America has set a record for pet ownership thanks to the pandemic, surpassing 70% of all households according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Many people who didn’t have a pet have gone out and bought one (or more) to cope with the enforced isolation we’ve all endured. We also spend more on our furry friends. About 35% of households have increased their spending on pets. Among Gen Z and Millennials, that number is approaching 50%.
A significant portion of these additional expenses was spent on pet food. According to APPA, pet owners increased the amount they spent on pet food by about 11%. While dry food still holds its place in our pets’ diets, we are more frequently opting for fresh or frozen options for our pets. Indeed, significant percentages of pet owners expressed preferences for non-GMO, human-grade ingredients.
While product manufacturers focus on what’s in the container, the container itself can easily affect the product inside and consumers’ perception of the product. If the packaging is of high quality, it will not only protect the food inside, but also entice the consumer to buy it.
Walk into any pet store and you’ll see that most foods on sale come in soft wraps. From August 2021, pet food accounted for 4% of all flexible packaging in the United States. The reason is simple; flexible packaging meets almost all the needs of both producer and consumer. That’s why, beyond pet food, it’s the second largest segment of the US packaging industry, taking 19% of the $177 billion market.
Above all, flexible packaging provides extended product shelf life when using high barrier materials to protect against oxygen and moisture rendering the product stale or spoiled. Such high barrier materials include the use of aluminum foil in the laminate or barrier coatings on the films. A longer shelf life benefits everyone.
Additionally, multi-layer laminates using highly puncture resistant films allow for greater tear resistance during packaging and for consumer use in the home. No matter how good a bag or pouch is to protect what’s inside, it’s almost useless if it tears easily.
Another point about these films is that they also allow us to improve print quality by maximizing their clarity, which results in more dynamic shelf appeal. The resulting packaging is both effective in protecting the product and attractive to the consumer.
There is a growing trend towards the soft touch of the surface of the bag or pouch. Not only does this give a high-end appeal to the consumer, but it also helps with handling. The soft-touch surface provides a non-slip “grip” when dispensing food, reducing mess and waste.
Flexible packaging describes much more than the feel of the bag or pouch. Flexible also applies to the myriad ways you can structure the container. The flexible packaging allows for many different bag structures, including a plain bag, a pouch with clear windows, bottom and side gussets for greater volume pet food filling. Flexible packaging also allows for features such as center perforations, grommets, and wickets for retail display. The number of printing options, bag constructions and closures are almost as endless as the types of pet food that benefit from flexible packaging.
A common complaint about using flexible packaging is opening and closing the package. A bag that doesn’t close properly is just as bad as a torn bag. Improvements in this area have come a long way in recent years. Closures come with several options to provide resealability, including zippers, sliders, and hook-and-loop closures. This reinforces the integrity of the bag and facilitates its handling by the consumer.
Consumers are also more environmentally conscious than ever, and producers are responding by using more sustainable packaging. Recyclable flexible packaging caters to cohorts of consumers who place a high value on performance, convenience, transparency and structural integrity that were previously only achievable with flexible packaging made up of multiple layers of different types of non-recyclable films. Today’s flexible packaging offers many sustainable options, including recyclable or biodegradable packaging. In addition, some of them are made from 100% renewable energy.
The trends we see in the pet food market for flexible packaging are identical to the trends we see in the broader market. Consumers want packaging that protects the contents from the outside world, is easy to use and is durable. Producers respond to these consumer demands by appropriating these demands. They, too, benefit from things like longer shelf life and greater visual appeal. The packaging industry meets these requirements. As these requirements evolve, so do the business strategies of packaging manufacturers.
Paul Harencak is Vice President of Moonachie-based LPS Industries LLC, an ISO 9001:2015 certified, woman-owned flexible packaging manufacturer and specialty packaging supplies provider. LPS Industries has been manufacturing flexible packaging solutions since 1959 and has served multiple industry sectors including food, medical, agriculture and more.