in pet ownership thanks to the pandemic, topping 70 percent of all households according to the American Pet Product Association (APPA). Many people who did not have a pet went out and got one (or more) to cope with the enforced isolation we all endured. We are also spending more on our furry friends. About 35 percent of households have increased their pet-related spending. Among Generation Z and Millennials, that figure approaches 50 percent.
A sizable portion of that extra spending went on pet food. Pet owners increased the amounts they spent on pet food by about 11 percent, according to APPA. While dry food still holds its place in the diet of our pets, we are more frequently opting for fresh or frozen options for our animals. Indeed, significant percentages of pet owners expressed preferences for non-GMO and human-quality ingredients.
While the product manufacturers focus on what is in the container, the container itself can easily affect the product inside and the consumers’ perception of the product. If the packaging is high quality, it will not only protect the food inside, but it will also entice the consumer into purchasing it.
Walk into any pet store and you see most of the food on sale is offered in flexible packaging. As of August 2021, pet food accounted for four percent of all flexible packaging in the U.S. The reason is simple; flexible packaging meets virtually all the needs of both the producer and the consumer. That is why, beyond just pet food, it is the second largest segment of the U.S. packaging industry, taking 19 percent of the $177 billion market.
Above all, flexible packaging offers extended product shelf life when using high barrier materials to protect against oxygen and moisture making the product stale or spoiled. Such high barrier materials include using aluminum foil in the laminate or barrier coatings on the films. A longer shelf-life benefits everyone.
In addition, multi-layered laminates using high puncture resistant films allow for greater resistance to tearing during packaging and for the consumer’s use at home. No matter how good a bag or pouch might be for protecting what is inside, it does almost no good if it tears easily.
A further point on the matter of these films is that they also allow us to enhance print quality due to maximizing their clarity, resulting in a more vibrant shelf appeal. The resulting package is both effective in protecting the product and is attractive to the consumer.
There is a growing trend toward the soft surface touch of the bag or pouch. Not only does it give a high-end appeal to the consumer, but it also helps in handling. The soft touch surface provides a no-slip “grab” when dispensing the food, resulting in less mess and waste.
Flexible packaging describes more than how the bag or pouch feels, though. Flexible also applies to the myriad of ways you can structure the container. Flexible packaging allows for many different bag structures including a plain bag, a pouch with see-though windows, bottom and side gussets for a greater fill volume of pet food. Flexible packaging also allows for things like center hole punches, eyelets and wickets for retail display. The number of options for printing, bag construction and closures are almost as endless as the types of pet food that benefit from flexible packaging.
A common complaint of using flexible packaging is the opening and closing of the package. A bag that will not close properly is as bad as one with a rip in it. Improvements in this area have progressed a great deal in the last several years. Closures come with several options to ensure reseal ability including zippers, slides, and hook-and-loop fasteners. This reinforces the integrity of the bag, and it makes it easier for the consumer to handle.
Consumers are also more environmentally aware than ever before, and producers are responding by utilizing more sustainable packaging. Recyclable flexible packaging responds to consumer cohorts that place significant importance on the performance, convenience, transparency and structural integrity that has previously been achievable only with flexible packaging made from multiple layers of different types of films that are not recyclable. Today’s flexible packaging has many sustainable options including packaging that is recyclable or biodegradable. Moreover, some of it is made using 100 percent renewable energy.
The trends we see in the pet food market for flexible packaging are identical to the trends we see in the broader marketplace. Consumers want packaging that protects the contents from the outside world, is easy to use and is sustainable. Producers are responding to these consumer demands by making those demands their own. They, too, benefit from things like a longer shelf-life and greater visual appeal. The packaging industry is meeting these demands. As these demands evolve, so will the business strategies of the packaging manufacturers.
Paul Harencak is vice president at Moonachie-based, LPS Industries LLC, an ISO 9001:2015 certified, woman-owned flexible packaging manufacturer and supplier of specialized packaging supplies. LPS Industries has been manufacturing flexible packaging solutions since 1959 and has served several industry sectors including food, medical, agriculture and more.