Liquid dairy products (LDP) are showing steady growth as a percentage of worldwide beverage sales and with this growth, there has been an increasing focus on finding new and innovative ways of packaging the products.
The classic glass milk bottle is fast becoming obsolete in favour of alternative materials which can ensure the all-important product integrity while also helping to create a more convenient experience for consumers, as well as providing benefits throughout the supply chain.
Drivers Of Growth
White milk remains the most important product in the LDP sector representing approximately 70 percent of all consumption. Liquid dairy products already account for one fifth of worldwide beverage sales, a figure which is expected to grow by a further five percent by 2016.
Much of this growth is attributable to emerging markets, with countries such as Brazil, India, China and the Middle East contributing significantly. A consequence of increases in disposable income is a rapid—and still growing—transition from raw to processed milk products.
This further strengthens consumer demand for added value offerings, with the growth in this kind of dairy products being driven by categories such as flavoured milk drinks, soy beverages, health and wellness milk products and even long-life UHT milk.
The main developed markets are more mature, with existing high levels of milk consumption. Growth here is being driven through the introduction of new products.
Another factor in the growth of the LDP sector of the beverage industry is the influence of consumers’ seeking products which fit more readily with the trend towards healthier lifestyles. The natural and nutritious content that typifies LDP is exactly what the health-conscious consumer is looking for.
In the more mature markets, current consumer trends that relate to health, different tastes, convenience and value for money still present niche growth opportunities. A particularly notable trend which continues to gain momentum is the demand for enriched dairy products with healthy functionalities.
This includes products such as milk-based probiotics, products with added calcium to help promote healthy bones, and more natural products which are free from preservatives and other additives.
In meeting this growth in demand for LDP, opportunities are constantly being explored in packaging, seeking to protect the integrity of the products while also helping to stimulate sales through eye-catching look and feel.
The packaging has to meet the stringent requirements of food safety standards, but it also offers excellent opportunities for brand differentiation of LDP, both in products stored at ambient temperatures and for those requiring refrigeration. The challenge is to create innovative, attractive and functional packaging that is still cost-efficient to produce.
Consumers want convenience from their beverages and LDP is no different. There is a move away from standard sizes to packaging formats such as single serve or portion-based options which are more suited to an on-the- go lifestyle.
At the same time, demand remains for multi-serve options, with bigger packaging sizes, particularly in milk, which can meet the needs of the family. At present, cartons and HDPE are the most widely used materials for packaging LDP, with glass, the more traditional option, falling away.
PET currently accounts for two percent of packaged liquid dairy beverages. However, it is one of the materials experiencing significant growth as LDP producers realise the creative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions that PET can offer.
Forecasts predict annual increases of five percent in PET’s share of the packed LDP market by 2016, outstripping the growth forecasts for both carton and HDPE.
Food Safety & Product Integrity
Food safety is vital in any application but in liquid dairy products, the challenges are especially acute since the product quality can be easily compromised by the effects of light, oxygen and temperature.
The packaging solution is defined according to a number of factors including the beverage or liquid dairy product type and its recipe (white milk, flavoured milk, yoghurt, soya), the process, the bottling equipment, the distribution temperature and the desired shelf life.
The reasons for the increased adoption of PET packaging for LDP are numerous, many of which are the same reasons for its growth in other beverage sectors.
It is user-friendly, shatterproof, re-sealable and, importantly in a world where sustainable production is an ever increasing focus, 100 percent recyclable. It also offers freedom in bottle design, with the material’s transparency providing the potential to truly showcase the product.
However, PET has other attributes which make it particularly suited to packaging LDP. Its excellent physical product and food barrier protection benefits ensure great taste, extended shelf life and safety throughout the supply chain, protecting the nutritional and sensorial properties which are so fundamental in LDP.
Transparent PET can be used for fresh and flavoured milk, while opaque white PET can be used for white UHT milk, for example. In the case of white milk, which is very sensitive to light, the development of light-blocking barrier technology is opening up further opportunities.
Different preform manufacturing technologies are now available in that field. The first option is the monolayer preform: the PET raw material is mixed with additives in a master-batch before a standard injection process is employed in order to improve the PET barrier properties.
Another alternative is the multilayer preform solution which can be achieved using either over-moulding or coinjection technologies. Neither option requires the use of aluminium foil before capping.
Versatility in the production line is key for many beverage manufacturers and in LDP, this is particularly so. Most liquid dairy producers have diversified their production with more value-added products to create and maintain a sustainable business. Line versatility allows them to vary the recipes of their products.
For example, the same production line might create white milks, flavoured milk drinks, yoghurts and sour milk drinks. The line may also be required to accommodate different packaging formats or shapes, with the capability of effecting quick changes from on-the-go to family packs.
LDP producers sometimes require production of smaller batches, say, for market-testing of new recipes before large-scale production. Also, in certain regions, such as Southern Europe (Spain, France and Italy), there are a lot of cooperatives producing milk and dairy, requiring medium or low production volumes to serve a local regional market.
They typically produce not only white milk but also additional, value-added products. Lines dedicated to lowoutput aseptic production can therefore prove invaluable in LDP, particularly if they also offer the flexibility to produce different products and packaging formats.
Products In Action
The use of PET in liquid dairy products is not new. We saw the first switch to PET in 1999 when Dean Foods, the first American producer of liquid dairy products, abandoned carton in preference for a PET bottle to package its Nesquik flavoured milk.
In 2000, the trend quickly reached Europe with Lanitis Cyprus bottling the first fresh milk in PET and Puleva Spain packaging UHT flavoured milk in monolayer PET. Two years later, the monolayer technology was again adopted by French company Marguerite in bottling their pasteurised and microfiltrated white milk.
By 2005, another Spanish company, Leche Pascual, started producing its UHT white milk in light barrier PET, opening up opportunities for similar initiatives. This was followed by combining the PET bottle with a specific method of production which offered blowing, filling and capping functions in a single production enclosure.
Another milestone in PET applications for LDP came in 2009 when UHT milk was aseptically bottled in a one litre PET bottle with no sealing foil. Now commonplace, this was a world first at the time with French dairy company Laiterie Saint-Denis-de-L’Hôtel (LSDH) also taking advantage of the revolutionary dry preform aseptic technology to lightweight its bottles by 8 g compared to the original bottle produced on an aseptic line with wet bottle decontamination.
Since then, PET has continued to evolve its use in all categories of liquid dairy products throughout the world, from Israel to Brazil, and from Indonesia to Romania.
Milk and other liquid dairy products represent a significant proportion of worldwide beverage sales. This is set to grow as the move towards healthier lifestyles stimulates growth in the sector, with categories such as flavoured milk drinks, soy beverages, fortified milks and long-life ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk being particularly strong.
As the demands for natural dairy products increase globally, so the respective attributes of different packaging materials will become more of a focus. PET is well placed to increase its share of the market in offering creative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions while preserving the quality and safety of the drinks they contain.