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The Future of Petfood Packaging

Kelle Vandenberg

By: Kyle Knott

Companies are always looking for ways to differentiate their products on the store shelves. This can be done in multiple ways; bag format (pouch, gusseted, block bottom, etc…), graphics (matte, registered matte, etc...), consumer convenience (zippers, handles, etc…) and many others. However, a lot of these are widely used leaving savvy marketers to wonder, what’s next?

The block bottom bag (often referred to as ‘flat bottom bag”) is the latest bag format in pet food packaging. I see this style more and more in every pet food store I visit, from big box stores to small boutiques. However, the block bottom bag is the first exciting bag format to launch in the last 20 years. No doubt about it, new packaging formats don’t come along often. More importantly, they are often resisted as they require manufacturers to change the way they package and ship the food.

The Paper Bag

In order to talk about current and future trends, I think it is helpful to briefly discuss the past.

As I stated at beginning of this article, new packaging formats do not come around often. The amount of time and convincing it took to get people to switch from paper to plastic was years in the making. Our company CEO (Mark Howley) and VP of Product Development (Bill Walters) helped change the landscape of the pet food industry with their 1995 pet food packaging study. The results of which showed not only that dogs would accept food packaged in plastic bags, but they actually preferred it. The study proved not only scientifically but also via palatability studies that air tight barrier packaging outperformed the paper bag. 

Not all new developments were unmitigated successes. This was especially true when it came to large laminated pet food bags. These bags, while providing superior performance to older brethren, had some serious challenges. Some of the benefits of the laminated bag such as an airtight closed bag and glossy appearance also created its own challenges. 

Things like trapped air within the package that would have normally been pushed out of the paper bag could not escape thus making palletizing unstable. Machinery that was built for the filling and closing of paper bags were not specifically designed for plastic packaging exasperating an already difficult situation.

However, solutions have been developed such as one-way and two-way valves, perforations and micro-perforations that allow trapped air to be released.

Anti-skid coatings and Hi-Co Efficient of Friction of plastics were developed to assist with keeping the laminate bags in place while being palletized. New packaging lines were developed with plastic packaging in mind.

Pacific Bag was one of the first laminate pet food packaging companies in the U.S. We helped define and establish film structures and formats that are still being used today, many of which are considered the industry standard.

Biotre ™- Continuing the Conversation

Conservation and waste reduction are being integrated into our everyday lives more and more. Being a socially responsible company means listening to our diverse customer base and figuring out ways to not only help them but, also do our part to help the planet.

As a packaging company, one of the most asked questions we get is “do you have any environmentally friendly options”? The short answer is, yes. Introducing Biotre!

We spent several years experimenting and trialing different packaging materials. What we developed was a material that is 60% (by weight) renewable wood pulp. The wood pulp portion is biodegradable. The remaining 40% (by weight) of the bag is Polyethylene (PE) with an additive that is designed to make it disintegrate significantly faster than standard plastic.

This award winning material has been well received by our customers and we are currently selling it worldwide. The drawback of Biotre, is the current offering can only hold 2-3lbs of weight before breakage occurs. For pet food, that doesn’t leave a lot of options as most food is sold in the 12lb-40lb category.

We are continuing to work toward large format environmental options that will reduce our carbon footprint and meet the needs of our customers. Until then, we encourage consumers to find ways to reuse the bags around the home.

Your Pet is Your Child

These days, most people consider their pets to be members of the family. Everything from clothing to tooth paste has been adapted for your fur-baby. We have been fortunate enough to work with a Texas based company that takes humanizing your pets to the next level. They sell everything from seasonings to dry food. What makes this company stand out is their customers can customize each bag with their pets name and photo on each bag of food they purchase. The bags were specifically sized to fit in a common household pantry, not the garage. Now, if you could only teach them to use the toilet instead of drinking out of it.

Digital Printing

One of the major hurdles for small pet food companies is the printing of the bags. I field calls all day with customers asking “I need professional looking bags so I can compete with the big guys”. In the past, most printing minimums made it impossible for a start-up to get a printed bag. Digital printing has made that a thing of the past.

Digital printing minimums start at 1,000 bags and there are no “set up fees” associated with the art work. Often times, the lead times are shorter than a traditional rotogravure printed bag (6 weeks vs. 12 weeks). The shortened lead time coupled with the low cost of setting up art work makes it easier for a small company to hit the ground running and start competing with the big guys. You can find out more about digital printing by visiting our website at www.pbinow.com/digital.

These are just a few trends happening around the packaging side of pet food.